Waiheke Island: Fly me to la luna negra

By Danielle Wright

Be transported from CBD cabin fever to a Waiheke winery in just 12 minutes, with a helicopter ride to dine for.

The Veranda Cafe at Stonyridge Vineyard, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
The Veranda Cafe at Stonyridge Vineyard, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

A helicopter flight is the quickest way to get from crowded city to island vines.

It's 34 degrees in the shade as we soak up views of vines, olive groves and lavender fields, along with a glass of Stonyridge's famed La Luna Negra Malbec, described on the bottle as "like doing an energetic salsa with a Cuban beauty queen".

Just 15 minutes earlier we were fighting through major roadworks along Auckland's Quay St. Now we're at the booked-out Verandah Cafe at Stonyridge Vineyard among island-happy holidaymakers.

It makes dining on Waiheke an option for the time-poor, such as us - we're outrunning the babysitter's three-hour patience limit on our sixth wedding anniversary.

After a thorough safety briefing from Helilink and life jackets strapped on firmly, we take our positions inside. What we don't expect is to take off backwards. It's a safety precaution from a helicopter company that has built a reputation on its impeccable safety record.

Even though it's windy, we have a gentle lift-off. Our pilot, Grant, not only flies helicopters, but also knows how to fix them, so we relax in good hands and take in the spectacular birds-eye views.

Circling the city, the lego-like buildings shoot up at us like a 3D postcard as we orbit the SkyTower, fly over the Viaduct Harbour, the CBD (so clean from the air), Spaghetti Junction, dozens of swimming pools in Remuera and off to the Hauraki Gulf via Mission Bay.

We're travelling at a cool 240km/hr over the harbour, but it feels like a leisurely stroll in our twin-engine Squirrel, renowned for its smoothness and stability in flight.

We land easily between two shady trees on the Stonyridge estate and are met by the friendly faces of restaurant manager Perry and our waitress, Frances, offering bubbly, and sunscreen.

Stonyridge's charismatic owner, Stephen White, bought the land in 1981 after skippering yachts around Europe. When no one was investing in red wine on the island, Steve bought his north-facing land and studied the French.

"The others were sending their winemakers to Germany (much colder than us) or Australia (much hotter than us), but we have a French climate so I sent mine to France," explains Steve, whose grapes have a set of roses silently nodding at the end of each aisle, a century-old tradition in France.

Much to the surprise of the bankers who rejected him, and to the benefit of the island's winemaking reputation, Steve's bet was right and now we are enjoying his vision realised as he holds court with several different tables of friends who've come to visit.

While we wait for our meals we notice the vines overhead are covered in little brown paper bags. At another table a child chooses a bag and the waitress plucks it from overhead revealing juicy green grapes.

"We like to teach the kids that yes, fruit does grow in the packages from the supermarket," jokes Steve, as the child delightedly pops two at a time into his mouth.

Our food arrives and is worthy of our audacious entrance. Line-caught snapper is served fresh from this morning's fishing trip to a secret spot off the island.

It's accompanied by a puree of agria potatoes with truffle oil, edamame beans and summer greens, with lavender ice cream and berry coulis to finish.

We head to the new 200m hardwood yoga deck to cool down in the breeze.

It's here that Steve, also a part-time yoga instructor, meets with staff in the mornings for yoga. It's this laid-back nature, along with the internationally acclaimed wine, that sets Stonyridge apart from many other vineyards.

As we head back to reality, roadworks and rush hour in our comfortable chopper, we're glad we picked up a stowaway: a Cuban beauty queen by the name of La Luna Negra, the only other woman you don't mind sharing your husband with on an anniversary to remember.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

* Helilink's helicopter flights depart from Mechanics Bay in downtown Auckland. Heli-dining is available to most Waiheke vineyards. The fares to Stonyridge for a couple range from $760 per person, including lunch, returning by ferry; to $1245 per person, including lunch and returning by helicopter. Rates per person reduce the more people you take.
Ph 09 377 4406.

* Stonyridge Vineyard is at 80 Onetangi Rd. Phone 09 372 8822. Open seven days a week for wine tastings or lunch from 11.30am-5pm. Call first in case they're hosting a special function.

- NZ Herald

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