Wine, restaurants, beaches… these are all things that Waiheke Island is known for, and with good reason — but it's equally true that walkers of all persuasions will find their needs met here too. Whether you're after a skite-worthy circumnavigation or a gentle ramble with kids and dogs, there's a track to suit you. And afterwards, well, what better reward for your effort than wine, restaurants, beaches…?
For the serious walker, Te Ara Hura is the 100km track that circles the entire island — which turns out to be a lot bigger than you think, if your previous experience has been just Matiatia-Oneroa-Palm Beach. Beaches and rocky headlands form a large part of the route, but there's also bush, wetlands and farming country, all compensating for the effort involved with long and glorious views over land and sea. The moderately demanding route includes trails, quiet back roads and farm tracks, plus many stairs up and down. It can be done as a continuous walk over four or more days (local companies will take care of the practicalities of accommodation and transport) or in random sections according to your whim and fitness level. Currently, a couple of segments require detours because of storm damage, or kauri dieback protection.
For everyone else, taking literally the nearby big red "You're Here. Slow down" sign could equate to just strolling from where the ferry drops you at Matiatia, past the many temptations of Ahipao (coffee, fudge, cashmere) to the track up the hill through the reserve, to then chill out in the little town of Oneroa, with its cafes, shops, music and art. There's no shame in that but instead, you could opt for an actual scenic route, either left or right according to time and tide.
Turning right from Matiatia, the Southern Headland Loop (2 hours) will take you up through bush to where huge pōhutukawa drape over the cliff, framing glorious views across the water to Rangitoto and the city. This is where the biennial Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition is located, but even on in-between years, it's a walk worth taking. It's your decision whether it's a good or bad thing that the temporary closure of one section of the track to Church Bay means that you'll have to divert to Oneroa past the Cable Bay vineyard, with Mudbrick just along the road. If you can avoid those temptations, there is sculpture to discover in Alison Park just before you fetch up in Oneroa's main street.
If the tide is out, turning left out of the ferry building will set you on the northern Matietie Walk route (2 hours). You'll wander along the beach past the old wharf, climb up the headland and, all along this bit of coast, will be torn over whether to gaze out at Rangitoto and Motutapu or peer instead at the enviable homes you're passing. Their neat gardens and artfully placed pieces of sculpture are as appealing as the buildings themselves, but in the end, it will be their views of the pretty little bays and that clear blue sea that you'll remember. Another landslip means the Island Bay section of this route isn't accessible, but near here there are a nature reserve, a high viewpoint and colourfully tagged wartime buildings to discover before you find yourself at the top of Oneroa Beach's beautiful curve.
The walk from Oneroa to Palm Beach (2 hours) is full of variety. If the tide is low, you can walk along the water's edge to Little Oneroa, past a cute little archway and a rowdy gull colony; or if it's not, over the headland with its great views back over the bay. From Little O you'll take a steep but beautifully built flight of steps up into the bush, to trail along the cliff down and up again, with views over the islands of the gulf. Take a quiet road past pretty homes and baches to a zigzag concrete path down to pebbly little Hekerua Bay, accessible only by foot or boat. Climb up from there towards Sandy Bay, and cross over an impressively restored section of the track that was once the sort of slip that is still interrupting Te Ara Hura elsewhere. Along the road lies Enclosure Bay, with Mackenzie Reserve opposite, painstakingly restored to bush from pine forest by enthusiastic locals.
At the top, it's a pleasant stroll along the road to the lookout where a track takes you down to the questionable delights of clothing-optional Little Palm Beach. Next comes Palm Beach proper, with its actual palms, picnic area, restaurant and dairy with delectable pastries. Also, the bus back to town.
For something more natural, head over to Rocky Bay to explore Whakanewha Regional Park (2-3 hours). When you've finished watching all the busy birdlife on the beach, head into the mature bush here to trail through groves of nīkau and puriri, up to where you'll find a series of cascading waterfalls. The tūī are busy here, and you might have to duck out of the way of blundering kererū, the bumblebees of the bird world. It's shady, green and peaceful, and you could stay in the zone by following the little river back to the start — or you could take a detour along to Batch Winery, purely to appreciate the great views from there back to the city, looking so far away. Another option is to take the track to Peacock Sky Vineyard, beyond which is the excitement of the Ecozip and then a downhill walk to the bus stop at long and sandy Onetangi Beach.
There are many more walks to enjoy on Waiheke: short, long, flat, hilly, looped or one-way. One of the best ways to discover and enjoy them is to sign up early for the very popular Waiheke Walking Festival, which will take place this year, November 5-21. This is a programme of events and guided walks with a multitude of different themes: mindful, challenging or dead flat, family, night sky, nature, music, dance, focused on wine, beer or gin, teaching photography, linking art studio visits, and much, much more. One of the great attractions of the festival is the chance to be welcomed on to land not usually accessible to the public. Another is the opportunity to walk, over five days and with the encouragement of being part of a group, the complete Te Ara Hura circuit.
Take the Fullers ferry from Quay Street to Matiatia, or the SeaLink service from Half Moon Bay to Kennedy Point.
Most locations mentioned are accessible by bus on the island. There are also cars, bikes and motor scooters for hire, as well as taxis, shuttles and tour companies, several of them focusing on supporting walkers. Be sure to pick up a Te Ara Hura leaflet, with a detailed map of roads and tracks, from the ferry building.
There is a full range of accommodation on the island, from campsites and backpackers, through Airbnb and rentals, to fancy lodges; plus more restaurants, wineries and cafes than you could possibly need.
Waiheke Tourism: tourismwaiheke.co.nz and waiheke.co.nz
Waiheke Walking Festival: waihekewalkingfestival.org.nz
Walking tour providers: iwalkwaiheke.co.nz and terraandtide.co.nz