June 27, 2016

A Guide to Waiheke Island

Travel

This month we’re looking back at our trip to Australia and New Zealand from earlier this year. I’ll be sharing my favourite moments and providing you with restaurants, hotels, bars and places to add to your future itinerary.

The end of a trip can be bittersweet. You’re excited to return home, invigorated, motivated, rested. You’re looking forward to seeing your friends and family. You’re maybe even happy to return to your routine. Even with all these great things waiting for you, sometimes you’re just not ready to leave. Still, you get your passport out and board that return flight home with some snacks and a few “what ifs” in your carry-on.

The places we visit are said to leave a mark on us. But the truly special ones have the power to challenge us so profoundly that we may even begin to question, well, nearly everything.

Waiheke Island was that kind of place.

Before planning this trip, I had never heard of Waiheke but as soon as I did (thanks, Conde Nast), I knew right away that it would be something extraordinary. Never in a million years could I have imagined what was waiting for me on that little-known island in the middle of the Pacific.

John Hawkesby, an Auckland-born broadcaster who moved to Waiheke, put together a collection of photos of the island and the people who live there. In this little book, Hawkesby captures the soul of the island and I just had to bring it home with me. A paradise where simplicity meets sophistication, authenticity and beach bohemian. My kind of vibe.

“The island tends to attract outsiders. Or at least people with a liberal, alternative or unconventional outlook.” – John Hawkesby

If I close my eyes, I can still smell the salty ocean breeze wafting through the vineyards. I can still feel the sand beneath my feet. I can still remember the feeling once opened my eyes after a good night’s sleep, only to realize where I was. I can still see the horizon as the sun set over the turquoise blue ocean.

Life can come with unruly, unpredictable twists. We plan and we hope and we expect, then life comes along with something entirely different. The art of letting go and of accepting the flow of things — of constant change — is in itself one of life’s greatest challenges, lessons and gifts.

They say that if you travel far enough, you meet yourself.

This, my friends, I’ve found to be true.

Words of Wisdom from the Island

These are but a inspiring words from Hawkesby’s book on the island.

There is no plan B.
– Judith Baragwanath

Don’t grow old. Grow dangerous.
– Susi Newborn, Co-founder of Greenpeace International

It’s about leaving the world a better place than you found it.
– Don McKenzie and dog, Holly

Live life passionately – it’s the only one you’re going to have.
– Jeanette and Kim Goldwater

Salta y aparecera la red (Jump and the net will appear)
– Cat Vosper, Casita Miro

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What to see

Extending all of eleven kilometers from end to end, you can see Waiheke in a day. The ferry runs daily every hour or so until around midnight from Auckland docking at Matiatia Bay, a short walk from the village center.

Our accommodation was near the middle of the island, in Onetangi. Slightly less populated than the other beaches and surrounded by a charming cafes and restaurants, Onetangi beach was one-of-a-kind beautiful.

A few miles in and you’ll find a local honey farmer’s dwelling. There, he sets up a stand stocked with several jars from the day’s production. Need fresh honey? Sure. Simply leave your money in the jar.

Where we ate

On top of the beaches, the island is also home to stunning vineyards and restaurants. It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

I could go on and on about how well we ate while in Waiheke. A few of the vineyards also have restaurants — and fabulous ones at that. It’s really a taste of Europe in the Pacific. Visit Poderi Crisci and suddenly you’re in Italy. Casita Miro, in Spain.

Poderi Crisci: Authentic. Charming. Great service. Incredible food. I could spend all afternoon lingering here over a glass of wine.

Casita Miro: The wine tasting experience at Casita left me speechless. Kick off your shoes and lay down on the grass with several glasses to try and a pintxo for each one. While waiting for your reservation, order their homemade sangria and bask in the glorious rays under the olive trees

Vino Vino: Considered a favourite by the locals, dine on the outdoor patio and watch the sun go down over the harbour.

Oyster Inn: The Oyster Inn was so much fun. Laid back with a cool harbour vibe, this place had some great seafood. If you can, book in advance and stay at the Inn! With only three rooms, they fill up quick!

Vineyards

Aside from the vineyards at Poderi Crisci and Casita Miro, there are many others, like the world-class Stonyridge (best known for its rose) and Obsidian. Our lovely host at Sea La Vie recommended that we head out to her favourite, Man-O-War, at the tip of the island. For obvious reasons, it became ours too.

Where we stayed

In New Zealand, the locals call their vacation homes a ‘bach’ (pronounced: back).  When looking for a place to stay, I checked out www.bookabach.com, New Zealand’s AirBnB equivalent. And there, I found the most fabulous little villa, aptly named Sea La Vie.

I had never used a service like Bookabach or Airbnb before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What if the place looked nothing like its photos? What if the location was bad? The hosts unwelcoming? On the contrary – our experience was nothing short of perfection.

Sea La Vie is managed by Chrissy (and her husband), who could not have been a kinder, more hospitable host. She’s warm, welcoming and helpful. And the place? It’s clean, stylish and has everything you could ask for – a kitchenette, garage parking, a large patio with a barbecue, privacy and incredible views. If there is a place to stay on Waiheke, this is it.

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