Good food and wine reward your exertions on a new Waiheke track, writes Donna McIntyre.
You can't beat a good walk for stimulating the appetite. You can even kid yourself into saying you've earned the right to indulge in a glass or two of wine.
Except we begin with the vino - particularly appreciating a full bodied merlot and syrah - before we even set foot on the walking track from Te Matuku Bay to Awaawaroa.
Passage Rock vineyard cafe is our starting point with cellar door and restaurant manager Rob Kindl hosting the wine tasting under a "wine kissed by angels" poster and the intertwined canes of the Passage Rock wreath.
When winemakers David Evans and Veronica Evans Gander first saw this valley at Te Matuku, they thought it looked like angels, dressed in mist, were kissing the land - and their wreath symbolises the endless cycle of the seasons and the relationship between the earth, vines and vintners that go towards making beautiful wine and a beautiful life.
Such a romantic notion and befitting this magnificent setting at the "bottom end" of Waiheke.
We had driven to Passage Rock but, from September on, visitors can use the Island Hopper service on art-wrapped buses (think Mike Morgan, Leon van den Eijkel and Kazu Nakagawa) that service the loop roads on the island, making the eastern end more accessible. The buses connect with Fullers ferries and you can buy an all-day pass so you can hop on and off as you please.
But today we park near Passage Rock and head onwards ... and upwards ... the walkway starts from Orapiu Rd and links Te Matuku Bay to Awaawaroa.
The track is only months old, created by landscaper Tony King-Turner, his son Julian and Kym Rawson, on land that owner Rob Fenwick has covenanted to allow easements for walking tracks.
It is a moderately challenging walk and you should allow 90 minutes to two hours at a leisurely pace. It's worth taking a water bottle and energy-boosting snack but no special equipment is needed, just decent walking shoes.
The track zig-zags up the steeper section and features regenerating bush, impressive tree specimens and outstanding views over the bay from the ridgelines. As you near Awaawaroa, you cross the road to a paddock and then take a steep decline to the Poderi Crisci restaurant and vineyard.
I'm not sure whether it had something to do with the fresh air and exercise but every mouthful of the Italian restaurant's antipasto platter tasted divine (maybe the angels had been here, too) and the pinot gris was exactly the right choice for a post-walk tipple once water had quenched our thirst.
We enjoyed a caesar salad and pasta but declined to look at the sweets menu as we were walking back to Passage Rock and still had to climb back up THAT hill. This is definitely the steepest part of the walk and requires several stops to catch your breath (but just pretend you're stopping to take in the view).
As well as the natural beauty of the walk, a bonus is that it is dry underfoot because the soil drains well, so it can be done at any time of the year. And, of course, you have the option of being fed and watered at both ends of the track.
With a couple of hours exercise and, hopefully, a nice bottle of red from Passage Rock tucked in your backpack, it's time to head back to home base for the night. Waiheke has a wide range of accommodation from affordable baches to top-of-the line luxury lodges.
If you're looking for an affordable place to stay, try bookabach.co.nz or holidayhouses.co.nz and look out for specials.
If you want to be within walking distance of Fullers' ferries, best to stick to Oneroa.
But if you have your own transport or are happy to walk or catch a bus or taxi, look at Palm Beach, Onetangi, Rocky Bay or Surfdale.
For something slightly out of the ordinary, we caught a movie at Oneroa's independent movie theatre with its comfy sofas. Oneroa also has two popular "nightspots' - Fenice and Sandbar. Sandbar has the better view over the bay but across the road, Fenice has a roaring fire.
Then, Sunday morning we did like the locals do and headed to "the Lazy". Pat and Nick have stamped their character on this spot at the top of Oneroa with its laidback atmosphere, a castle outside for kids and pool room. They offer great coffee and hearty Kiwi breakfasts ($18.50) with vege options.
And if you have time and the inclination before you catch the ferry home, I'll let you in on my favourite Sunday activity on the island ... and that is Rahman's Zumba classes at Palm Beach Hall from 10.30am to 11.30am. Join in the locals and Zumba like there's no tomorrow ... guaranteed to put a smile on everyone's face. After all, that's what Waiheke is all about.
All you need to know
Ferries, Visit the Fullers website for more on the passenger ferry or the Island Hopper (from September). For cars click here.
Passage Rock Wines, 438 Orapiu Rd, ph (09) 372 7257, the site has opening hours, menu and wine sales.
Poderi Crisci 205 Awaawaroa Rd, ph (09) 372 2148. Click the link for restaurant and wine tasting hours, plus information on the walkway.
The Lazy Lounge, 139 Oceanview Rd, Artworks, Oneroa, ph (09) 372 5132. Not really a place you need to book, Waiheke Cinema 2 Koraro Rd, Oneroa, (ph 09) 372 4240.
Rahman's Zumba classes, ph 021 188 3010.
To Stay, check holidayhouses.co.nz or bookabach.co.nz.