A few days ago, a bearded guy dressed like a wizard at my kid's school fair sat next to me and said that Waiheke was "the lifeboat of the world". That feels... accurate. I landed for a one-week tour of New Zealand in March 2019 and wound up trapped by choice in this country for a year. Once I heard about Waiheke Island (once referred to as an island of "activists and lunatics") I knew I'd found my spot.
Waiheke - like almost every alternative-leaning spot on the globe - seems to be in active mourning in regards to its own gentrification, but it also seems to have a built-in Teflon to glitz and pretension. Despite its tiny size, it reminds me more of my hometown of New York than any other spot in New Zealand. There's a melting-pot feeling of international collision and transience, which breeds a conscious sense of welcomeness.
The proximity to the city stops the island from feeling too cut off, but the ferry also acts as a barrier against crazy-city-person hustle (let's not forget there's a sign that reads "SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE HERE" on the road to town from the Matiatia ferry). More than one local has said to me, "The island takes care of you, and it spits certain people out." I'm honoured that I haven't been spit out - not yet at least.
The Waiheke Library is beautiful enough for a stroll through even if you're not going to read a book. Not all libraries are built alike, and this one is a breathtaking stunner. Right next door is the Artworks theatre, which often hosts outdoor taco-and-beer hangs, and across the way is the glorious Waiheke Cinema, which is more like a movie-party-lounge with its eclectic couches, armchairs and heartfelt volunteer vibe. Definitely go to a movie, even if it's sunny, you'll love the feeling in there. Call ahead to reserve your couch spot, especially on rainy days, the seats sell out FAST.
Make sure to hit Greatest Friend, a local shop in Oneroa stuffed with vintage clothes, books and local curiosities. And if you want an all-day road trip, take yourself out to Stony Batter and see the old tunnels, then grab some wine and small plates at Man O' War, their Pinque rosé is still the best wine I've tasted in all Aotearoa.
Friday is Kai Conscious community lunch day at the Waiheke Sustainability Centre - and all are welcome. Come and help cook "no waste" food donated from local restaurants from 11-1pm, learn a new recipe, and then everybody eats from 1-3pm. Pay what you want and learn what you should.
If you're aching for a yoga class, there's a comfy, breezy little basement studio right across from the library called
, with an assortment of friendly teachers. Walk-in folks are made to feel welcome, so just book a class and fear not.
is easy to get to from the ferry and boasts a fantastic playground and, most days, a high-end pizza truck. Make sure to climb to the peak between Little O and Big O beaches - there's a lovely promontory that only takes about five minutes to climb, and you'll get that titanic king-o'-the-world feeling. Please don't fall off; it's steep.
is a little further out but has the added advantages of NUDE SWIMMING (my fave!), just go to the bit of the beach to the left over the rocks, and a little beachside cafe and shop that makes an all-day beach hang much more plausible: supplies are right across the road if you need or have forgotten anything (especially if you have a hungry child).
If you want a little bit more of an adventure, head to Enclosure Bay, which has parking but no other amenities. The rockpools and miniature pirate-treasure islands are wonderful for climbing and exploring, and the rocky reef makes it an ideal place for little humans to swim safely without getting swept off to sea.
Amanda Palmer is taking part in two events in the Auckland Writers Festival on May 15 and 16. See writersfestival.co.nz for more information.