Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand
Waiheke Island – 45 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf – is known for its boutique wineries. But even better than its fine wines is the network of 100 or so kilometres of walking trails, collectively known as Te Ara Huru. We spent January cruising the Hauraki Gulf islands, with much of our time on Waiheke. We covered most of the western half of the island’s walking tracks, in addition to the Stoney Batter walk (on the far eastern side) on New Years Day.
The Stoney Batter Walk, New Years Day
Our favourite was the Headlands walk, starting from the little township of Oneroa and tracking along the cliff edges and beaches of the north-east and western coasts. Each climb to a high point revealed astonishing views across the island and the Gulf: craggy black cliffs sprouting huge, gnarled, scarlet-flowering Pohutakawa trees, and rocky islands dotted across sparkling, tropical-hued water stretching all the way to the Auckland city skyline.
The Headlands Walk, Waiheke Island
And on every cliff top, there was at least one example of the Kiwi penchant for choosing the most spectacular but inaccessible building site and constructing a formidable and extravagant architectural statement – apparently some of these massive ‘piles’ sell for upwards of $15 million. The track winds up and down to pretty beaches and secluded coves (in one of which I discovered my dream home – a modest ‘pile’ by comparison, with its own private pebble beach sheltered within a tiny cove and with a perfect northerly aspect), skirts around vineyards and, on the homeward leg, passes a few cellar doors where a crisp glass of pino gris does wonders to restore one’s energy levels.
When my friend Elaine came to stay for a few days, the biennial Headlands Sculpture Exhibition was strung along the walking track, with some whimsical and impressive artworks. In her inimitable style, Elaine also shouted us to a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Mudbrick Winery. But we made the mistake of mis-judging the tide: when we got back to Oneroa, our dinghy was high and dry and wasn’t going to float for another hour or so. Just as well Elaine had bought a bottle of spark en route!
Hunter-gathering was high on the agenda as we pootled around the Gulf islands with the Kiapas. We caught a few fish, and even a couple of crayfish, but the highlight was diving for scallops. Lionel, Irene and I would dive (tanks and full wetsuits, including hoods – the water’s not quite tropical temp) while Damian manned the dinghy. It took a little while to get your eye in, but once you did, it was fairly easy to spot the shallow indentation in the sand marking the outline of the buried scallop. We managed to catch our quota (20 per person, minimum 10cm diameter) in about 10 metres of water on less than half a tank of air.
And oh, were they ever sweet and succulent – the most delicious seafood I’ve ever tasted.
After all the evil weather we’ve endured over the winters here, we had a whole month of perfect sunny days – who knew Inzud could turn on weather like it? We climbed Rangitoto (the perfectly symmetrical, dormant volcano that can be seen from anywhere in the Gulf); met the peacocks on Kawau Island and the myriad little birds (including the tuis) on the sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi; hiked on Motutapu and Ponui and dived on Rakino.
Finally, after two and a half years of being NZ-based, we’ve been able to really enjoy cruising in New Zealand. We’ve only seen the Hauraki Gulf, and there is so much more to see, but even so, we rate it as some of the best cruising we’ve done anywhere in the world.
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