Waiheke Island is the ultimate weekend getaway to go wine tasting with your best mates, relax on some of New Zealand’s best beaches, and traverse the much-loved walking trails.
This small island is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand with gorgeous white sand beaches and trails that take you along cliffs and into the forest. The main town here, Oneroa, is a cute spot known for its beachfront cafes and restaurants and local arts and crafts shops.
Waiheke Island is my favorite day trip from Auckland as it’s only a short 35-40 minute ferry ride away. When I lived in Auckland, this island was one of my favorite places to visit!
While spending a couple of hours on this scenic island is great, spending a few nights here is what I recommend to really soak up all this place has to offer.
Let me help you plan your trip to the island with some of the best things to do while you’re here! I’ve included all of the different activities you can do on Waiheke Island including other essentials to know before you go like where to stay, eat, and getting there.
So without further ado, here is your complete guide to visiting Waiheke Island!
About Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Located in the Hauraki Gulf, to the west of Auckland, Waiheke Island is a popular island for both New Zealand locals and tourists. It is the second biggest island in the Hauraki Gulf and in Maori, Waiheke Island, previously known as Te Motu-arai-roa, was “the long sheltering island”.
It’s easy to get to Waiheke from Auckland CBD, with ferries leaving several times a day from the Auckland Ferry Terminal. The Fullers fast ferry only takes 35 minutes and costs $42 NZD return for adults. If you want to take a rental car along, take the short 1 hour and 20-minute boat journey on the Sea Link ferry which costs $97 NZD per car, or you can hop on as a passenger for $18 NZD per person.
While you can drive around this island, there are public buses and taxis, or I really loved renting a bike here. I was able to pedal from winery to winery on a beautiful day while working off some calories along the way!
If you’re craving sunshine and beach days, the best time to visit New Zealand is during the summer months, when the weather is warm and perfect for swimming and sunbathing. However, it’s also worth visiting Waiheke Island in the winter, when you can enjoy the quieter atmosphere and stunning views.
Waiheke Island is the perfect place to celebrate special events while sipping on some local wine or just spending time in nature away from the bustling city. Whether you want to be on the land or on the water, Waiheke Island has it all.
BEST Things to do on Waiheke Island
1. Go wine tasting
Known as New Zealand’s “Island of Wine”, Waiheke Island has the perfect climate for growing grapes. An absolute must-do when visiting is to go wine tasting at some of the local wineries – there are around 30 of them here! You’ll not only get to savor the taste of the wines but also enjoy the picturesque views.
One of my top picks is Man O’War Vineyard – the waterfront location is amazing! You can enjoy views of the bay from the tasting room as you sip on a glass of Pinque Rosé with its strawberries and cream flavor with hints of watermelon and Szechuan pepper. If you have kids along, there’s a great playground and ice cream too.
Another stop we enjoyed was Mudbrick Vineyard. The wine here is excellent (try the Mudbrick Chardonnay) and there are two restaurants here overlooking the waters of the Hauraki Gulf. They offer tastings daily at their Cellar Door, so you can try a few different wines to find what you like.
From personal experience, it can be really helpful to book a winery tour. That way, your transport to and from a few of the best wineries is arranged for you and you can relax and enjoy. It’s a great way to visit a few of the award-winning wineries on the island on the same day.
Book a Premium Full Day Waiheke Wine Tour to visit 3-4 boutique vineyards with complimentary wine tastings at each. You’ll travel comfortably in an air-conditioned vehicle and have a local guide along. The wineries change on this tour all the time (there are that many good ones!), so be sure to mention to your guide if you have a specific one you want to visit. This tour is $179 NZD per person.
For a shorter tour, the Waiheke Boutique Picnic Lunch and Wine Tastings Tour works around lunch to take you to visit multiple wineries and stop for lunch at one of them. While lunch is at your own cost, all wine tastings and your transport on the island are included in the $145 NZD price tag. If you’re staying on the island, the tour will even come to pick you up from your hotel!
