I live in ordinary suburbia and can’t imagine waking up to a stunning view every day. On holiday on Waiheke Island, I relished stepping out on our deck and looking out over the green hills at the sea and sky.
Our tour guide for the day would be picking us up from our accommodation at 10.30am. Since we were up early and had plenty of time, Jac and I went to Little Oneroa Beach, an easy 10-15-minute walk from our holiday apartment. We took some fresh fruit with us and stopped for a breakfast picnic.
When researching Waiheke Island and making plans for our trip, I found the See Waiheke Tours website and thought it sounded perfect for Jac and me. Christine Gisby of See Waiheke Tours specialises in small and private tours and is happy to customise your tour according to your interests. Of course, we could’ve just hired a car and driven around the island ourselves, but I liked the idea of having a local to guide our sight-seeing and give Jac a break from driving.
Christine and I exchanged quite a few emails as we planned the tour a couple of months ahead of our trip. I told her:
- We wanted to visit at least a couple of wineries but are more into whites than reds. Waiheke Island’s climate is ideal for producing Bordeaux-style reds; Christine made sure the wineries we visited had whites on their tasting list.
- I’m into photography and would be taking lots of pictures throughout the tour. Christine assured me there’d be plenty of photographic opportunities.
- Jac was very keen on visiting the island’s coastal areas, bays and inlets, something Christine mentioned on her website.
Having done some of our own research, there were a number of places we wanted to visit which weren’t necessarily regular tourist attractions. If Christine thought we were strange, she didn’t say so – she happily agreed to include these stops on our tour:
- Te Matuku Bay Oyster shop
- The rooster colony
- The Humble Pie Co – the local butcher
I also asked if it would be possible to have an chilly bin (esky) or cooler bag available to store any food purchases from the oyster shop and butcher. This was also no problem.
After emails back and forth, we settled on an itinerary that Jac and I were both chuffed with.
Christine drove us to the island’s best lookouts and brought us to some of the island’s isolated bays and inlets, showing us parts of the island not usually seen. At every stop, she pointed out landmarks of interest. Along the way, she told us about the history and geography of the island.
I found out about Waiheke Island’s rooster colony by chance while reading tour reviews on Trip Advisor – a few people mentioned seeing the roosters. I asked Christine about it in one of my emails – was there really a rooster colony on the island? If so, could we please visit it? The answer to both of my questions was “yes”!
Everyone I’ve told about the rooster colony asks the same question: how on earth can you end up with a colony of just roosters?
Waiheke Island falls under the governance of the Auckland City Council. Under council by-laws there’s a restriction on keeping roosters in residential areas, due to the noise they make. Rather than destroy the roosters, a compromise was reached; the locals created a sanctuary for them, near the entrance of the Onetangi Sports Park. Members of the island’s Friends of the Roosters group visit the roosters twice daily to feed them and check on their water, and local businesses donate unwanted food. People regularly drop off unwanted roosters, adding to the colony’s numbers. The roosters are clearly used to visitors, as they came bounding over as soon as we pulled up, flocking around the vehicle as we stepped out.
Waiheke Island is a beautiful place, but I think I fell in love with it because of the roosters.
We left the roosters (me, a bit reluctantly, I could’ve watched them for hours) to visit Batch Winery, one of Waiheke Island’s newest wineries, at the family-owned Thomas Estate Vineyard.
We were warmly welcomed by Batch’s very handsome and personable winemaker Daniel Struckman who looked after us during our visit. In addition to Batch Winery wines, we had a taste from their special reserve selection, produced under the Thomas & Sons label. The wine labels and winery building are inspired by the colours of wine, from tones of deep plum and rose red to straw yellow.
The cellar door is furnished simply; embellishments are minimal. There’s a sunny deck where you can enjoy a tasting platter with your glass of wine.
We began indoors, then picked up our glasses and followed Daniel as he led us to the vineyard, bottle in hand ready for the next tasting.
Daniel talked about the vineyard, grapes and harvesting process. In addition to the usual suspects, all grown on Waiheke Island, Batch Winery grows flora grapes, found only in a handful of New Zealand vineyards. Daniel also took us into the winery, explaining the different steps in the production of wine. Batch Winery produces and bottles its own wines right here on site. We bought a bottle of Batch Winery’s 2012 sparkling Blanc de Blanc and Thomas & Sons 2010 Cabernet Franc.
Next stop: the Te Matuku Bay Oyster Shop to buy some fresh local oysters for Jac’s dinner. Te Matuku Bay oysters are grown in the Te Matuku Bay marine reserve on Waiheke Island. Most of the restaurants on Waiheke Island serve Te Matuku oysters, including The Oyster Inn, where we dined on our first night. They’re also sold at the Fruit and Veg shop in Oneroa Village and at the local Ostend Market on Saturdays. Jac was determined to stick to her vow for this New Zealand trip: “to eat until I’m pooping oysters”.
In addition to oysters, they sell a range of seafood, both fresh and smoked – we couldn’t resist buying a selection of smoked fish as well, all of which went into the chiller bag provided by Christine.
For lunch, Christine had recommended Cable Bay Vineyards. She’d made us a lunch reservation and arranged for us to have a wine tasting and tour of the property.
When we laid eyes on the sweeping views looking back towards Auckland, Cable Bay Vineyards instantly etched itself into our memories. The grey building faded to insignificance as nature’s beauty took over.
