Wines, zip lines, and island vibes. Not too much more you could ask for out of a day trip from the city. Waiheke Island is only a 40 minute ferry ride from the Auckland CBD, but it feels much more remote.
How To Get There & How To Get Around
There are a few companies you can get to Waiheke with, but we took Fullers because they offered a great deal on an early morning ride to the island (purchased through bookme.co.nz
). This meant we kept our budget tight, had more time on the island before the ferry back, and got there before the majority of the crowd. Wins all around!
If you do catch the early ferry, there is no need to rush into town when you arrive on the island – nothing will be open yet. We made the 15 minute walk into town instead (stretched to about 30 minutes because I was too busy staring at all the flowers to keep up).
There is a company that offers a hop on/hop off wine tour bus, it visits most of the vineyards on the island. However it would have cost us roughly $100 each. Instead, we opted to pay for the $10 day pass for the regular Waiheke bus service, and do a bit of extra walking. From the main part of town it is a 30-45 minute stroll to Cable Bay vineyards, with two other wineries within another 10 minutes. We only had time to see a few wineries before our zip line began. If we wanted to see more of them, we would have gotten back on the town bus to take us farther onto the island.
At 5:30AM our alarms went off, well before the sun. We fumbled around in the dark, trying to not wake up the entire hostel. The kitchen was usually locked until 6AM, and the owner let us borrow the key for the early departure, but only if we promised complete silence. Trying to move extra quietly, combined with not quite being awake led us to run late. Fortunately Uber saved the day, and we made it to the waterfront with loads of time to spare.
Auckland’s harbour is pretty small and not intimidating. However, when the ticketing booths are just beginning to open, getting a straight answer out of one of the attendants is like playing a game show. After being told to go to basically every jetty possible, we finally found the right one. We had heard of Waiheke being a great day-trip and full of wineries, but we hadn’t realised it was a bedroom community for Auckland. If you’re going to be stuck in traffic for 40 minutes during your daily commute, why not have it be on the ocean and heading home to a beautiful island? After the early morning passengers got off, there was only the 3 of us and a handful of tradies who hopped on.
It was a grey and hazy morning with not much of a sunrise to speak of, so we went inside to sit and enjoy 40 minutes of bouncing across the ocean in a stuffy little cab. In the end it was well worth the headache.
Nothing was open yet when we arrived, so we sat in the lobby of the pier and planned out our day. The wineries were a bit more spaced out than we had realised, we contemplated caving and purchasing the winery hop on/off bus. Thanks to one of the lovely attendants behind the counter, we saved about $90 when she recommended that we get the $10 town bus and use our legs a little more.
(a note: do not stand at the end of the jetty to take photos. You will be asked to leave, and the security officer will point out the very obvious sign asking you not to stand there. Whoops!)
The walk from the ferry/bus terminal is only meant to take about 15 minutes. It took us nearly 30 due to all the beautiful gardens along the way I had to stop and stare at! The plant life on Waiheke Island seems way more “tropical” than anything else we had come across in the Auckland CBD.
The first winery to open for the day was Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant
. We were the first customers of the day. The quiet gardens on the property seemed more like a country cottage than acclaimed winery and restaurant.
Bob led us through the tastings, and we had great chats with him about wine, travel, and photography. Wineries are at their best when they are quiet and the cellar door host isn’t swept off their feet. You get so much more out of the experience when they can really relax and have the time to show their passion about the product. I could have bought one of just about everything we tried at Mudbick, but left with a bottle of Chardonnay, with plans to toast to our planned road trip once it began.
This winery is aptly named – for the cranky old dinosaur that resides on the property. Again we were the first customers of the day, just after 11AM. There was no one at the cellar door, and so we followed the instructions posted on the wall to ring the bell hung beside the door. Big mistake. What followed was one of the most uncomfortable wine tastings of my life. After berating us for “being early” (10 minutes after the posted opening time), we basically paid to taste some wine and experience awful customer service for 40 minutes. Once his rant about our timing was over, our host barely raised his eyes from his paperwork as he monotonously rattled off the tasting notes. Anytime we asked a question, he would bark that the answer was on the tasting notes sheet. He asked us where we were all from, which we thought was an attempt to recover from his terrible attitude. We were wrong. When I answered that I was from Canada, he responded by telling me that “Canadian wines are shit.” Lovely. We were also informed that we obviously knew literally nothing about wine because we were unfamiliar with his favourite Italian variety. To be honest I’m not sure why we paid for that experience. The wines were nice, but not amazing. Jurassic Ridge
was such a polar opposite to our experience at Mudbrick, I think we were all in a bit of shock.
was the last winery we visited that day. It was by far the fanciest of the three. They were quite busy when we arrived, both in the tasting room and in the restaurant. The wines were again nice, but forgettable, as was the overall experience. The host was kept occupied by many groups who had all come in on the winery bus and the poor guy barely had time to tell us the names of the wines we were tasting.
