Enjoying Waiheke Island Wineries

As one of the picturesque islands in the stunning Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke is considered as a not to be missed experience during a stay in Auckland.  Very conveniently located for visitors, it is just 35 minutes away on a regular and very pretty ferry ride from the centre of Auckland.  Because its easy accessibility from the city, it has become an idyllic base for several thousand permanent residents, many of whom commute to the city for work, and an increasingly popular destination for wine enthusiasts. However, it isn’t all about the wine (although, with 25 vineyards within 90 km2, this is clearly an enticement!), as with 1335 kms of coastline, there is a stunning selection of white sand beaches, with probably the best known being Oneroa,  Onetangi, Palm Beach and Enclosure Bay.  The island is also home to historic sites and wildlife, protected by Waiheke’s National Reserves. 

Over the past 20 years or so, Waiheke has gained an ever-growing reputation as a major New Zealand wine growing region, now very much competing with the better known Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Central Otago regions.  

On a recent trip back to New Zealand after a gap of over five years, I was wanting to reacquaint myself with Waiheke, and to explore even just a few of the growing selection of vineyards. I did this on three trips, one on a guided tour, and the other two with friends.  The guided tour with Waiheke Island Tours  provides a great introduction to the island and its history, and an insight into the vineyards as well.  Apparently the weather and soil conditions on Waiheke for growing vines are very similar to those of Bordeaux, so the predominant grape is the Syrah (also known as Shiraz), which means that 57% of all wine produced on Waiheke Island is red wine.  However, recent years have seen an increase in white wine, and a little rosé as well – we did taste some delicious unoaked Chardonnay, and both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are also produced.

Don’t forget to try the excellent olive oil as well –  with 30,000 olive trees on the island, Waiheke is now producing some of the best extra virgin olive oils in the world, consistently winning prizes in major international competitions.

Just a few of my favourite Waiheke discoveries:

Casita Miro

The approach to Casita Miro is up a winding road, past the estate’s vineyards and olive groves.  Climbing a staircase decorated with Gaudi inspired ceramic tiled murals, there is a tasting room on a terrace above the restaurant, where wines are served with ‘food pairings’ in the way of small tapas.  We loved their honey-wine roasted Kalamata olives from the estate’s olive groves.

Casita Miro Restaurant specialises in the cuisine of Spain and guests can choose between ‘tapas’ and ‘raciones’ (large plates) for a fun, shared dining experience.  Casita Miro has deservedly been winner or runner up for the last four years in the ‘Best Rural Restaurant’ category of Metro Magazine’s Top 50 Auckland RestaurantsSummer opening hours: 

Lunch 7 days from 11.30am, Dinner Friday and Saturday from 6pm.. Winetastings 7 days from 12 noon to 3pm. Tel:+64 9 372 7854. 

Te Motu

From its position overlooking a valley, and with a popular on-site restaurant,The Shed, Te Motu, established in 1988, by Paul Dunleavy, was one of the pioneers of the Waiheke wine movement. The name ‘Te Motu’ comes from the original Maori name for Waiheke, Te Motu­Arai­Roa (‘island of long shelter’).The winery is known for its great choice of Bordeaux styles; comprised predominantly from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  A special wine tasting for NZ$20, with a selection of five flagship Te Motu aged red wines. Also available are Dunleavy and Te Motu ranges by the glass.  A Cellar Door menu is available from 12-3pm.

The Shed restaurant has been going from strength to strength in recent years, with menus perfectly complementing the Te Motu wines, thanks to creative head chef Canadian Bronwen Laight. The restaurant was winner of Metro’s Top 50 Rural Restaurants in 2014, and nominated a finalist in their Best Destination award in 2015.

Wine Tasting is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Restaurant opening hours:  November – April: Lunch:  Wednesday – Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm. Dinner: Friday and Saturday evenings from 6 pm onwards. Tel. +64 9 372 6884. info@temotu.co.nz

Man o’ War

It was along this coastline that Captain James Cook came to anchor during his first voyage around the islands of New Zealand in 1769. Upon sighting the ancient stands of magnificent Kauri trees ashore, Cook noted in his journals that they would make ideal masts for the Man O’ War battleships of the Royal Navy. Thus the name Man O’ War was bestowed upon this unique vineyard and beach.

Upon arrival you can enjoy a tasting in the colonial ambience of the Tasting Room where the solid Kauri bar takes pride of place alongside the wines and the old photographs, maps and art that lattice the walls and tell the story of Man O’ War’s legacy, land and wine.  Emphasis is placed on the fact that these are true vineyard wines, carefully tended and harvested by hand–producing some very palatable wines, which combine classic Old World techniques with innovative New World ideas. You can relax indoors, or on the veranda, or on large bean bags in the garden, enjoying the views over the water as far as the Coromandel coastline.

Man O’ War Tasting Room: Open 7 days 11am – 6pm, except Christmas Day.
Tel.: +64 9 372 9678.. E-mail: tastingroom@manowarvineyards.co.nz

Stonyridge

The first Bordeaux vines and olive trees were planted at Stonyridge in 1982 by Stephen White.  A beautiful vineyard, Stonyridge, has become internationally one of New Zealand’s most respected wineries, combining traditional French wine making methods with meticulous organic viticulture. Its flagship wine, Larose, is one of the top Bordeaux-style reds in the world.

Nestled amongst the vineyards and olive groves, there is a café/restaurant with pergola vine-covered verandah (and an adjoining yoga deck!) that has a fantastic menu and is described as one of the most romantic and exotic venues in Zealand – for dining, functions and weddings.

Wine Tastings : 7 days a week from 11.30 a.m. Lunch : 7 days a week from 11.30 a,m.  Tel.  +64 9 372 8822. 

Getting There

Passenger ferry from downtown Auckland. There is a regular ferry from downtown Auckland to Waiheke’s Matiatia Wharf. For timetables and fares see www.fullers.co.nz

Vehicle ferry Departs from Aratai Drive in Auckland’s Half Moon Bay, operated by Sealink. +64 9 300 5900. www.sealink.co.nz

Car hire Book ahead for a taxi (+ 64 9 372 6643;www.waiheketransport.co.nz) or rental vehicle (+64 9 372 8635;www.waihekerentalcars.co.nz).