Waiheke Island has always been a melting pot - an eclectic mix of the well-heeled and the barefoot, the hippies and the hipsters. And the Ostend market is the hub of this colourful diversity.

Where else would you find the koha table of homegrown goods being sold for what you can afford to give, alongside jafa macarons and gluten-free rice and rye sourdough?

For almost two decades a white-haired pensioner would sit behind a wooden table in the Ostend Hall, selling a few jars of homemade tamarind chutney.

Now in her late 80s, Jenny Stewart and her husband Hilton sold their business four years ago, so now it's Cathy Knight or her husband Grant Hunter who sit at that same table, selling the same three varieties of Jenny's Tamarind Chutney - in mild, medium, hot or extra hot.

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"We have 150 retailers up and down the country, but the market is still important to us," Cathy says. "There's a loyal following of islanders rubbing shoulders with international visitors from cruise ships. It's just wonderful.

"People come and tell us about ways they have used the chutney, I still can't get to grips with having it on my eggs for breakfast, but some do."

Mum and I were sitting in the watery winter sun, when a lady from a similar era as Jenny told us to help ourselves to the bowl of fruit on the table. Betty had been out picking fruit on the roadside - persimmons and grapefruit - "so nobody need be hungry today". She spends a lot of time foraging for fruit and silverbeet that she adds to gifted produce and turns into jams and chutney - and the money from those and her knitted baby clothes are given to local charities.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

I have been coming to this market since it started 30-something years ago and can see it's evolving. The once-busy fruit and vege stall has gone, possibly as a result of the fabulous RAW store that has opened only minutes away. The new Countdown has also put paid to using the market as your grocery shop.

So why bother mooching through the mish-mash of marquees and bric-a-brac showcased on old tablecloths (hand-me-downs and dog-eared novels)? As Cathy says, there is no other market quite like it.

TRUCK STOP: There are only a few food trucks and stalls but their offerings are good - from Gypsy Fire's burgers and bacon-and-egg butties, through to the Argentinian empanada topped with sauce (I recommend the chimichirri on their lamb and vegetable variety).

I love lemonade - not the drink, the book. Islander Mark Sommerset has illustrated his wife Rowan's humorous children's books, and he writes equally funny messages in the books for sale in his indoor stall.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW (PLEASE):

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I contemplated going back for a second Babicka's Table pork, spinach and blue cheese sausage roll. It was that good, using Harmony free-range meat, I bought a pack of these sausages along with one of the pork, kumara and bacon variety - $10 for 5.

BEST HANGOVER CURE: A $7 Revolution Refresher juice - an eye-tingling concoction of apple, lemon, carrot and ginger.

BEST COFFEE: Is at Hot Shot next to Countdown and while there you can get some cash from the supermarket ATM. If you're not a caffeine snob, the family-run cafe inside the hall will do you just fine.

HAPPY ENDING: Oh my, that Island Fudge. Flavours included spicy chai, salted caramel, maple walnut and ginger kiss. For me, it had to be creme brulee. Melt in your mouth, silky smooth for $7 a bar. Just as well as I was already on the ferry back to Auckland or I would have gone back for the 4 bars for $24 deal.

WEATHER OR NOT? Rain, hail or shine - there are a few stalls in the hall, but most of the action is outside and not under cover.

Photo / Hayley McLarin
Photo / Hayley McLarin

CHILDREN AND DOGS?

Yes, but it is on the main road, so keep an eye on the traffic. It's not downtown Auckland but busy nonetheless.

HAPPY ENDING: You must try the amazing Island Gelato - a hub on the island in summer, you will find them at the ferry buildings in the city when you dock. Fig, honey and sherry or Pics Peanut Butter and Caramel, Waiheke Honeycomb or Tamarillo. They are divine.

GETTING THERE: The ferries ($38 adult return) leave Auckland city every 30 minutes or so, and buses will take you from outside the Matiatia terminal to Ostend in about 35 minutes.

MAKE A DAY OF IT: No surprises that you are surrounded by beaches, so take a picnic. Or pack a chiller bag for your shopping, and pop into one or two of the world-famous wineries. There's the Eco-Zip, archery and beer at Wild on Waiheke ... actually, it's starting to feel like a full weekend. Book a bach and really soak it all in, you will soon see why it's my happy place.

VERDICT: Don't make a special trip from the city, but if you are away for the weekend, it's worth visiting the market to truly experience the island.

Lowdown

Waiheke Ostend Market, Ostend Hall, Saturdays, 7.30am-1pm.