If you’re going to Auckland for any length of time, break up your time in the city with a trip to Waiheke Island. It’s only a half hour ferry ride away so makes for a very easy day trip, but we stayed overnight and fell in love with this little island paradise. The ferry ride over is a great way to see Auckland from a distance and we stopped off at Davenport on the way which had much more colonial style buildings. We also passed Rangitoto, a volcano which you can walk up and apparently has fantastic views from the top.
There’s a sense of calm on Waiheke Island and life happens at a much slower pace than in the city. We were staying in Onetangi, a village with a very large beach but without its own shop so a good place to disconnect for a while. I think one of the reasons that we enjoyed our time on Waiheke so much was because it was the first point in our trip where we both properly relaxed and so we returned feeling as though we’d spent much longer than just a night away.
Waiheke Island was the first place where we experienced the famous kiwi friendliness and hospitality. Getting off the bus from the ferry and consulting our directions for the hostel, a woman stopped and asked if we were ok and knew where we were going. When we explained we were headed for the backpackers hostel she insisted on giving us a lift in her car. Apparently there was a very steep hill to walk up and having been backpacking herself she didn’t want us to have to carry our heavy bags up to the top. We’d heard a lot about how friendly and helpful the people of New Zealand are, but this was our first proper experience of it (and having later walked up the hill without our bags we were incredibly grateful!).
The first thing we did was head to the beach for lunch and a paddle. The benefit of travelling in shoulder season was that the beach was almost deserted, apparently not the case in the summer months when it appears that half of Auckland relocates to the island! Perhaps naively, we were expecting the sea to be warm, after all it was the Pacific Ocean. We were wrong. It certainly wasn’t warm enough to go swimming but it was fine for a paddle, just a little more similar to the English seaside than I had hoped. There were some wonderful shells which had been washed up on the beach, including some Paua shell and we also saw some different starfish which was quite exciting as it was the first time that I had seen starfish not in an aquarium.
We then headed for a walk through the Onetangi forest and bird reserve which was recommended by the staff at the hostel. What we hadn’t anticipated was quite how muddy it was going to be… It felt almost as if we were walking through a tropical jungle with swampy paths and overgrown bush, but luckily without the fear of tropical insects and snakes. We saw hardly any birds as we walked through the reserve which was a little disappointing however it could have been because we weren’t being particularly quiet! Once we were out of the reserve and on top of Trig Hill the view was incredible and definitely worth the walk.
The following day we walked across to Palm Beach, another bay with a smaller beach. Unfortunately a lot of the walk was along the road but there were still some pretty good views. I think Palm Beach was prettier than the beach where we were staying, and I liked the fact that you could see more islands ahead of you.
I’m really pleased we went out to Waiheke and would recommend it to anyone planning on spending some time in Auckland. It was very nice how quiet it was where we staying but I’d also be happy to return and explore Oneroa, the main town on the island which had numerous art galleries and independent shops.