Two one day outings two years ago and this island had stolen our hearts. We couldn’t end our time in New Zealand without revisiting. This time though we were booked for five nights in an Airbnb so that we didn’t have to have that sad feeling catching the last ferry across to Auckland at the end of the day.
All Aboard the Fuller Ferry
Our Airbnb host Jilly kindly dropped us at the ferry terminal which saved us a bus ride. I abandoned Jon on the wharf to do a supermarket dash to stock up for our first few days on the island. There is only one supermarket on the island which was about 2.5 km away. But why spend time walking to a supermarket when you can walk to a beach or winery?
We bought a return ticket (NZ$39 each) for the 10.00am 40 minute crossing to Waiheke which is in the Hauraki Gulf. By the time we had our tickets and joined the queue of holiday weekend day trippers the skies were looking a little gloomy. The ferry whisked us along past the volcanic island of Rangitoto as the skies darkened above us and a mixture of rain and sea spray pepper our faces. Those of you who know us will have guessed that we were not inside with the other passengers – we were outside getting the full experience.
Unfortunately the forecast did not look good for our 4 days on the island, but we had also been told by an optimistic Jilly that the island has a micro-climate. Was she just being nice? From the look of the sky we wondered.
Vista del Mare
As soon as the ferry left Auckland I sent a text message to Denis and Maggie, our island Airbnb hosts, to let them know we were on our way. Denis had offered to pick us up from the ferry terminal and store our bags until our accommodation had been cleaned etc. In the quirky way that we have become accustomed too, his reply actually said that he would be in black station wagon with two planks of wood strapped to the roof. Well this is the way island life is. While the unit was being cleaned from the previous guests we grabbed our togs and headed for the nearest beach which was Onetangi, about a 20 minute walk. Crazy you may think with skies like those but Jilly’s tale of micro-climates came good and we were bathed in sunshine and needed to slap the plus 50 sunscreen on. We did make one little diversion on the way to the beach and that was to The Boathouse. This is a beach front bar that just happened to be serving the coldest beer for thirsty JWalkers.
An hour for a swim, turned into a beer, a swim and a nap so it was about 3 hours later that we returned to our last airbnb booking for this trip. The little studio has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and living room but it is the outside deck that blew us away.
Forget the unpacking, I just may need to sit here with a coffee for a while and soak in the view.
Road Trip to the Far End
Here are a few facts to give you an idea of the size of the island. It is around 20 miles from the west coast to the east and has around 80 miles of coastline, 25 miles of which are beaches (Yay!!) It is hilly so bear that in mind if you are thinking of coming over and renting a bike – go for an e-bike unless you are an avid cyclist. Even then the roads are narrow and not everyone respects the speed limit of 50 km/ph (around 30 mph).
I read in a leaflet that the island is split into four areas moving from west to east. On the far west is the “Headlands” with fantastic views over the Gulf, to the east of that is the area known as “Beaches ‘n’ Baches” for village life, shops, cafes and a few coves. Moving east again and you come to the area called “Forest Heart” with a lot of bush, a regional park and a forest and bird reserve. Finally, the biggest chunk of all on the eastern end of the island is the “Far End“. Vineyards-a-plenty, huge skies, outstanding views and a more remote feel on the unsealed roads and footpaths. Oh yes and a few more beaches!
To make this road trip happen we needed wheels and this where this Airbnb excels itself. On a day rate basis we could use the Pink Jeep. It was a 4WD Jeep Wrangler and it looked quite shiny and new from a distance but had been well used and certainly had character. The soft top was only attached in about two or three places and the zip up windows needed a bit of encouragement. I opted to drive and fired her up. Jink (as we christened her) had a throaty roar and after negotiating, with plenty of arm waving from Jonno, the tricky about turn on a narrow, crazily steep drive we hit the road. I had my work cut out keeping Jink on the straight and narrow. She seemed to float about a bit while Jon tried to fold a map in what felt like a gale blowing through the now fully unzipped windows. Poor Jonno, he is not a lover of rattles in a car. He can even sense two zip heads rattling together on a case in the boot which happened in Dexy, although in this case Jink’s engine and the wind did drown out most of them. Add in the dilemma of his seat being locked in a fairly forward position, making the seat belt virtually strangle him and the huge run off ditches on the side of the narrow tracks seeming Oh so close. I was happy though and have decided I want one but only if it is pink.
Before we got too far from the Beaches ‘n’ Baches end of the island we stopped at Ostend for a light lunch. It was aptly named the Belgium Cafe but not a Stella Artois in sight. I had a cunning plan. Although Waiheke is full of wineries, I had researched a couple of places that also had a micro brewery on site so with Jon holding onto the map in a vice like grip we headed to Wild on Waiheke. Sadly it was closed. No flight of beers today then to prepare us for the unmade roads of the Far End. We planned to complete a loop of this part of the island and conveniently about half way there was a winery – maybe this one would be open.
We stopped at some many little bays and coves and here are just two worth a mention:
- Rocky Bay – Omiha Beach which was peaceful and empty. Weirdly it looked like people had just come in off their little boats and chucked them in the hedge till next time.
- Man O’ War Bay – beautiful bay full of boats that had moored up to call in at the Man O’War Winery (which was open for business) and the food trucks that were nearby. Had to pass on the wine, I needed all my faculties to keep Jink on track but there was a bottle of pink in the fridge calling me home. Cool history fact.
The remainder of the loop home gave stunning views to the south of the island towards Auckland. An evening swim at our local beach was needed before heading for that pink bottle with my name on it.
The few days here were planned just to relax but we had the car for a few more hours the next day so headed to a couple of other beaches. Why wouldn’t we?
- Palm Beach – beautiful calm beach. Clothes optional on the west end.
- Oneroa Beach – a favourite from our trip two years ago. A horseshoe shaped beach with calm waters and a few boats moored up. Floated around for a bit then laid around for a bit before heading to the Solar Bar for light refreshment! The view is great as it is one of the only places on the Island where you can see bays on both the north and south shores.
Hei konā rā Aotearoa
Māori has improved that means Goodbye New Zealand. Apologies to any Māori readers if I have messed up. Our last few days were spent just relaxing and reminiscing about our return trip. We talked about that old cliche about whether or not you should return to somewhere you loved in case it is not as good second time around. Our doubts about that disappeared into thin air probably about the time we saw North Island out of the aircraft window as we made our final approach into Auckland.
There was just time for one more swim, one more glass of local wine and beer and fish and chips at Charley Farley’s (sadly no Piggy Malone). (Please note the nifty vinegar dispenser in the fish it was like a pipette – I would say I don’t get out much but that is not true.)
One final cliche came to mind as we walked home with full tummies and salt crusted bodies, the one about shooting yourself in the foot. These few days here have been to relax and enjoy the beauty of the island but be just a ferry and bus ride from the airport when we leave. What we didn’t realise was how much harder it has made it to leave this beautiful country. An impersonal airport hotel would have made it easier but I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China or as Jonno would say, “all the pies in New Zealand“.
05/02 – 10/02/2018