You know that saying, "getting there is half the fun"? Well, when it comes to travelling with kids that's absolute rubbish and, after 12 years of it, my wife and I have vowed never to do long hauls in a car with them again. So Waiheke was extremely appealing.
I have spent most of my life staring across the harbour at Waiheke Island from Auckland's eastern beaches. It has always felt like a paradise, so close to home. And it turned out to be closer than I thought.
Just seven minutes driving from our house down to Half Moon Bay, then less than an hour on a car ferry enjoying all the scenic treasures of the Tamaki Strait, finished off with another seven minutes' drive to our bachcare house in Surfdale. That's just minutes of car travel.
Bonny greets us at the door of our stunning holiday home, "Le Bache", and makes sure
we have everything we will need for the next few days:
A room upstairs away from the kids? Check. A deck overlooking the bay with steps leading down to the beach? Check. Beer? Check. We are set. Evie, our 6-year-old, is so impressed with her room she even unpacks her bag and puts all her garments on to coat hangers in the closet.
It's not often you find a place that caters for everyone in our family but Wild on Waiheke pulls it off. This is definitely the spot to spend the day if all you want is to relax in a vineyard and also sample craft beer from its distillery.
There is a field for volleyball, Claybird shooting (lasers, not the real thing, thankfully) a playground, petanque pitch, giant outdoor chessboard, and my kids' favourite, archery. Not just any archery - in the vineyard. On the other side of the property is a Hunger Games/paintball-style event where you run around the fields firing arrows at each other.
The next day I take my son Johnny down the steps of the property that lead all the way to the rocks by the beach. I have packed our rods hoping for a chance to go fishing.
There can't be many places in the world where you can wake in the morning, have a coffee on the deck while staring at the ocean, grab a fishing rod and walk across a garden, down some steps on a cliff and end up on rocks at the end of a peninsula along from a beautiful swimming beach casting a line into the water.
I am officially useless at fishing so I can see the lack of expectation in Johnny's eyes. Turns out, one rod is broken and the other rod has lost all its gear because of my poor rigging of hooks and sinkers. So after 10 minutes we decide one more cast in and we will call it quits.
To my son's amazement, a kahawai latches on and dances across the water. Brilliant. If I can catch a fish on Waiheke, anybody can.
A quick wash of the hands and we are back in the car heading up the hills to go ziplining on Waiheke's second highest hill.
Ziplining is like a flying fox on steroids - bigger, higher and faster. EcoZip Adventures has been operating for more than three years and has created a wonderful day adventure for those keen on a bit of action.
Three separate lines run down the valley. The panoramic views over Auckland from this height are spectacular. Our guides take us through the safety check, get our harness set up nice and tight, lock us to the line and off we go.
The first zipline is perfect for beginners, just the right height and speed, and takes us zooming over the top of a vineyard. Loads of fun and we all love it.
The next run is longer and over a ravine so we feel quite high up. We fly into the landing platform at a great rate of knots, then the auto brakes set in and rock us to a halt.
They definitely save the best zipline for last - the Big Dog. We stand on a platform looking down across a deep valley, the end platform almost out of sight. This is probably the only spot on Waiheke where you legally can travel over the 50-60km/h speed limit.
When that's finished, to make up for the fact that you now have a 20-minute walk back up the valley to the top, our guide takes us through the native forest, shows us the Mother of the Forest - Auckland's oldest tree, apparently, a giant beautiful puriri. We munch on some kawakawa leaves, a peppery, tongue-numbing experience. The leaf is great as a tea, apparently, and is used in traditional Maori medicine.
Our wonderful family weekend on Waiheke finishes in perfect style - sitting on the deck, watching the sun set over the bay while our fish cooks on the barbecue and we drink a delicious bottle of Waiheke red.
The thought of leaving the next day doesn't bother us either . . . home is just 14 minutes
We stayed at:
• Le Bache 42 Shelly Beach Rd, Surfdale, Waiheke
• Rates from $245-$415. Sleeps six, has three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
• Sealink - vehicle and passenger ferry from downtown Auckland and Half Moon Bay.
• 0800 732 546
Things to do:
• EcoZip Adventures
Tel (09) 372 5646
• Wild on Waiheke
Tel (09) 372 3434