I SOMETIMES put a trip to Waiheke in the too-hard basket, thanks to the fact it's on the other side of 17km of water. That means catching buses on the island or hiring a car, and somehow I never get around to organising that.
Enter an offer from SeaLink that winged its way into my inbox, and I got thinking. Taking our own car was an awful lot easier than packing bags, making our way to the ferry terminal, finding the rental car office and so on.
It's only 45 minutes by car ferry from downtown Auckland (after September 28, when services resume) or Half Moon Bay in East Auckland, with no need for long check-ins or wasted time. As soon as we rolled off the ferry, our adventure began.
Waiheke offers wall-to-wall activities for Sunday drivers. Beaches, walks, wineries, art galleries, markets, roadside produce stalls and excellent cafes abound. It's impossible to do it all. As a result, it's vital to have a plan, or you'll be a quarter of the way around the island by the time it's time to come home.
Ours was to take a loop around the eastern end of the island.
Our next stop would have been a winery for lunch. With only one driver and two minors I decided it would be sacrilegious to visit a winery and not taste anything. So we headed for Charley Farley's, a beachfront cafe in Onetangi, instead.First stop was Stony Batter, a historic counter-bombardment battery installation at the northeastern end of the island. Next we called in at Man O' War Bay because of its reputation for being sheltered and offering good swimming all year round - although we chickened out from taking a late-winter dip.
Waiheke is full of surprises. Unless there was someone directly behind us we chugged along at 30km an hour, looking out for signs with interesting things to see and do. There are new attractions, craft shops and produce suppliers opening all the time. There's something about hand-painted signs on the side of the road that compel me to pull in and buy everything from Onetangi free-range eggs, as the chickens meandered around us, to honey and organic vegetables. The "horse poo" was fairly cheap as well, but I didn't fancy the drive back from Half Moon Bay to Devonport with a car full of manure.
After lunch we took a trip up the Te Whau peninsula - dropping in at two olive groves - Azurro, which also has a herd of alpacas, and Rangihoua.
Our intended destination, Te Whau Vineyard, was, disappointingly, closed for renovations. An important point when planning a Waiheke drive: pick up relevant maps such as the Waiheke Island Arts Map and the Waiheke Wine Map on the ferry or at the ferry terminal and call ahead to make sure your intended destinations are open. Waiheke's artists, in particular, don't always have the same concept of time as us city folk.
Our Te Whau peninsula side trip over, we headed for Oneroa and in particular the Artworks art and cultural hub. The plan was to check out the Waiheke Community Art Gallery. Instead we were sidetracked for three quarters of an hour at the Once Upon an Island Story Centre run by renowned storyteller Tania Batt. My primary-school-age children delighted in the impromptu puppet show that was put on for the children who were attending a Waiheke Family Centre drop-in session.
From there we took half an hour to soak up the pleasures of the aforementioned gallery, which has new exhibitions every month, before refuelling on coffee and snacks at the funky Lazy Lounge Waiheke cafe.
With the sun going down on our adventure, we meandered back to the Kennedy Point wharf for our return ferry to Half Moon Bay and home again.