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Many of the world’s most beautiful islands have suffered from the seasonal influx of tourists en masse. Not Waiheke Island, in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand.
Although the Island attracts travellers and holidaymakers from around the globe, it still retains its pristine natural beauty, tranquillity and unique character. “Slow down, you’re here”, a road sign warns visitors driving off the vehicular ferry – and that attitude partly explains what makes Waiheke so delightful.
An amazingly diverse community of artists, winemakers, farmers, entrepreneurs, gardeners and alternative lifestyle seekers have come to live here, drawn by Waiheke’s absolute “islandness”. You can visit some of them in their studios, vineyards and gardens, admire their work, sample and buy their produce.
A good example is Rangihoua Estate, New Zealand’s most awarded olive producer. Olive oil tasting is growing in popularity, and the distinctive grassy, peppery taste on a chunk of fresh bread seems to go particularly well with the local wines. Lavender also grows abundantly on the Island, and you’ll find its fragrant products for sale at the Ostend Market and various gift shops. Then there’s Ringawera, Franco’s and Helios, local breadmakers who are world famous on Waiheke – enjoy their breads with some locally made green herb spread, hot tamarind chutney or wild manuka honey.
But it’s the wine industry that has really put Waiheke on the international map, and since the late 1970s has grown from three boutique wineries to more than 30 vineyards. The Mediterranean climate and “small is beautiful” philosophy of the Island’s winemakers produces low quantities of extremely high quality fruit, which is made into award-winning wines, notably the big Bordeaux-style reds (but there are many other varietals successfully grown here too).
For lovers of the “great outdoors”, there’s plenty of wild territory to explore. Pockets of original and regenerating native bush, picturesque coastal tracks, gorgeous sandy beaches and rocky foreshores are just a few of the options. Throngs of birds are everywhere – even around the main village of Oneroa you often hear the “phhit-phhit-phhit” of kereru (wood pigeons) swooping overhead, a cacophony of tui calls and the melodious “deedle-de-deedle-deedle-dee” of riro riro (grey warblers).
As you listen to their music, sip a glass of Waiheke wine and gaze across the sea to the craggy contours of Coromandel or the outer Gulf islands, you can easily understand why so many have come for a day and ended up living here. Prepare to be utterly bewitched.
Best of Waiheke in a day: Experience it with Ananda Tours, the Island’s premium personalised tour company, with a team of entertaining and knowledgeable guides (all of whom have completed a Bob Campbell Diploma course and are wine enthusiasts themselves).
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