Many of New Zealand's world beating wines come from a small island near Auckland – it's the perfect weekend break, for connoisseurs and casual tipplers alike, just 40 minutes from the city...
In the past two decades New Zealand's Waiheke Island – just off Auckland's starboard bow – has consolidated its place next to Marlborough, Hawke's Bay and Central Otago on the top tier of New Zealand's wine-growing regions. ‘Region’ might be putting it a bit strong geographically – the island is less than 100 square kilometres – but vineyards cover it like a giant quilt and Waiheke wines are regular award-winners both on the mainland and in international competition. The secret to its victorious viticulture? It's down to three things:
Subtropical marine climate
The relatively small land mass versus lots of water regulates the island’s average temperature year-round. This makes it a bad place to grow pinot noir (none is produced on Waiheke) and sauvignon blanc (a small amount is produced here), but makes it especially suitable for Bordeaux varieties and Rhone Valley syrah.
Favourable soil structure
Waiheke’s top layer is made up of rock and highly absorbent clay. Which means (there now follows a quick lesson in oenology…): years that see heavy rainfall in spring result in saturated ground, which means no irrigation is required during the summer months. In these conditions the vines tend to extend their roots further into the soil, seeking out their own sources of water. Longer roots mean more minerals brought up into the plant - and the more minerals, the more complex the flavours, the more successful the vintage. So now you know.
The steep hills and inclines that ripple and pocket the island offer vines sanctuary from prevailing southwesterlies. And, on a vaster scale, Waiheke itself lies deep in the windbreak of the Hauraki Gulf, shielded from the Pacific by the Coromandel Peninsula to the east and the Auckland isthmus to the west.
Three cellar doors to visit
Stonyridge A beautiful vineyard with a lively restaurant and adjoining yoga deck (kid you not). Internationally one of New Zealand's most respected wineries, it produces a wide range of varieties and blends – including its cabernet blend Larose, which, at around NZ$250 a bottle, is officially the country's most expensive red. 80 Onetangi Road, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 8822. www.stonyridge.com
Obsidian Try their syrahs: the best on the island, and – you’ll be convinced halfway through glass two – quite possibly the country. Te Makiri Road, Onetangi, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 6100. www.obsidian.co.nz
Te Whau This secluded winery in the southwest of the island is home to some exceptional blends, as well as a multi-awardwinning restaurant. All that aside, it's well worth the drive for the spectacular view of Auckland from the blowy hilltop. 218 Te Whau Drive, Oneroa, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 7191. www.tewhau.com
Where to eat
Oyster Inn This recent opening has quickly become the place to be once the sun's gone down in the resort town of Oneroa. A lively bar that specialises in welcoming service and attention to detail, the Oyster Inn serves, so consensus has it, the best fish and chips on Waiheke – and of course the bluff oysters are as sublime (though that's, of course, par for the course in New Zealand). 124 Ocean View Road, Oneroa, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 2222. www.theoysterinn.co.nz
Stonyridge vineyard Among the many vineyards offering fine dining, Mudbrick and Te Whau tend to get all the acclaim in the Kiwi media. But in our opinion the more laid-back Stonyridge experience is the one to go for: lamb shank and oysters on the terrace - where the vines grow right up to the veranda, and over the diners’ heads – were as good as we’ve ever tasted. 80 Onetangi Road, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 8822. www.stonyridge.com
Charlie Farley’s Great (in terms of both flavour and girth) sandwiches, gourmet burgers and classic Kiwi beers – in a prime location overlooking the long arc of Onetangi’s irresistible beach. The Strand, Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand. +64 9 372 4106. www.charliefarleys.co.nz
Contact Ananda Tours for bespoke themed tours of the Waiheke. The guides accept individual or group bookings, are extremely well informed and are on first-name terms, it seems, with virtually everyone on the island. +64 9 372 7530. www.ananda.co.nz
Getting there from Auckland
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