Waiheke looks great from the ground, but it's even better from the air. Chris Schulz takes in the scenery, and the best food and wine the island has to offer.
10am: We're gathered around a helicopter at Heletranz in Albany, getting strapped into lifejackets. It always seems alarming to wear something so obviously designed to save your life. But the pilot seems supremely confident, and when I ask him if one has ever been inflated while he's been in charge, he answers, "No." All aboard, then.
10.15am: The blades are spinning, and we're up and zooming over Albany, heading towards our destination for the day, Waiheke Island. Cars are speckles on the road, and ships are dots on the water. There's no congestion in the air and that's a beautiful, peaceful thing. There's nothing to do but take in the sights and on this clear day, they are beautiful.
10.30am: Coming into land over the bay at Man O' War Vineyards (manowar.co.nz) is like nothing I've ever experienced. It's like being in the middle of James Cameron's Avatar, the stunning beach below us giving way to a lush patch of grass patch next to a pristine white chapel. After we land and disembark next to lapping waves, I'm surprised not to see a bride and groom emerge from the chapel, and someone yell, "Cut!"
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11am: It's not even lunchtime, and I'm already several drinks deep into a tasting session of Man O' War's best wines. Paired with a cheese board, they really are something. But it's not just a booze session - it's educational too. Some things I learned: so many men are drinking rosé these days, it's been nicknamed "brosé ", and if you spot any Waiheke wines for sale from 2014, you should get them. Apparently, the drought made it a great season.
12pm: We're back on board and winging our way to Italian eatery Poderi Crisci (podericrisci.co.nz) for lunch. We land on top of a hill and are picked up by a man in a jeep, who escorts us down to the restaurant. I immediately feel displaced: the surrounding hills and long strips of grape vines feel like something that should be in a postcard from Tuscany. When a glass of rose and a bowl of gnocchi lands in front of me, the sensation is complete.
1pm: After lunch, we get a proper tour of Poderi Crisci, including the winery and barrel rooms nestled into the vineyards behind the restaurant. Giant barrels are stacked against the walls, ageing and waiting to be poured into bottles washed and stacked on nearby shelves. Apparently opera singers perform there some nights. I imagine the acoustics are incredible.
1.30pm: Here's a definition of pure luxury: jumping in a helicopter to go get dessert. That's exactly what we're doing on our way to Tantalus Estate (tantalus.co.nz), where we quickly start an executive tour. There's more than meets the eye: upstairs is Tantalus' highly regarded restaurant, but downstairs is the Alibi Brewery Lounge, a darkened bar full of brick and leather. That's not all: we're shown through the in-house brewery, and a secret dining area with swipe-card access to a dedicated wine cellar. Full of long tables, low fridges and shelves full of collectables, it's like something from a Bond film.
2pm: Here's the dessert we've been promised: espresso martinis paired with plates of lush chocolate, caramel and berry concoctions. With the sun shining and a gentle breeze washing over us, no one's in the mood to leave. I could quite happily spend the rest of the day right here, sipping on pale ales from the brewery nestled below us and chilling out to the summery vibes.
3pm: It's back to Auckland, back to Albany, back to the roads, and back to the traffic. Once we've landed, it's hard to reconcile those beautiful Waiheke vistas with the concrete jungle of the city. How much does a helicopter cost, by the way? Maybe it's time to open a new savings account.
• Progressive dining experiences by Heletranz start at $595 for groups of six. For more information, visit heletranz.co.nz.