How to spend 24 hours on Waiheke Island, NZ

Waiheke Island is a playground of New Zealand’s mega-wealthy, with award-winning wineries, sparkling bays and dreamy holiday homes. Yet the island has retained a refreshingly laid-back vibe.

Waiheke Island is a 20-kilometre-long island that’s a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland. It’s likely you’ve never heard of it, let alone know how to pronounce it (Why-heke).

“You won’t get much change from five million for a house here,” our tour guide, Graeme Rivett of Kiwi Connect, tells us. After a few hours driving around with Rivett in one of his electric vans, it’s easy to see why Waiheke Island was dubbed the ‘Hamptons of New Zealand’ by Vogue magazine.

Mix with New Zealand’s rich and famous

Waiheki is an island of multi-million-dollar mansions, vineyards (30 to be exact) and sparkling beaches. Despite the glitz and glam, the locale has somehow maintained its laid-back vibe, no doubt with the help of its 1950s-style baches (shacks) that dot the landscape, rope swings hanging from Pohutukawa trees bursting with blazing red flowers, and kids riding bikes barefoot around atmospheric villages. It’s this feeling of a quieter life that the Auckland high-flyers love, Rivett says. And plenty of them have made this island home because of it.

Pohutukawa Tree © Adobe Stock

We slow down as we approach a sprawling waterfront property in the tiny settlement of Blackpool, “That’s former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry’s place,” our guide tells us. A few metres down the road is the local marae (meeting grounds), next door to a pony club, all of which have views across Blackpool Beach. “Can I take a photo?” I ask as I take in the white weatherboard home of the rugby legend. “The thing is, I see him about town a bit,” Rivett says. He is cautious with reason. He has a reputation to keep.

Graham Henry isn’t the only name of note to have a home here. New Zealand’s richest man, investor Graeme Hart; the ‘Mad Butcher’ Peter Leitch; and Mainfreight founder Bruce Plested all call the island home. Plested reportedly paid NZ$72 million for his farm.

© Adobe Stock

Experience Waiheke Island like a local, with a local

Our guide was formerly a deep-sea diver but moved back to his homeland of New Zealand due to the industry’s lack of care for the environment. After moving his family back, he started running electric van tours in Auckland and then Waiheke, and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s the friendliness of the locals that shocked me the most when I first moved back,” Rivett says as he winds down his window and yells out, “How are ya?” to a couple walking across the street eating ice creams, towels draped over their arms. They wave and call back. “See?” he says.

Oneroa Bay, Waiheke Island © Adobe Stock

We drive on to Oneroa, the largest town on the island, which has boutiques, cafes, and restaurants that overlook Oneroa Beach. We continue our travels to Ostend, Onetangi, and Palm Beach. “In all of these villages, there are three things,” Rivett tells me as we pass the smaller locales that make up the island, “A dairy, a fish-and-chip shop and a grog shop, that’s it.” And he’s not wrong. However, one only needs to venture a little further out, and there’s a whole world of wineries.

Vineyard on Waiheke Island © Adobe Stock

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Places to wine, dine and stay on Waiheke Island

Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant

The sparkling emerald waters of beaches and lush vineyards are constant when driving around Waiheke Island. Mudbrick, a family-owned estate, is our first winery stop on the tour. It is popular with Auckland’s corporate sector, with people flying in by helicopter to wine and dine and enjoy the backdrop of stunning views of Auckland’s skyline. For those wishing to stay the night, there are multiple on-site cottages filled with rustic, old-world charm or for a touch of luxe, The Lodge: a three-bedroom abode offers breathtaking 360-degree ocean views.

The Lodge at Mudbrick © Mudbrick

Stonyridge Vineyard

Another must-visit is Stonyridge. We stop outside and admire the pretty, ivy-covered brick building. Stonyridge’s claim to fame was a 1987 Larose – hailed as the greatest red wine ever made in New Zealand, and it’s continued to kick goals in the wine world ever since.

Stonyridge Vineyard © Kristie Bedford

The Heke

That night, we dine at The Heke, a restaurant, brewery, distillery and tasting room created by two Waiheke families. It’s pouring with rain when we arrive, and I haven’t made a booking, but the staff squeeze us in. We sip on the island’s famed red wine and devour signature dishes of smash burgers and Southern fried chicken. Before we leave, there’s just enough time to taste some of The Heke’s multi-award-winning whiskey – the perfect way to warm things up before we venture back out into the rain.

© The Heke

Appreciate the serene environment on Waiheke Island

It’s humid when we rise the next day, but despite the heat, we’re determined to do a hike. We choose a route known for its picture-perfect views from Onetangi Beach to Palm Beach. And we’re not disappointed. Hills cascade with vines, dramatic coastlines plunge to cerulean waters, and homes with floor-to-ceiling glass seem to be carved into the cliff. The leafy streets are steep – but the views will be more than enough to keep you going. And if not, well, there’s always a winery waiting.

© Tourism New Zealand