We were given a table for lunch right next to the open French doors so we could continue to drink in that spectacular view. Christine slipped away and left us to enjoy our lunch.
Jac’s entree was cured Ora king salmon with watermelon, cucumber, avocado and wasabi. This dish was served cold, the wasabi sorbet the paradoxical surprise, a scoop of impossibly smooth, spicy ice.
The day I ate my entree I posted a photo on Facebook and proclaimed it one of the best scallop dishes I’ve ever eaten. That still holds true, and I still dream about the dish. Four scallops, nicely caramelised yet juicy and bouncy, arranged on roast cauliflower cream, with shredded ham hock, apple, bright green beans, garnished with wispy micro herb tendrils. It was beautiful, delicate, harmonious. I wanted to take my time, have twice as much and all of it to myself.
For main course, Jac ordered the Hawke’s Bay rib-eye medium rare, with onion, leek, speck and truffle jus. The steak was tender and seasoned well. Next to the onion and leek, an elegant square of potatoes Dauphinoise. It was a balanced, satisfying dish. To go with her rib-eye, Jac ordered the recommended wine match, the Cable Bay Vineyards Reserve Syrah 2010 (AU$15).
I ordered the Southland lamb, carrots, date, wheat and sheep’s yoghurt. The flavours were middle-eastern, dukkah-crusted lamb served quite rare with tangy yoghurt, cracked wheat, scattered pistachios and sticky dates, sweet like toffee.
It was an outstanding meal in a superb setting. I have no doubt it will be one of our best dining experiences for 2013.
Christine reappeared as we finished our meal. She’d been back to our accommodation with our seafood purchases – they would be waiting for us in the fridge when we got back. How’s that for service?
After lunch, a tour of the property, including checking out the very tidy herb and veggie garden, raided daily by the chefs.
Cable Bay Vineyards’ wines are made from grapes grown on Waiheke Island as well as in the Central Otago and Marlborough regions.
Wine time. The Viognier Waiheke Island 2012 was the winner in this lot, with sweet apricot, honey and citrus flavours; we left lugging a precious bottle.
Taking wine on a plane
- You can take duty free wine (within the specified limits) as carry-on luggage, but thanks to the current regulations around liquids, any non-duty free wine must be packed in your checked-in luggage.
- We protected the wine by packing it in Wineskins, bubble-wrapped containers that are specially designed for safely transporting standard (750ml) wine bottles, protecting them from impact as well as leakage, should breakage occur.
- We packed the Wineskinned bottles snugly using rolled up clothes as padding (you may remember my story on dirty undies as packing material). All our food and wine made it home safely.
- When empty, Wineskins are lightweight and easy to pack flat, so you can take them with you on a trip to be fully prepared for your wine purchases. Of course, you’ll need to allow for the extra space in the suitcase and factor in the weight it will add to your luggage.
- The Wineskins are inexpensive compared to a bill for dry-cleaning or new clothes – we paid around NZ$6 each but I’m sure you can find them cheaper if you shop around.
- Some of the boutique wineries in New Zealand don’t export to Australia, or if they do, mostly just Sydney and Melbourne rather than Perth. Sending bottles directly by mail is an option but carries expensive shipping costs, so from now on when we travel to destinations featuring wineries, we’ll be packing a couple of Wineskins just in case.
Note: this isn’t an advertisement; just wanted to share what we found to be a very useful product.
Our final stop on our tour with Christine was the Humble Pie Co, the Village Butchery. I love the shop’s painted sign featuring meat animals (apologies to the vegetarians!). In addition to standard butcher fare like steaks, mince and chops, there’s game for sale, listed on the chalkboard inside; that day it was pheasant, rabbit, duck, quails, guinea fowl and poussin. It felt a little wrong after hanging out with the roosters, but we bought a ready-to-eat small smoked chook.
We had a wonderful day out with Christine. We paid NZ$250 per person for a private tour for just the two of us, not including lunch. It wasn’t a cheap day out and so won’t suit everyone, but we were happy to pay for a tour customised to exactly what we wanted. I wanted Jac to have the chance to just relax and enjoy herself without worrying about navigating and concentrating on driving, and I was stoked to see how much she was enjoying herself. In addition to taking us around the island, Christine gave us a local’s insight to life on Waiheke Island, better than any guide book.
That evening, we had dinner out on our deck: Te Matuku Bay oysters and smoked seafood, smoked chicken, salad and a handful of Bluebird potato crisps on the side. Jac made a champagne dressing for the oysters.
See Waiheke – Waiheke Island Tours
Phone +64 27 221 6142 or 0800 12 20 50
Tours can be personalised to suit your interests
Small (up to 6 people) and private tours
Families and children can be catered for, with children under 12 free
Pickup from the ferry or your island accommodation
Pricing will vary depending on itinerary and number of people. Our customised private tour was NZ$250 per person, not including the cost of lunch.
Thomas Estate Vineyard
129 Carsons Road
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Telephone: +64 9 372 3223
Batch and Thomas & Sons (reserve collection) wines
Wine tasting, vineyard tours, cellar door sales
Te Matuku Bay Oyster Shop
13 Tahi Rd
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Telephone: +64 9 372 8600
Cable Bay Vineyards
12 Nick Johnstone Drive
Oneroa, Waiheke Island
Telephone: +64 9 372 5889
Wine tasting, vineyard tours, restaurant, wine bar, cellar door and online sales, functions and weddings
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
- Waiheke Island tour with See Waiheke – 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.