Waiheke: Batch winery walks

By Donna McIntyre

A gentle walking trail that edges its way around a Waiheke vineyard will delight all members of the family, writes Donna McIntyre.

High tea and wine tasting at Batch winery - a treat for the palate.
High tea and wine tasting at Batch winery - a treat for the palate.

It is the final weekend of Waiheke Wine Festival, but during the rest of the year you can tread the vineyard tracks on the island. One of the less-trodden trails sits high on the hills above Whakanewha Regional Park, lording it over the island's landmarks and coastline, based at Batch winery.

The trail is just a short route circumnavigating the neat rows of hillside vines, but it gives an insight into the workings and seasons of winemaking and can be done easily at a gentle pace if your family group includes littlies.

At this time of year the vineyard is heading into harvest so the grapes are looking plump, succulent and ready to be picked.

Today we treat the vineyard loop as a warm-up for the Cascades Walk, just across the road and marked by prominent signs. Some people believe the cascades in this 270ha park's name are the ones that gave the island of Waiheke (meaning falling water) its name.

The park has an extensive network of long and short tracks.

We used to bring our kids to the cascades when they were little and each time we reached the gentle waterfalls we'd declare we must do this more often, only to take another couple of years, the children already a significant few centimetres taller.

The sign suggests it takes 10 minutes to reach the cascades, which is a fair estimate.

The first part follows a wide track, sometimes grass, sometimes gravel, lined by bush on both sides. I'd love to see name tags on the trees, to help botanically challenged people like me recognise the taraire, kohekohe and kanuka. What I do like is the placement of wooden bench tables in places with views. If you're well organised you can bring a picnic lunch - or have something to eat at Thomas' Bach, at the Batch winery.

Downhill on the left is the sign pointing the way into the bush and the cascades, along with sprays to combat the spread of kauri dieback disease.

A bit further on is the turnoff to the Mamaku Track but we turn right on to the Cascades Circuit.

How much water is cascading always depends on rainfall but there's always something soothing about watching the water make its way down the pathway of moss-lined boulders.

There are more seats by the cascade and further on by the waterfall's catchment pool.

Wedding parties sometimes come here for their photos to be taken in the light filtering through the forest canopy.

Moving on, the circuit delivers us to the return track.

If you're feeling energetic and have the time, do deviate and follow the Mamaku Track all the way up to Trig Hill or shorten it a little bit by nipping up on the short nature trail to another vineyard, Peacock Sky.

You need to allow about 25 minutes each way if you do this walk, but the terrain is easily managed.

In fact, even if you don't care for the longer route, at least walk the first five minutes as there is a wonderful fern grove, which umbrellas walkers under its canopy of fans.

From here, it's an uphill walk back to Batch.

I imagine toddlers would find this hard and need to be swooped up into strong arms but, like us, they could be bribed to soldier on with the promise of a cool drink and high tea (think bacon and egg pie, salmon smoked on site and a rather delicious pav and berries concoction) at walk's end.

Festival fun

The Batch, the highest vineyard on the island, is one of 17 taking part in the Waiheke Vintage Festival today and tomorrow. Batch Winery at Thomas Estate Vineyard is fringed by the native bush, waterfalls and streams of the Whakanewha Regional Park, with Thomas' Bach open for lunch or wine tasting (take festival bus Loop 2).

During the year, catch the bus to Rocky Bay, then a lengthy walk up Carsons Rd. Or negotiate with a taxi or one of the tour companies (ask the driver how much the fare is likely to be, as prices vary significantly).

This weekend's programme includes free wine tastings, walks, vineyard tours, exhibitions and concerts. Fullers' all-in-one return ferry and all-day festival bus pass (three bus loops) $42.50; 9am-5pm. waihekevintagefestival.co.nz. Tickets available at fullers.co.nz.

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