2. Grab a bike and explore
It is so easy to explore Waiheke Island by bike! Not only can you get some exercise in, but it’s also a great way to enjoy the sunshine against your skin and the fresh salty air on your face. Plus, you can get around a lot faster than walking, and it can be even more fun!
There are two main mountain biking trails: Rangihoua, which will take you about 25 minutes to get to from the ferry and has two loops and 6 different trails; or Whakanewha Regional Park, where you can start at the Sculpture Carpark on Gordons Road.
Need to rent out a bike? No worries, you can hire an e-bike from The Waiheke Bike Shop, which is located in Oneroa, for $90 NZD per day.
For a mountain bike, head to Waiheke Bike Hire, which is located right near the ferry. It’s the oldest and most experienced bike hire business on the island, so you’re in good hands. Their bikes are perfect for the terrain you will be biking on and cost $40 NZD to hire for a day.
3. Go ziplining
Ziplining through the native forest of Waiheke Island? Heck yes! For any thrill seeker or adventure lover, ziplining in New Zealand is the perfect way to not only have fun but also take in the island’s scenery in a new and exciting way.
Waiheke Island: Zipline and Forest Walk is a great tour to book if you want to spend 3 hours soaring through the treetops. You’ll get a little tour of the island by minivan before your ziplining adventure. Then you’ll finish the day with a bushland walk with your guide. The small group makes this a really personal experience and you pack a lot in for $129 NZD.
I loved ziplining in Waiheke. It felt like I was on an amazing adventure in the wilderness of a beautiful island. You will not be disappointed if you decide to give it a go!
Related read: Get more fast paced fun by checking out some of the exciting adventure activities in Queenstown!
4. Enjoy a beach day
If you head to Waiheke Island, you have got to make the most of the beaches! One of the best things to do in New Zealand is to grab your swimming gear and enjoy the pristine waters around this island. The water is really clear and so refreshing in the summer months.
Oneroa Beach is the main beach here, and with lots of sunshine and calm waters, it’s a great spot for swimming. There’s also a wide stretch of sandy beach to enjoy that’s lined with Pohutakawa trees to shelter under for shade. There are washrooms, picnic tables, and barbeques here or it’s just a few minutes walk from the local shops and cafes.
Palm Beach is another popular spot, named for the phoenix palm trees on the east side. The #2 bus can drop you off and you can even grab an ice cream at the Palm Beach Store before you walk over to the beach. Covered in warm, white sand you can walk along the beach, sit at a picnic table and eat your lunch after a morning swim and use the BBQs if you need. Kids will love the playground here too!
I should let you know that at the end of the western side of the beach there is another little bay that is separated by a bunch of rocks. This bay is known as Little Palm and clothing is “optional” here, so just be aware of that if that’s not your thing.
If you want to go to the largest beach on Waiheke Island, then Onetangi Beach is the one to visit. With a 2 km (1.2 mile) stretch of sand, it’s great for walking and finding a private spot to set up your beach towel. If you happen to be here in February, you might just catch the iconic Onetangi Beach races – horse races, tractor races, sand castle competitions, and more!
The beach is equipped with toilets and a few BBQs. After you have spent the day at the beach, just walk across the road and enjoy a meal at Three Seven Two. The seafood here is delicious, but there’s a large menu to choose from and you’ll be treated to outstanding views of the beach while you eat.
5. Stony Batter Historic Reserve
Located at the eastern end of Waiheke Island, Stony Batter Historic Reserve is a place of New Zealand history, as well as being a beautiful scenic reserve. Formed in the 1930s, it was established as part of a coastal defense system protecting Auckland. It is now a protected area itself and a must-see when visiting Waiheke Island.
You can see the gun emplacements that have been left behind and there’s a collection of tunnels here connecting passages that were part of a defense fortress created during WWII. You can explore the Stony Batter Tunnels on a guided tour to learn more about their fascinating history.
