Waiheke Island



David Whitley hops on a ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island and finds the weather, beaches, views and wine combo a massive winner

I have, I must concede, got this the wrong way round. The drinking should really come at the end of a long walk – as reward and relaxation – rather than near the start of it. Cruelly, however, Waiheke Island’s wineries haven’t placed themselves near the end of walking trails.

Waiheke is both part of Auckland and an escape from it. The ferries from the city are frequent and take just 35 minutes to reach the island. That puts it into commuter belt territory, and you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier commute anywhere in the world.

The dawn of fast ferries in the 1980s set massive changes in motion on Waiheke. The second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, it was once primarily used as farmland. Much of it is still used as pasture, but easier access to the city turned it into a desirable place to live. Farms got sub-divided into smaller five or ten acre lifestyle properties, houses started going up in the spots with the best views and a host of winemakers followed in the footsteps of early viticulture pioneers.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and you end up at a stage where even simple beach huts change ownership for a million dollars. Talk on the island at the moment is of a new house being built that will cost a staggering $22m.

Buses serve much of the island, and tours on various themes meet the ferry at the Matiatia terminal. For an overview of the beaches, island lifestyle, tethered boats and cutesy shopping ops in Oneroa, they’re fine. But it quickly becomes apparent that the best way to see the island is on foot. Walking maps that cover the range from brief ambles to eight hour stamina-blasters are available at the ferry terminal. But what’s remarkable is how few people you see on those trails. It gets remarkably peaceful very quickly.

I decide to go for the three hour Church Bay circuit, and I’m very quickly faced with an obstacle. I don’t have to walk too far up the hill to find the Cable Bay winery. It’s a showy place – a helicopter lands outside on the grass, somewhat spoiling the view out over Motuihe Island and the Auckland skyline – but one with a consistently excellent reputation for winemaking.

Wine tourism on foot is a new one for me, and it has its merits. Being able to drink as much as you like at the tastings is one of them; having the freedom to wander in as you please is another. The downside is that if you decide to buy anything, you have to carry it around.

While I manage to resist at Cable Bay, there’s no such luck at the Mudbrick vineyard further up the hill. It’s a gorgeous place that’s understandably popular as wedding venue, and both the rosé and the viognier prove too good to leave behind. And that means I spend the next couple of hours trudging up and down hills with a backpack full of wine bottles. Think of it as the alcoholic’s take on carrying bricks around in order to make the exercise more intensive.

The route soon leaves the road and starts zig-zagging uphill through native forest before skirting the edge of farmers’ fields on the way to majestic headland views. The trail repeatedly climbs the cliffs then descends to the beach, making it more than a decent work out. But for all the banana plants, native forest and shale coves, the most enjoyable thing is that it’s just me. The residents are all at work in Auckland, the cruise ship daytrippers are sticking to the roads in their buses and the day trippers have flocked to either the main beaches or the wineries. I’ve got miles of gorgeous coastline to myself, it’s sunny and I’m not far from civilisation should I wish for it. If only I’d brought a picnic lunch and a glass to drink that wine out of, it’d be the perfect island.

Disclosure: David visited Waiheke as a guest of Fullers, who run the ferries from Auckland and the island tours. He stayed in Auckland as a guest of YHA Auckland International

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here



Indoor Wellington




David Whitley looks at how to stay warm and have a great time in the NZ’s capital


New Zealand is well known for its love of the great outdoors, but the weather doesn’t always suit. Luckily, the capital is well-equipped for a rainy day. There are plenty of fabulous indoor attractions in Wellington to keep everyone happy, such as...

Te Papa

Wellington’s crowning glory, Te Papa is also known as the Museum of New Zealand and the quality of the exhibitions matches the unique (and rather expensive) architecture. It’s possible to spend days wandering through and not see it all, while it has successfully avoided the usual museum trap of putting a load of old coins and knives in glass cases.

For a start, it’s great for kids, with a real hands-on approach to most of the galleries. There are four ‘Discovery Centres’ where the wee ones can touch and play with all manner of objects as well of create masterpieces of their own, while StoryPlace is aimed at the under fives. It’s all about singing songs, telling stories and arty activities.

For the grown-ups, there’s a good range of temporary exhibitions, while the permanent highlights include Awesome Forces, which explores the earthquakes, eruptions and weather patterns that have formed New Zealand’s landscape.

Te Papa also houses an excellent art collection.

Cafés and bars

Wellington proudly boasts that it has more cafés per capita than New York City, and the cultural scene is strongly linked to the sheer wealth of places where you can sit down and have a chat over coffee. For hanging out with movie types, the place to go is Chocolate Fish on Karaka Bay Road, while Cuba Street has an excellent selection of vibey little coffee shops

For those wanting something a little stronger than coffee, the windy city has an excellent nightlife too. There are seemingly hundreds of stylish little bars across the city, with Courtenay Place acting as the hub. Many of the coolest joints are on Blair and Allen Streets, just off it, but there are little enclaves of atmosphere across the capital.
The Beehive

Wellington’s most distinctive building is the Beehive or, as it’s more officially known, the executive wing of the parliament complex. It’s mostly ministerial offices, but it’s also home to the parliament’s Visitor Centre.

To find out more about the buildings and how New Zealand’s government and democratic system works, rock up in time for a free tour. They leave on the hour between 9am and 5pm every day. There’s also a souvenir shop for any wannabe politicians who are desperate to send postcards with a special parliamentary stamp.

Movies are a big business in New Zealand – apparently some reasonably successful flicks called Lord of the Rings were filmed here – and Mediaplex is the place for film buffs to head to. Part of the New Zealand Film Archive, this attraction has its own private screening room, and on Wednesday and Thursday nights, highlights from the archive are pulled out for a viewing. Better than heading to a soulless multiplex and catching the latest bit of fluff starring Matthew McConaughey any day.

Mediaplex also has a gallery specialising in computer and visitor artists and – as it’s Wellington – its own coffee shop.

Get arty

In case it hadn’t been drilled in yet, Wellington is something of an arty city. There are a host of galleries – some public, some run by dealers – throughout the city. The visitor information centre has maps and brochures about where to find them all, but the two big hitters are City Gallery Wellington and Academy Gallerie

Both have a good range of works by local and international artists on display, as well as regularly changing temporary exhibitions.

Museum of Wellington City and Sea

Wellington’s history is inextricably linked to seafaring, and this excellent museum is the place to go to in order to find out about how New Zealand’s capital grew up on the water. It goes back to the times of Maori settlement and extends to the present day, and has all manner of odd exhibits including chunks of ships and a great big lighthouse lens.

For a more moving experience, take a look at the exhibits on the Wahine. In 1968, the Wellington to Christchurch ferry crashed onto a reef, with 51 passengers dying as a result. The story is told in detail at the museum.

Watch Netball

Believe it or not, New Zealand isn’t all about rugby union. In fact, in Wellington, netball is the biggest participation sport. So why not go and watch a game while you’re there? The Shakers are the big team in Welly, and play games throughout May and June at the TSB Bank Arena. It’s the city’s largest indoor venue, and forms part of the Wellington Convention Centre complex.

National Tattoo Museum

There are few places in the world where the tattoo has as much importance as it does in New Zealand. Body art plays a large part in Maori culture, and the National Tattoo Museum on Abel Smith Street explores this. There are thousands of examples on display – particularly of Maori moko (facial tattoos) while those feeling brave can enter the studio and go under the needle too.

 by David Whitley



You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal