Waiheke Island is the second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf (the largest is Great Barrier Island) and a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. The hilly island is said to have slightly warmer temperatures and less rainfall than Auckland. There are around 8,000 permanent residents on the island, with an estimated additional 2,000 to 3,000 people staying in summer to enjoy their holiday homes. Some residents commute daily to Auckland for work.
The name “Waiheke” is Maori for “cascading waters”. Waiheke Island is home to boutique vineyards, restaurants and cafes, scenic and secluded beaches, walking tracks, a Saturday market, sightseeing and wine tasting tours and plenty of accommodation options – a great island getaway, especially for food and wine lovers. As far as wine goes, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a real wine drinker, but right now I’m in a phase I’m calling my personal voyage of discovery, enjoying opportunities to taste and learn more about wine, including how to write about it. My recent time in New Zealand has been brilliant for this.
You can easily do a day trip to Waiheke from Auckland, but we chose to stay for three nights, which turned out to be too short a stay for us – there were not enough meals in that timeframe to check out all the restaurants and cellar doors we wanted to! Next time we’ll come for longer.
We stayed at Le Chalet Apartments. There are three apartments – we had Apartment A, also called Avignon. The other apartments are (B)ordeaux and (C)hablis. The apartments are located on a hill approximately 2.5km from the Matiatia ferry terminal, 10-15 minutes walk to Oneroa, the main village of Waiheke Island, and 5 minutes walk to Little Oneroa Beach. The walk back took a little longer as part of it is uphill – and for us, almost always with full bellies. As we had our luggage and didn’t fancy carrying/pushing it all the way, we grabbed a cab to Le Chalet – several cabs were waiting for the arrival of ferry passengers at Matiatia – the ride cost us around NZ$12. If you hire a car to drive yourself around the island, which we did for one of the days, there’s free secure parking for Le Chalet guests.
The apartment has a small lounge with TV, kitchenette with microwave and fridge, bedroom and ensuite bathroom. We spent most of our time on Waiheke out and about; we never even switched on the TV and when we were in the apartment, preferred to sit on the verandah to enjoy the views and crisp, clean air.
The bed was quite comfy although I found the pillows were too soft. There were enough power points for my charging needs (iPhone, iPad and camera battery). The apartment comes with free wifi, which I made good use of. Signs in the bathroom reminded us that we were on an island with limited water supply, encouraging us to keep our showers short, not necessarily telling us to use water sparingly, just not wastefully. Coming from Western Australia where low rainfall and watering restrictions feature regularly, we’re no strangers to using water wisely.
My favourite part of the apartment was the sunny north-facing wooden deck. The table and chairs were weather-beaten and rickety, but the view was spectacular. We spied a tubby ginger cat creeping around the bushes a couple of times, which made us think of our furry babies back home, being looked after by Jac’s mum.
We wandered along Ocean View Road, the main street, checking out the shops and getting a sense of where everything was, especially places to eat. We found the local fruit and veg shop, butcher, chemist, supermarket, banks, clothing boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants.
With dinner in mind, we headed for The Oyster Inn, a relatively new luxury inn, restaurant and bar right in the centre of Oneroa Village.
If you go to Waiheke Island, I’m sure you’ll spot the yellow and white striped Oyster Inn Kombi van around the place – it’s pretty hard to miss. Besides being a very effective billboard on wheels, it’s used to provide the complimentary transfers for Oyster Inn hotel guests to and from Matiatia ferry.
We did consider The Oyster Inn when researching Waiheke Island accommodation, but chose Le Chalet as a cheaper option – we guessed correctly that we’d spend a lot of time out and about so on this occasion didn’t see the need to pay for luxury accommodation. Breakfast is included with all rooms at The Oyster Inn, for example, but we wanted to keep our options open rather than feel that we should eat at our accommodation just because we’d already paid for it. Another time, perhaps.
The Oyster Inn’s menu features locally caught and grown produce, and of course, with a name like The Oyster Inn, oysters take pride of place on the menu. There are Te Matuku oysters (NZ$4 each), grown on Waiheke Island, as well as oysters from elsewhere around New Zealand. The menu changes depending on what’s available, and the day’s oyster selection is scribbled on a blackboard as you enter the restaurant. Luckily for Jac the night we had dinner at The Oyster Inn, Stewart Island oysters (NZ$7 each) were on the menu. These are fleshy monsters, their shells filled with slimy oyster liquor. If you’re an oyster lover who swallows rather than chews, you may find these giants a challenge! Jac ordered three Stewart Island and three Te Matuku oysters. They were freshly shucked, served with lemon wedges, and a dressing of chardonnay vinegar and shallots. While Jac slurped down these big booger beasties, I sipped on my home-made lemonade with crushed mint (NZ$5 glass).
We shared a main course and a salad. We chose the fish ‘inn’ chips (NZ$24.50), with battered line-caught fish and triple-cooked chips. We were pleased with the two decent-sized pieces of fish in crispy batter, and the golden thick-cut chips.
Our waiter recommended ‘a very green salad’ (NZ$15), challenging us to identify its 13 ingredients. We got as far as 10 – cos lettuce, spinach, snow peas, green beans, quinoa, nori, fennel, parsley, tarragon and spring onion – then thought “Bugger it, we’re on holiday!”, stopped analysing and just focused on demolishing the fresh crunchy green mountain. My friends and regular readers wouldn’t expect me to rave on about a salad, especially one without any bacon in it, but this was the most interesting and satisfying green salad I’ve encountered – and willingly helped destroy.
Having gone light on the main course, we were keen to order dessert. We shared the ewe’s milk yoghurt panna cotta (NZ$12) served with Waiheke honeycomb, macadamia praline and poached apricot. I’m not a fan of the waxy edges of raw honeycomb, but the sweet poached apricot went very well with the tangy panna cotta. I wouldn’t go so far as describe the ewe’s milk yoghurt as “sheepy” but it’s got a stronger, though not unpleasant flavour than yoghurt made from cow’s milk, and so won’t appeal to everyone. It was nice to have a dessert that wasn’t overly sweet, yet didn’t venture into savoury territory, as seems to be the cool thing in desserts nowadays.
Jac ordered a glass of dessert wine to go with our pudding – the 2011 Forrest Estate Botrytised riesling from the Marlborough region (NZ$14 glass), with the flavours of citrus and honey, making it a nice match. The Oyster Inn’s wine list features wines from Waiheke Island, other New Zealand wine regions, and France. In addition to a selection of international beers, the beers on tap are local – by Hallertau from Auckland and the Waiheke Island Brewery. You don’t need to order a meal to enjoy a drink – there’s a bar with comfy cane furniture and stools out on the balcony overlooking the street where you can sit and watch the world go by.
It was a fabulous meal and our waiter was excellent – attentive and knowledgeable, personable but not too chatty. The Oyster Inn is heaven for oyster fiends, but oyster haters won’t go hungry. We’d definitely eat there again.
Back on the accommodation issue, The Oyster Inn is very well located if you want to be right in the centre of Oneroa Village, though I suspect it will be noisier. We didn’t mind the exercise walking to and from the village/our accommodation – but just a TIP: if you’re not staying right in the village and don’t intend to hire a car or catch cabs, bring a torch or wear a headlamp for the walk back at night. The paths along the hills are pretty dark; you want to 1) be able to see where you are walking and 2) be visible to oncoming vehicles. It was pretty quiet when we were there in the off-peak season, but we made sure we would be seen by any vehicles that passed by.
More Waiheke stories are on the way!
Getting to Waiheke Island
We caught the Fullers ferry from the Auckland ferry terminal at Quay Street.
Return ferry tickets cost us NZ$35.50 per person.
It’s a comfortable ride. There are toilets onboard and light refreshments for purchase. You’re free to move around the ferry, including going to upstairs to the top deck.
Le Chalet Apartments
14 Tawa Street
Oneroa, Waiheke Island
We stayed at the Avignon (Apartment A).
We paid $225 per night for 3 nights (price will vary for the different apartments and time of year). Free wifi and secure parking onsite.
The Oyster Inn
124 Ocean View Road
Oneroa, Waiheke Island
Telephone: +64(0)9 372 2222
Restaurant: breakfast from 10am, lunch and dinner menu from 11am till late
Accommodation is available at the Oyster Inn and includes transfers to/from the ferry, free wifi and daily breakfast.
New Zealand trip – blog series
And there’s more to come from our trip.
Posted so far (in reading order):
- New Zealand trip – sneak peek
- The Big Foody Auckland Tastebud Tour
- El Faro, Elliott Stables, Auckland
- Takapuna Beach Cafe, Auckland and ferry ride to Devonport
- The Kapiti Store, Auckland
- Food Alley, Auckland
- Waiheke Island: Le Chalet Apartments and The Oyster Inn – this post
This trip to New Zealand was planned by Jac and me. We paid for all meals, accommodation and activities; the exception was 1 x return premium economy flight Perth to Auckland, which I received at an Air New Zealand launch event last year. Everything I blog about the trip is based on our experiences and all opinions are our own.