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

 

 

Kiwi Film Favourites

 

 

Set jetting around New Zealand’s famous movie sites by David Whitley 
Visitors to New Zealand may be forgiven for thinking that, in terms of famous filming locations, the country is non-stop Lord of the Rings. However, while there are plenty of areas milking the Baggins buck, there are many other sites on the Kiwi movie map. Set-jetters can follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, great apes and noble lions, as well as check out the scenery from locally made hits.

King Kong
 
After the success of Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson returned to New Zealand for his next big project. Much of the 2005 hit was made in studio in Wellington, but other parts of the country had a starring role too.
 
Skull Island was a combination of Lyall Bay and Shelly Bay (both in Wellington). The wall that separated the giant gorilla from the rest of the island was created in a large set that took over Shelly, while establishing shots were filmed at Lyall.
 
Meanwhile, most of the on-ship scenes were shot in the Cook Strait between the North and South islands, and near Kapiti Island. The latter is a protected bird sanctuary, off the coast from Wellington. Meanwhile, to sail the Cook Strait yourself, the scenic ferry between Wellington and Picton can’t be beaten.
 
And the New York scenes? Well they were in New Zealand too. The depression-era Big Apple was recreated in Seaview, Lower Hutt, while Auckland’s Civic Theatre played the interior of the New York Theatre.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 
Peter Jackson isn’t the only Kiwi director to shamelessly showcase his home country to multiplex audiences across the world – Andrew Adamson has been at it too.
 
The Shrek director decided to come home when shooting the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and utilised locations across the country for the big budget epic.
 
The White Witch’s camp (boo! hiss!) can be found in the Woodhill Forest, north-west of Auckland. It’s an excellent spot for mountain biking as well as chilling out with Mother Nature.
 
Meanwhile Aslan’s Camp (hooray!) was on the South Island, and more specifically Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley. Nearby is the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon, which explores the unique geology of the area, including the rather odd boulders where Aslan hung around looking regal.
 
As for the big battle scene, that takes place in the Southern Alps, about an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch. The area is known as Flock Hill. It’s close to a few of the major ski resorts, so it’s a perfect distraction from the slopes for a few hours.

Whale Rider
 
One of the finest films to come out of New Zealand in recent years, Niki Caro’s movie made a star out of Keisha Castle-Hughes. The youngster received an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance, but the other star of the film was the North Island’s East Cape.

 

The Maori village where the story unfolds is Whangara, a small but gorgeous place just up the coast from Gisborne. It’s worth visiting to get the views, but to learn more about Maori customs and lifestyle spend a while in Gisborne, which hosts the Tairawhiti Museum. This offers an excellent exploration of East Coast Maori history, while the nerby Te Poh-o-Rawiri meeting house is one of the biggest in the country. Go see it for the carvings.

 

The Last Samurai

 

It may seem a little odd that there’s a self-styled Samurai village in the middle of rural New Zealand, but you can blame Tom Cruise for that. He was the star of The Last Samurai, a 2003 film that did iffily at the global box office but was huge locally.

 

Instead of actually filming in the country in which the film was set, they decided that various sites across Taranaki were a perfect substitute for 19th century Japan. Mount Fuji was later added on in the background using special effects.

 

At the hub of all the filming action was Uruti, which was transformed into a Japanese village. Most of the sets were pulled down after filming, but enterprising locals have recreated some of them.

 

Much of it was done on a remote sheep and cattle farm, and that’s now where you can do tours of the filming locations. And, if there’s a group of twenty or more, it’s possible to watch the Gumboot Gully Movie Stunt Horses and their riders performing stunts from the movie.

 

Now it’s not every day you can go to a farm and watch a Samurai battle, is it?

 

Willow

 

Way before Lord of the Rings put New Zealand on the sci-fi film map, there was Willow. The 1988 film, written by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, has become a cult classic - and was partly filmed on the South Island.

 

Major sequences (ie. just about anything with mountains or lakes in) were shot around Queenstown. Glenorchy was the main focus, and local farmers were dragged in as extras on horseback. It’s a tiny settlement today, but a starting point for all manner of adventure activities, including jet boating on the Dart River.

 

Other parts were shot in the Tongariro National Park in the North Island, which would later find fame as Mt Doom in – you guessed it – Lord of the Rings.

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