The highlight of Cable Bay Winery is the views from their property. As we wandered their lawn, the sun finally came out and we could see both the Auckland skyline and Rangitoto quite clearly on the horizon. I am a bit envious of all the staff who get to work on such a beautiful property every day.
After our winery adventures, we walked back into town. It was an incredible muggy day, hot but overcast. I was covered head to toe due to a pretty nasty sunburn earned hiking up Rangitoto, and was pretty happy when we arrived at the steps of the Waiheke Public Library to wait for the bus. After seeing all the amazing looking meals at Cable Bay, we thought it would be a good time to have our own lunch. Tuna sandwiches on $1 bread – living the high life obviously.
Wild on Waiheke
The town bus arrived on time, and we rode father inland on Waiheke, The bus dropped us off at the side of the road at the end of their driveway, right next to a sign that said they were closed for a private event. We called them to double check. Turns out they were closed to tours, but were open for tasting. Always call!
Wild on Waiheke
is a brewery with a brilliant vibe. Most of the tables are outdoors, low to the ground and surrounded by bean bag chairs. We each got a tray to do a tasting of
4 beers, one cider “world famous (on Waiheke)” ginger beer. I love a crisp ginger beer with a bite and Wild on Waiheke makes a fantastic one. As we sat and enjoyed the beer, a breeze began to creep up on us, and soon a light rain. Then the EcoZip Adventures shuttle driver called us to say that he was on his way. We weren’t able to sit, sip and savour our last few tasters, and had to down them pretty quickly. Liquid courage for the ziplines.
Inclement weather does not stop zip lining. It was raining pretty heavily by the time our shuttle got to the Eco Zip
base building, fortunately they have rain coats and rain pants to borrow if anyone forgets their own.
P.S. – Google maps will try and tell you the walk between Wild on Waiheke and Eco Zip is only 20 minutes. This is a lie, as the walk is almost entirely up a gigantic hill. As with the rest of Auckland, hills are everywhere.
Our two guides for the afternoon, Izzy and Jake, were fantastic. Funny, friendly, and reassuring, you couldn’t ask for two better people to convince you to sail over a rainforest with nothing but a zipline holding you up. I really admired how they handled the more nervous people in our group, encouraging them without being overbearing or intimidating.
The first zipline was pretty tame, it wasn’t too long or steep, just enough to get used to the feeling. We were actually ziplining over some baby syrah vines, their first bottling is 2016 if anyone wants to try a bit of the first zipline wine. The next two are increasingly more intense, shooting you over the canopy of the rainforest. What an incredible experience to see it from above, and the rain only made the plants look more green and vibrant. How often do you get to see a forest from a bird’s-eye view?
Apparently on a clear day you can see Auckland’s skyline from the ride. There was no chance we could have seen through the rain and cloud, but I was too mesmerized by the forest below to care.
From the end of the last zipline you walk up a trail that leads back through the forest and up the hill to the base building. It was pouring rain, and a bit of a tiring walk, but the rainforest is so stunning you don’t notice much else.
Once we disrobed of all our harnesses and safety gear, there was a complementary shuttle that took everyone back into town. We grabbed some fish and chips from The Local, and sat overlooking the ocean as we ate.
From there we took the town bus back to the jetty and hopped back on the stuffy ferry to Auckland. Exhausted, but thoroughly satisfied, we agreed that Waiheke Island was our best day trip in Auckland.
How To Keep It Budget
- Use Bookme.co.nz and be flexible with your times. Depending on the time of year, you can get the ferry for 50% the usual price or maybe even less! Usually these cheaper fares are the first and last trips of the day, so look at it as a way to extend your adventure.
- Don’t book your zipline at full price! Again, use bookme. That website is essential for keeping your budget intact in New Zealand. We got our EcoZip tickets for almost half price! Again, the price was limited to the afternoon time available, but that actually fit really well into our day.
- Get the town bus. Spend $10 instead of $130. The price includes your ferry as well as the bus/tour, but we still came in at way under that price.
- Pack a lunch. Although we were sorely tempted by the restaurant at Cable Bay, we did save a ton of money by packing our own food. Next time, I might plan a little more ahead and bring more than just a tuna sandwich, but sometimes those pre-dawn wakeups don’t allow for such things.
Have you ever visited Waiheke Island? If not, where is your favourite small island paradise? Let me know in the comments below!
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