You can reach the reserve by walking for around 25 minutes from the car park just off Man O’War Bay. Walk along the many formed trails and paths on the farmland and admire the bush and rock formations you come across.
Stony Batter Historic Reserve offers such a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else on the island.
6. Explore Whakanewha Regional Park
Whakanewha Regional Park is found on the south side of Waiheke Island. Its name means “to shade the eyes from the setting sun”. It has a calm and serene atmosphere to it and is home to mature coastal forests and endangered birds such as the spotless crake.
Walking along the beach, there are lots of shells and you can swim in the sheltered water here. If you want to spend a few days outdoors, camping is also available at the Poukaraka Flats Campground.
Take a kayak out on the water, head out mountain biking on select tracks and whip your binoculars out and go bird watching. There are quite a few short walks you can go on. I would recommend doing the Whakanewha Loop, which is a one-hour walk through the forest and leads to the small Cascades Waterfall!
7. Hop-on hop-off bus tour
Exploring Waiheke Island at your own pace is great to go with the flow. It lets you be spontaneous and decide on a whim what you want to see and do.
The best way to give yourself that extra time, but still have a plan for transportation is with the Waiheke Island Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour. For $69 NZD, you’ll have an all-day bus ticket around the island with the bus leaving from the Matiatia ferry terminal. You can listen to the driver talk about the history of the island and then hop off whenever you like.
There are 8 specific stops along the tour and you’re welcome to visit all or just a couple while you’re here. Whether you desire to go to the Mudbrick Vineyard, hit Oneroa beach, or explore the historic village, the bus can transport you around for the day.
Related read: If setting your own schedule sounds perfect, take an NZ road trip! I love the drive from Auckland to Paihia.
8. Go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding
Definitely take part in some water sports while you are on beautiful Waiheke Island. The water is pure bliss and there is no better way to make the most of it than being in or on it!
Hire a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Kayak Waiheke and spend the day exploring the different bays. Prices start at $30 NZD for a 1-hour hire for a kayak or $35 NZD for a stand-up paddleboard.
Alternatively, join a tour that Kayak Waiheke runs, such as the Half Day Guided Coastal Explorer, which is their most popular tour to visit coves, caves, and canyons you can only reach with a kayak. If you’re looking for a magical way to spend an evening, try the Guided Sunset and Moonlight Invigoration tour. You’ll paddle toward the sunset and watch the stars come out as you go west from Matiatia harbor.
9. Eat seafood at the Oyster Inn
In Oneroa village, you will find The Oyster Inn, which is an award-winning bistro by the beach. It’s open Thursday to Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) from 12 pm until 9 pm, so it is a perfect location for lunch or dinner.
Whether you are in Waiheke just for the day or are staying for a while, make sure you stop here for a meal. You get to soak in the beachside views of Oneroa Bay as you eat your coastal-inspired dish which has been locally sourced.
Be sure to try their fresh oysters that get shucked to order and I also recommend ordering the seafood tower if you are a seafood lover (like me!) and want to taste all the fresh goodies that the ocean provides.
10. Waiheke Distilling Co.
By now, you may have realized there are countless wineries and wine tastings available on Waiheke Island, but if you are keen on spirits, you are in luck!
Waiheke Distilling Co. is the place to visit. Located on the east side of Waiheke Island, along the ridge of Cowes Bay, they have created a beautiful garden and distillery for visitors to come and enjoy their unique spirits and also stunning and expansive views.
Book a table at their cellar door, Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm, and taste their specialty botanically crafted gins such as the Red Ruby (made with ripe New Zealand cherries!), Spirit of Waiheke, and London Dry.
To take your distillery involvement and understanding a bit further, you can take part in a 2-hour distillery tour where you will have the opportunity to learn about their handcrafted spirits as well as taste them.
