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Waiheke Island – Guide for Backpackers

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Wine sipping and wind surfing in Waiheke.

Drink wine, explore, lazy on the beach, kayak, zipline through trees, drink more wine… Waiheke Island is a paradise for Aucklanders and backpackers alike. Whether you want to relax on the island or take on some challenging walks, watersports or bike rides, Waiheke is a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of Auckland city.

The hot dry summers and ideal soil conditions have put Waiheke on the map as a top wine-making region. So it would almost be a terrible crime to not try some of its local produce. Another crime would be to not explore this beautiful island by something a little different. Hire a bike/car/scooter for the day and see what you discover. Even enjoy Waiheke’s coast from the water by hiring a kayak or a windsurf board.

Things you can’t miss on Waiheke Island.

  • Getting there is a good start. So read about getting to Waiheke.
  • Discover the cool ways of getting around the island.
  • Be wowed by the coastal scenery while hiking.
  • Do something adventurous like a ziplining tour, mountain biking, paddle boarding, etc.
  • Go underground at the Stony Batter Gun Emplacements.
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How to get to Waiheke Island

Take the ferry. Simple. Waiheke Island’s Matiatia Bay is just a 35-minute ferry ride from the downtown Auckland Ferry terminal. With the ferries running regularly throughout the day from 5.35am to 11.45pm on weekdays (times slightly vary on weekends and public holidays), you can relax as you tend to not to need to rush for the ferry.

You can also take your car to Waiheke by car ferry, but it is cheaper to rent a car for the day on Waiheke.

If your budget has no bounds, take a scenic flight over the islands of the Hauraki Gulf and land at Waiheke.

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Getting Around

The different methods of travelling around the island is half the fun, depending on fitness level. Many people coming here hire a bike to do some beach or vineyard hopping on the west half of the island as part of their day trip. Because of the hills cyclists have to tackle, there is also the option to hire an electric bike. For those not venturing too far from the ferry terminal, there are a few walking tracks nearby, sea kayaking tours and a 20-minute walk to the main town, Oneroa.

Hire a car or scooter to get around Waiheke quickly without breaking a sweat. Alternatively, you can take the bus, however, this gets very busy through spring and summer.

Once you have chosen a mode of transport, one fun thing to do is do a vineyard and brewery crawl. Most island maps will map the 18 vineyards and you can find the Waiheke Island Brewery at 82 Onetangi Road. Maybe you shouldn’t do all of them though; 18 glasses of wine and a pint of beer will have you on the floor. Be sure to check the vineyard wineries and cafe opening times as these change seasonally.

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Go for a walk

Outstanding views from coastal beaches to inland’s vineyards and small towns await for those wishing to hike on Waiheke Island.

Close to the ferry terminal:

  • Northern Walk (Matiatia, Owhanake and Oneroa). Do this walk if you don’t have much time on the island. It takes in the Hauraki Gulf and inland to Oneroa. The walk is a 2-hour loop.
  • Southern Walk (Matiatia, Church Bay, and Oneroad). This 2-hour walk brings you across areas revegetated to attract birds and other wildlife.
  • Oneroa, Blackpool walkway. This is a 2-hour coastal walk also going through the town of Oneroa. Oneroa Beach and Little Oneroa Beach are safe to swim.
Further afield:
  • Hekerua and Palm Beach. See every type of beach you care to think of: shingle, rocky pools, coastal outcrop, etc. Then bring it to the finale of the popular white sand beach, Palm Beach. Here, you can hire a kayak, use the BBQ facilities, swim and eat the “cheap as chips” fish n’ chips. The walk takes about 2 hours to complete (like the rest of the walks).
  • Rocky Bay. Again, 2 hours is needed for this walk. Discover the southern Kuakarau and Omiha bays. You can see Maori archaeological sites and walk through the Whakanewha Regional Park.
  • Rock Bay Te Whau loop. Extend your Rocky Bay walk another 2 hours. This is one of the more secluded walks through coastal forest and vineyards. The views capture Rocky Bay, Te Whau Point, inland Waiheke and even out to Auckland.
  • Onetangi. For once, a walk that just takes 1 hour! If you like long walks on the beach, then you’ll cry with happiness at the length of Onetangi Beach. Taking walkers to higher land on small reserves, the walk has views out to Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands.
  • Cross Island Walkway. Fancy a 4 hour challenge? Hike from Onetangi Beach to Rocky Bay. Somewhere in between you’ll discover an old forest including kauri trees, awesome views and waterfalls.

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Adventure activities

It’s not just about lazying on the beach and drinking wine in Waiheke. The island holds plenty of outdoor action for adventurous types. It’s best to book activities before you arrive on the island.

On the water, you can hire a kayak, go kayak fishing, or go on a kayaking tour to private beaches, caves and rock channels. Learn how to windsurf. Try paddle boarding, a popular New Zealand activity. Be a big kid on a water trampoline.

On dry land, zip through the trees on flying foxes with Ecozip Adventures. Fly down a hill with Waiheke Mountain Bike Club at Onetangi Sports Park. Shoot some stuff with an air rifle, a bow and arrow, or a horse shot at Target Challenge in Matiatia. Get involved in a multi-activity day in a vineyard at Wild on Waiheke: archery, laser clay-pigeon shooting, and wine and beer tasting. Finally, ride a movie star… by movie star we mean horses that starred in The Hobbit and The Last Samurai. Waiheke Horse Tours takes you on horse treks from Tw Makutu Bay.

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Stony Batter Gun Emplacements

[Update: the Stony Batter Gun Emplacements are currently closed]

Over yonder on the east side of Waiheke Island is a fascinating place to visit for both the natural rock outcrops that are dotted across the countryside and the manmade gun emplacements. The World War 2 defenses consist of three huge gun pits and a network of underground tunnels. A torch is essential to navigate the tunnels, which you can hire from the Stony Batter Preservation Society. Admission is NZ$8 per person, cash only. Otherwise, you can book guided tours of the tunnels at NZ$15 per person.

As Stony Batter is 40 minutes from the ferry terminal, it’s best to take the shuttle service, go by car or scooter. The carpark for Stony Batter is 10-20 walk away from the reserve.

The views themselves are pretty spectacular, looking out towards the Coromandel and other Hauraki Gulf islands. Make a walk out of your visit by taking the 1h40min return walks: Stony Batter to Hooks Bay and/or Stony Batter to Opopo Bay.

If you have more time on Waiheke Island…

  • Sit amongst artistic sculptures at Alison Park, Oneroa.
  • Include the above activity into the Oneroa Art Trail, which visits The Red Shed Art Gallery, Tuatara Art Gallery, Toi Gallery and Waiheke Community Art Gallery.
  • Your visit may coincide with a festival, such as Waiheke Winter Arts Festival (Queen’s Birthday weekend), Local Wild Food Challenge (October), Island of Burlesque Festival (Labour weekend), Waiheke Christmas Festival (December), Shakespeare Festival (February), Waiheke Vintage Festival (March), and more!
  • Play frisbee golf at Onetangi Sports Park.
  • Do yoga in a yurt with “Youga”, Palm Beach.
  • Have a couple of drinks in the bars lining the streets of Oneroa.
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Where to stay in Waiheke Island?

For more accommodation options, check out the Accommodation Guide to Auckland Region and Where to Camp in Auckland.

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