Waiheke Island: Welcome return

By Neil Reid

Neil Reid travels to Waiheke Island for a 24-hour getaway and rediscovers one of the jewels in the wider Auckland region.

Marino Ridge, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
Marino Ridge, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

The Hauraki Gulf looks picture perfect as the SeaLink car ferry bound for Waiheke Island sets sail from Half Moon Bay.

It's 9am on a sunny early-autumn Sunday - the start of my two-day weekend and a return to an island I last visited 15 years ago.

The gentlest of seabreezes is blowing as we make our way across the Hauraki Gulf on the 45-minute journey.

We've opted to take the car over, not because Waiheke doesn't have enough public transport options, rather the mission is to check out as much of Waiheke Island as possible during our 36-hour stay.

And believe me there's a lot to do on Waiheke these days. A scan of pamphlets and websites of some of the island's "must-do" events and locations quickly shows that the island - 17km from central Auckland and a size of 92 sq km - has developed massively since my last trip over.

And its wide array of attractions - including adventure tourism, a wealth of luxury and budget accommodation options, great dining and cafes, boutique shops, fishing and of course the world-recognised vineyards - are increasingly putting Waiheke on the map.

The regular tourism industry accolades include it recently being voted the fourth best island in the world - ahead of locations including Bali, the Greek Islands and Hawaii - by readers of US magazine, Travel + Leisure. The poll also saw Waiheke secure the best island in the South Pacific.

First stop is Charlie Farley's - a legendary bar, cafe and restaurant offering million-dollar views on Onetangi Beach.

Management proudly state: "At Charlie Farley's, you really are a local the moment you walk in the door", and they're not wrong. The food - a mid-morning bacon buttie (like no other) washed down with a hot chocolate - is top notch, and the staff and location are brilliant.

After blowing out the cobwebs from a late night at work and an early start, it's time to head to our very special accommodation for the night: Marino Ridge - stunning hosted luxury accomodation a short drive from both the Matiatia ferry terminal and Oneroa.

The impressiveness of Marino Ridge is evident as we slowly move up its driveway - other guests to the Geoff Richards-designed multi-level residence opt to chopper in and land at its private helipad.

Waiting for us are our hosts, Peter and Caroline Davey, who built their dream house and luxury accommodation lodge after travelling the world in their earlier careers.

Marino Ridge boasts sweeping views out to sea of the Waiheke Island coastline and bush areas. The lodge's amenities include three elegantly designed guest suites, a 16m swimming pool and spa, a library, a fireside patio and a cocktail patio.

We're checked into the Coromandel Suite, with the stunning view it offers taking in native bush and landscapes to the south, down to Owhanake Bay and along the coastal cliffs to the eastern tip of Waiheke to the Coromandel.

After a cuppa and a chinwag with the Daveys it's early afternoon and time to hit the road.
First stop is Wild on Waiheke - a popular vineyard, which produces not just world-class wine but some of the finest locally produced beers in New Zealand ... and which also has become a standout visitor's attraction through some of its adventure activities.

Marino Ridge, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
Marino Ridge, Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

The latter includes archery among the rows of vines, plus laser claybird shooting.

I went for the shooting option - the closest thing to claybird shooting you can get to without actually firing a gun. Wild on Waiheke offers modified shotguns, with each pull of the trigger sending a laser signal to bright-coloured discs sent flying across a grass paddock at the bottom of its grounds.

It's great fun - even when you get beaten by a group of English teens who clearly spend far too much time honing their aiming skills in online first-person shooting games.

With the shooting out of the way, it's time to sink my appetite into some of the food and drink options (the latter was thoroughly enjoyed thanks to my designated driver).

A mid-arvo feast consisted of WOW's legendary Italian beef meatball burger, which features a beer-battered jalapeno that's sure to help get a thirst on.

The liquid taste sensations included giving each of WOW's four distinct beer brews, and its cider, a good go; with the Baroona Original Pale Ale coming out tops in my books.

It's fair to say the stopover at Wild On Waiheke was longer than expected, so after refreshing back at Marino Ridge, it was off to the main street of Oneroa to find a good spot for tea.

There are options aplenty and we decided on Cafe Fenice Italia, where its outstanding pork belly dish, accompanied by duck-fat chips, were smashed back in record time.

Bed beckoned after a few post-dinner drinks.

The next morning we awoke and wasted little time in again checking out the splendid views offered by Marino Ridge's Coromandel Suite.

Breakfast courtesy of Peter and Caroline followed - scrumptious fresh fruits, cold-pressed juices and a corn fritter and bacon combo to die for.

Marino Ridge's guests come from around the world. And even after one night, the hospitality offered by the Daveys - plus the views and everything the luxury accomodation has to offer - it quickly becomes obvious why it is fast becoming an appealing destination for tourists wanting an extra special place to stay.

After breakfast it's time to farewell our lovely hosts and get back on the road, sadly with the car ferry terminal the destination.

Thanks Waiheke - it's been grand. And I promise it won't be another 15 years before returning to soak up the best things you have to offer.

- Herald on Sunday

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