11. Waiheke Museum
Interested in Waiheke Island’s History? The Museum of Waiheke and Historic Village is a cool little place to check out that was built back in 1998 after the old one burned down the year before. Here you will explore displays of Maori artifacts, photographs, fossils, and other past memorabilia.
The main exhibits are in the woolshed but the Goodwin, Keane, and Champion cottages each contain collections of objects and photos based on the theme, which are really interesting. The original jail that was built on the island back in 1942 is even still there!
Overall, you could spend an hour or two wandering around and taking in the history of Waiheke Island. The museum is open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, and holiday Mondays from 11 am to 3 p.m. Admission is by donation for a suggested amount of $3 NZD per person.
12. Connells Bay Sculpture Park
You won’t find a more interesting park than the Connells Bay Sculpture Park. Go on a guided walk through bush and farmland filled with 30 handmade sculptures made by New Zealand artisans. These thought-provoking sculptures display the artist’s unique skills and work while giving visitors a multifaceted experience by guiding them through the Waiheke landscape.
Admire the rock displays by Chris Booth, contemplate the human sculptures created by Gregor Kregar, and check out Virginia King’s functional pieces. In addition to the permanent sculpture displays, there are often temporary displays and photographic works to see.
Bookings must be done in advance, and the season runs from the end of October to the beginning of April. The guided walks start at 10:30 am and cost $30 NZD for an adult. If you love art, there is no doubt that you will love exploring Connells Bay Sculpture Park.
13. Go hiking
There is a network of tracks on Waiheke Island called Te Ara Hura that are perfect for hiking. Discover 100 km (62 miles) of short and long tracks going through the bush or coastline. If you want to explore Waiheke Island’s beautiful landscapes, then these different trails are a great choice to do so.
What I love about this is having the freedom to stop and start wherever you like within the four different areas. “The Far End” is a perfect walk if you want to wander around out in the open, see the sky, feel the fresh air against your face, and soak up the sun.
“The Headlands” are where a lot of the most popular sites in the area can be seen, such as vineyards, local beaches, and historic sites. If you would prefer to stay around the typical tourist area and take in the beautiful pohutukawa trees, that would be it.
Keen to get off the beaten track and love exploring smaller villages? If so, definitely check out the “Beaches ‘n’ Batches” area and also look at stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf. Lastly, the “Forest Heart” is ideal to get amongst the native bush, wetlands, and developing forests and streams.
If you feel like you might get lost on your own or want to know more about your surroundings, a guided hike is a nice option. In this case, on the Waiheke Island Double Headland Coastal Walk you’ll enjoy a scenic walk in a small group led by an expert. Over 5 hours, you can learn about the history and land and walk at your own pace while taking in the animal and plant life that surrounds you. This tour is $250 NZD.
Related read: Add some more trails to your list by checking out all the best hikes on the North Island for all levels and abilities!
14. Try archery and clay shooting
Test your archery and clay shooting skills (or try it out for the first time) at Wild Estate. This amazing venue is so much more than a vineyard with some fun activities to bring out your competitive side.
Soak up the sun and landscape of Waiheke Island and take up your bow and do your best to hit the bullseye on the target for 30 minutes for $40 NZD. To see if you are a master at clay bird shooting at virtual pigeons, using a real gun, book your 30-minute session for $40 NZD, or do both clay bird shooting and archery.
Discover a new talent, or just have a good time trying something new while on Waiheke Island!
15. Scuba diving or snorkeling
I loved snorkeling around the bays on Waiheke Island – the water is SO clear and brimming with marine life. Waiheke is a popular place for scuba divers and snorkelers for this reason. You may see some cute seahorses, leatherjacket fish, eagle rays, stingrays, or if you’re lucky enough, maybe a 2-meter (6.5-foot) kingfish!
If you are new to these underwater activities, Waiheke Island is a great place to start learning and getting involved in it, and if you are experienced, then scuba diving or snorkeling here will be a dream!
