Cycling around Waiheke is a good way to take your time and really experience what the island has to offer, writes Kirsten Warner.
It's so simple in Auckland to get away - just hop on the ferry to Waiheke and you're in another world. And if you take your bike you're free to roam and not be tied to a bus timetable.
Fullers and Cycle Action have developed great maps of Waiheke cycle routes, and there's no charge for bikes on a Fullers ferry.
We took an even easier option. Waiheke Bike Hire is right beside Matiatia Wharf, so you can walk off the ferry and pick up one of their sturdy mountain bikes ($30/day) which have front fork suspension and come with helmet, bike lock and a street map, useful when we veered off route.
You can't really get lost on Waiheke. We chose the Easy Life Loop (1-2 hours) planning to meander, have lunch, visit a gallery and swim. From Oneroa you drop down to Blackpool, on the rockier mainland side, with its pretty marae.
The Esplanade loops around the headland to the suburb of Surfdale which is very peaceful, quiet and beautiful and from December 1 has been closed to vehicles.
By then we were bitten by the cycling bug and considering the Beach/Wine Lovers Trail (3-4 hours) through vineyards to Onetangi; or the Nature Trail (4 hours) to Rocky Bay and Whakanewha Regional Park through quirky mangroves, wetlands, olive groves - and more vineyards.
We were not considering the big Stony Batter-Orapiu route - it's graded "difficult" or "Gut Buster". The full circuit includes 17km of unsealed road, but out the back you are deep in the country with working farms, native forest, and yes, more vineyards. Another time.
Fullers is working on installing bike racks on Waiheke buses which will expand options. That way, for example, you could bus to and from the end of the line at Onetangi and cycle a country route from there.
Our next stop was to refuel at one of Waiheke's numerous eateries. Nourish Cafe, on an unimposing commercial stretch of Ostend, was mostly organic and simply fantastic. The pit stop put a halt to more ambitious plans.
Instead we wound through shady bush past old Waiheke gardens and baches, and hit the breathtaking hill down to charming Palm Beach which of course, after swimming, we had to climb back up. But that's cycling: push yourself and the exercise is fantastic.
Island cycling is mostly on-road, with a shared bike-walk lane under construction from the wharf to Oneroa. There's a year-round sign warning drivers to keep 1.5m from cyclists, and laid-back Waiheke vehicles generally do that - even buses and trucks. The roads are narrow and you do have to share - watch out for the visitors from town in their big black SUVs.
There is so much to see and do on Waiheke, it doesn't matter which way you go; the joy of cycling is that you are part of it all. The million-dollar views along Cory Rd were like the Riviera or Greek Islands, and at this time of year you can smell the roses. But the commuters pouring back to the island already know that.
* Pick up a free cycle map at a Fullers ticket office or download it from fullers.co.nz.
* Book online with Fullers supersaver; adult return tickets $25 instead of $33.50; child return $12.50 instead of $16.80 and grab a 10 per cent discount voucher for Waiheke Bike Hire, Bike Central or Cycle Auckland.
* Shady Wilma Rd is one of the island's loveliest secrets.
* Nourish Cafe, 3 Belgium St, ph (09) 372 3557, open 8am-4pm.By Kirsten Warner