Waiheke great but more gems await discoverery by Americans

In this post-Sex and the City world, where New York is the centre of the known universe, the Big Apple's movers and shakers and opinion makers are at the apex of power.

Which is all good for New Zealand, as the New York Times has, of late, been apt to idolise this country in one way or another. One recent example was an interview with high-profile model Miranda Kerr ("Kerr goes Kiwi") which captures her raptures at everything great Aotearoa has to offer. That's obviously the kind of marketing money can't usually buy; and although we know our tourism bodies aren't above paying celebrities to drop the national name in conversation, there's no way they would have the budget for that kind of fawning exposure from one of the uber-celebrities of the age.

Everyone who is aware just how important tourism is to our economy will have been heartened once more when a New Zealand locale made the list of the "46 Places to See in 2013" in the NY Times in January. Waiheke Island sat at 35 ("A home grown arts scene beckons from down under [sic]").

I found the inclusion of Waiheke in a list of such globe-spanning magnitude quite stunning. Not because the island isn't beautiful of course - it is; but so are a multitude of other spots around the country. If art is the rubric for judging the visit-worthiness of a place, there are also plenty of other great locales (New Plymouth is one that springs to mind). There are 30 vineyards on the island, pumping out all manner of wine from sublime to vinegar, and yet if you wanted to steep yourself in the country's wine-growing culture, surely Central Otago, Marlborough or Hawkes Bay would be more apt.


And yet, and yet. I had the chance to visit the island as a tourist recently when I accompanied my cousins, visiting from Canada, on a tour. In our group were many Americans. What I can report is this: the ferry ride was lovely; the tour guide was textbook friendly and irreverent (his favourite riff: referring to lamas as "long-necked sheep"); and the wine and food was in parts average and fantastic. The sun shone, which helped immensely.

The one thing that stood out to me is the sheer number of tourists that Waiheke pumps through each day, especially over summer. No sooner had we tasted the obligatory sauvignon blanc, merlot and syrah and heard the colourful anecdotes associated with each, we would be kindly but assuredly led back to our bus while the next busload upon busload spilled out.

My cousins loved Waiheke, which was great, and Americans on the tour appeared to be blown away by the beauty of the island. A "win-win", as the jargon goes. But if the beauty of Waiheke left them gasping, would the flawless outlook from the hills over Omapere leave them needing oxygen? Would the sheer incomparability of Queen Charlotte Sound leave them on life support? There are so many lovely views on offer in New Zealand, and clearly not enough tourism moolah to get all the interested parties to them. And if we did get them all there, there's the danger, of course, that they would become perilously close to no longer being idyllic, empty, paradise found.