Join Waiheke Dive for a shore dive, boat dive, or night dive, or get your hands on some gear to go scuba diving or snorkeling on your own. Whatever you do, get in the water and explore and see the beauty of the underwater world surrounding Waiheke Island.
16. Have brunch at Akito
If you want a place to go to for lunch, I highly recommend Akito. Found in the heart of Oneroa, the team works with local growers to produce food that is created with love and care.
It’s one of the best spots for brunch on the island. I would recommend ordering the banana pancakes, or if you want a cocktail at lunch, go for the hot spiced cider!
The meals are reasonably priced and you can tell the care that goes into the dish when it is served to you. Akito overall has a really relaxing and calm vibe to it and you will leave feeling nourished and satisfied. Plus, there are a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options if you need.
17. Waiheke Ostend Market
Located on Ostend Road, every Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm you will find the Waiheke Ostend Market bustling with locals and visitors checking out the different stalls of items, food, and gifts.
With a great community atmosphere and friendly locals, the weekly market is a wonderful place to be to connect with the community, artists, and local businesses. It’s a nice way to spend time outdoors in the sun wandering around and checking out the variety of products.
No matter who you are, there will be something here that will capture your interest! Be sure to pop down on a Saturday morning if you are around.
18. Go on a scenic flight
Don’t spend all your time on foot, explore Waiheke Island by going up in the air on a scenic flight. Book a 30-minute Scenic Flight and immerse yourself in the scenery of not only Waiheke but also the Rangitoto volcano, Treasure Island, and Auckland city as you are flown in a Cessna aircraft.
For $149 NZD, from a bird’s-eye view, marvel at the ocean, landscape, and beaches while you receive key information about interesting places from the pilot.
No matter how much you explore Waiheke Island, you will not get the opportunity to see it like this!
Related read: See more of beautiful New Zealand from the air with one of the best scenic flights from Queenstown!
Where to Stay on Waiheke Island, NZ
Waiheke Island is this wonderful little escape that once you’re here, you’re going to want to stay a while! If you do plan to spend a night or two here, then you should book your accommodation online in advance. Choices are limited, and they book up quickly!
If you’re not sure where to stay, here are our top picks!
Waiheke Backpackers Hostel – $
Backpacking is one of the best ways to explore NZ and Waiheke Backpackers Hostel has you covered for your trip to the island. It’s located above Onetangi Beach, so the sea views are amazing and beach days are a breeze by heading down the hill to hit the sand.
There’s a shared lounge with Netflix for fun movie nights, a shared kitchen, a garden, and free parking or you can rent a bike here too. You can get a bunk bed for $30-40 NZD or a private family room more around the $100 NZD mark. Check availability and book your stay on HostelWorld.com or Booking.com.
Kiwi House Waiheke – $$
For a mid-range option with a home-away-from-home feel, Kiwi House Waiheke is our pick. This B&B has lots of rooms to choose from and a great central location in Oneroa. The breakfast is awesome and there’s a lovely private deck to relax on after a busy day. Rooms here are around the $100-150 NZD mark and can be booked online here.
The Oyster Inn – $$$
Remember we said The Oyster Inn was fantastic for seafood? Well, you can also stay here too! The location is superb – right across the street from Oneroa Beach. Every room is designed with wooden flooring and wooden furniture – total beach vies! Plus, you get a complimentary breakfast from their restaurant. Check availability and book your room online here.
Thanks for reading!
Waiheke Island is a little paradise only a short ferry ride away from downtown Auckland. Whether you drop into a winery or two, plan a beach day, or take in some of the history on the island, there is so much to do. It’s definitely worth more than one visit!
If you’re looking for more great activities around Auckland or New Zealand in general, I’d love to help you out! After living and traveling around this country, I’ve discovered some real hidden gems and have tips and tricks for pretty much wherever you want to go. Make sure you give some of my other blogs a read while you’re planning your own epic trip to NZ!
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