Time flies very fast when you're enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine. Fast enough, that just an hour or so into our mini girls' break to Waiheke, we've missed our bus. Ah well, another glass of merlot will hardly go amiss - waiter, one more and then we'll hit the road.
As winter sets in, hibernation becomes a risk. It's cold outside, it's wet, and sometimes getting out and about can feel like more hassle than it's worth. What with researching your transport, deciding where to eat, working out your activities and your budget ... sometimes adventures make me feel more like pulling the duvet over my head than packing my bags.
So here's a proposal made for people like me. A return ferry ride, a hop-on/hop-off bus, four vineyards, and a multi-course meal – plus a glass of wine, of course.
On a cold, wintery Friday, I and a girlfriend set out for the midday ferry to Waiheke. It's mid-winter, so the wind is up, but the skies hold a certain promise that perhaps Waiheke's famous micro-climate will offer something different for us once we've made the 35-minute crossing.
I'd never actually visited Waiheke outside of summer before. I'd also never popped across on a day trip, let alone a half-day. For me, the island has long been associated with golden beaches, crisp wines and shopping for emergency sarongs and sunscreen. I'd filed Waiheke under "summertime getaways" and was well overdue to revisit that theory.
When we arrive on Waiheke, Ruth, our first driver of the day, is waiting to collect us at the ferry terminal. She directs us to the bus, along with our fellow "Winter wine and dine" crew scattered throughout the ferry.
As we drive, Ruth gives us some commentary on the island – a little history, a little culture, a few celebrity house spots and tips on buying property (average sales prices are now $1.2 million, she says, but one property is currently listed for more like $24m (although it's been on the market for a decade or so).
As we pass through the village, she points out the views across to Great and Little Barrier islands and the Coromandel Ranges - and a very handy tip about Friday wine tastings at the Waiheke Wine Centre in the main shops.
The first stop on the tour is the iconic Mudbrick, just 10 minutes from the terminal, with its peerless views back to Auckland. Visitors here can first stop at the cellar door before continuing on to the beautiful Italianate restaurant to enjoy an antipasto board, then dessert by the fire.
We have chosen to push on for Stonyridge, a beautiful spot only 15 minutes' drive further on. We sit on the patio – which is wrapped up for winter, allowing the sun to shine through without the wind reaching us – and browse the menu. We opt for a wine tasting first, followed by lunch – a gorgeous bright and colourful platter that includes spreads, breads, salmon, prawns, cheese, fruit and pickles, then desserts to finish.
Stonyridge overlooks a natural amphitheatre, so the setting for lunch is picture-perfect. Outside, wine barrels have been converted into seating and inside, sprigs of rosemary serve as flower arrangements on the tables. As the wind blows a gale, strong enough to knock a few outdoor chairs over, we feel snug as can be in our sunny, protected spot overlooking the vineyards. Snug enough - and possibly now with a slight flush in our cheeks - that we miss the bus that should be carrying us to our next stop.
But this is one of the joys of an all-day bus ticket – there is no schedule. We can vacate our seats at any time we like, opting to simply arrive to the next stop a little late or catch a later ferry home.
And so it is that we finally reach Cable Bay. Cable Bay is a sleek, modern space, the largest vineyard in the western part of the island, with fantastic views back to the city - just the ticket to prepare yourself for making your journey back. After another tasting, a glass of wine, and a quick bite (a plate of crudo daily catch, served with shaved fennel and pink grapefruit dressing), right on time the bus pulls in, scoops us up and we are on our way back to the terminal in plenty of time, no thought required.
CHECKLIST: WAIHEKE ISLAND
Winter Wine & Dine package runs on Friday-Sunday each weekend until October 17. Fullers ferries depart Auckland at noon, and the hop-on/hop-off bus will collect you from the Waiheke ferry terminal. Any return ferry can be taken back to Auckland.
Visitors can visit Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Batch or Cable Bay. Tickets are $112 each and include return ferries, buses, meal and a glass of wine at one vineyard. Visit fullers.co.nz for more information.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com