Sometimes life hands you a dozen red roses and you just have to inhale deeply and smile broadly. On this particular Valentine’s Day (which thankfully passes with barely a mention in New Zealand) I got my metaphorical dozen roses with the chance to end a whirlwind work trip to Auckland – two days in the air and three days on the ground – with a trip to the beautiful Waiheke Island.
Whenever I arrive in a new place, I ask a local “If you could do one thing here, what would it be?”. I asked Aucklanders this question a number of times and the answer was always the same: “Take the ferry and go to Waiheke. It’s beautiful. Just go. In fact, if you can go for more than one day, do that.” Well, I had a hard time believing it was going to be all that great, but I had a few hours to spare and a business colleague, Josh, who was game, so to the ferry we headed.
The trip from the Ferry Terminal in Auckland takes a quick 30 minutes and costs about $26 for the roundtrip. It’s cool to see the cityscape from the water – I had spent three days within a two-mile square area of Viaduct Harbor. We decided on board the ferry that we’d rent a car as soon as we arrived as we had a lunch reservation at a well-known vineyard, Te Whau, and I also wanted to scope out Palm beach and the local township, Oneroa. Josh was amused by my desire to fill every minute of my three and a half hours on the island and kept asking if I was secretly a New Yorker.
As we left the city behind us, we passed a series of small grass and rock islands. Josh exclaimed, “Look! My first rolling green hill!” And the water… it was oh so green and blue and turquoise. Changing by the minute as the sun darted in and out of stormy clouds. The weather is almost tropical. Big outbursts of rain can appear out of nowhere, and then you blink and the pavement’s all dried up with a tiny hint of steam as the sun does its job.
As soon as the ferry docked, we zipped inside the terminal to inquire about renting a car. The man behind the counter told us that we’d find a cheaper car if we crossed the parking lot and found the long flat building. Pointing you to cheaper or better competitors seems to be a way of doing business in New Zealand. The practice seems genuine and friendly but I wonder how it is for the bottom line.
We found said building, but there was no-one inside. Soon a lanky, scruffy blonde kid soon showed up. He told us that he had one car left and pointed to a red beater outside – stick shift and right-hand drive, of course. It must have been 10 years old if it was a day, but it appeared to have four wheels and a steering wheel, and we only needed it for a few hours so we took it, but not before having to ask “Bruce” to stop vacuuming it so we could get on our way. The clock was ticking fast on my three and a half precious hours.
Settling into the sunken seats, I asked Josh to adjust the passenger wing mirror and it immediately fell apart. Bruce helped us put it back and said, “Do me a favor, and if it falls out again, could you stop and pick it up and bring it back with you?” We assented to what seemed like a reasonable enough request and screeched out of the parking lot at 5 mph.
One first stop was Oneroa which is approximately 87 seconds drive from the ferry terminal. Did I mention that the island itself is only 12 miles long? Despite being compact and bijoux, it boasts 83 miles of coastline and what a gorgeous coastline it is. The feel of this place is part-Hawaii: lush vegetation, hot sun punctuated with rain showers, and clean sandy beaches lapped by gentle waters; part-Sonoma County, thanks to the abundance of grapevines and olive trees, and maybe just a touch of the Mendocino coastline with dramatic rock faces tumbling into the water and a few steep hills scattered with sheep. Of course, it’s probably just 100% New Zealand, but I haven’t traveled enough around the country to make that declaration.
Oneroa is essentially a one-street village with fantastic views of the town beach, plenty of little knick knack stores to buy last minute gifts for friends and family, and a few little bed and breakfasts. Oh, and there’s an awesome grocery store which features locally grown produce and a wonderful ship’s container which has been turned into a gelato and coffee store.
In case you haven’t heard, New Zealanders are very proud of their coffee beans and the magic their baristas make behind the counter, and Josh assured me this was the case. And just as I was about to pass on the ice cream, I learned that a good 5-6 of their flavors were completely dairy-free, so I opted for the passionfruit which was just amazing and perfect for breakfast.
Our race against the clock was truly underway. We were 35 minutes into our time on Waiheke and had just 20 minutes until our noon lunch reservation, so after taking a few photographs and grabbing a t-shirt and some honey for Monkey, we jumped back into our little red car and headed off in the wrong direction for the vineyard.
Part Two to follow shortly.