A relaxing island paradise of food, wine and great views is just a 35-minute ferry trip away, writes Donna McIntyre.
Waiheke falls under the umbrella of Auckland's Super City but its residents work hard at maintaining an independent air and cultivating the feeling that their Hauraki Gulf island is a world apart from the city - even though it's just a 35-minute ferry ride away.
The island has rightfully earned a reputation for being a place to chill and relax, to wine and dine often with unrivalled views. Slow down, you're on Waiheke.
Trendsetter Oyster Inn in Oneroa has constantly featured in magazine and newspaper articles about Waiheke since it opened in 2012 but it's not alone when it comes to offering beautiful surroundings and meals to remember with well-established names such as Stonyridge, Mudbrick, Cable Bay and Te Whau with their commanding sea and island views - and also The Shed at Te Motu Vineyard and Spanish-themed Casito Miro all competing in the same market.
Surfdale's Goldie Room and Kennedy Point are other picturesque vineyards offering meals worth lingering over as you savour the views, and Thomas's Bach at The Batch Vineyard has great vintage menu items with a modern twist (think bacon and egg picnic pie and smashed raspberry pavlova). Back in Oneroa, stalwart Vino Vino offers great views over the bay from its veranda seating.
Families and others more budget-conscious but still wanting a meal out can think about visiting the friendly staff at Spice Cafe in Oneroa's main drag, reliable Adjadz (especially popular before catching a movie at Waiheke's Community Cinema) and its Indian fare, or try the yummy pizzas at Stefano's in Surfdale. (If you go with friends on your birthday, your pizza is free). Ricky's, Delight, Red Crab, the Wai and Fenice in Oneroa also are scenic spots, and particularly popular with locals.
From Thursdays to Sundays roast lovers can make their way to the Bowling Club at Surfdale - but be warned, it gets busy. And for those who prefer familiar offerings in unpretentious surroundings, Ostend is the place to go for the Cookhouse (RSA), early-starter Get Stuffed, the Car Park Cafe near the supermarket, and the new roast shop.
Prefer to think of yourself as an eco-warrior diner? Maybe PLANiT in Ostend is more to your liking, or child-friendly solar-powered Solar (with a dedicated children's play area) in Oneroa. Another child-friendly venue is Wild on Waiheke on Onetangi Rd with its cafe and plenty of outdoors space for children (and adults) to play.
If pub fare is more to your liking, although appreciating that island bars tend to do a more upmarket pub menu, you might feel right at home at the beachside 4th Avenue and Charlie Farley's, both with uplifting views of Onetangi Beach just across the road.
In the warmer months newcomer Frenchman's Hill Estate offers a plat du jour at its wine-tasting room on weekends (check first for opening times). And a leisurely drive to the "Bottom End" will reward those prepared to go the extra distance with Italian fare at Poderi Crisci, pizzas at Passage Rock and waterside food platters at the Man o' War tasting room.
And for a casual beachside meal you can't go wrong with delicious woodfired pizzas at Dragonfired at Little Oneroa Beach and nearby playground.
Being so tourist-orientated, island eateries and vineyards are usually open at weekends but not always all weekdays. Especially during the quieter months, it pays to book or ring ahead to make sure your preferred venue is open.
Fancy trying some of the award-winning wines Waiheke Island is so well known for? Here's a list of some of the most popular vineyards to get you started ...
Peacock Sky, 152 Trig Hill Rd
The Frenchmans Hill Estate, 1 Margaret Reeve Lane
Stonyridge Vineyard, 80 Onetangi Rd
Obsidian, 21 Te Makiri Rd
Te Motu, 76 Onetangi Rd
The Batch, 129 Carsons Rd
Te Whau, 218 Te Whau Drive
Getting there: SeaLink's Waiheke Express is a 35-minute fast-ferry service.