7.9 mi / 8.2 mph / 572 ft. climbing
Home: Christine and John’s Island House
Four weeks of sleeping in the same bed opened up a space in which we could relax and reset in this new country, but now it’s time to resume our forward motion. This time we had a helpful assist to break the sticky force of inertia; weeks ago Rett had mentioned to our hosts in passing that we were interested in visiting Waiheke Island, and they came back with a message: “We also have a place on Waiheke Island and you are welcome to have a couple of nights there (Free of charge).” Um, yes? Thank you for giving us an early example of the New Zealand friendliness we’ve heard about!
So we booked a one-way ferry to Waiheke, an island from which Auckland is still easily visible, giving ourselves an option to return to the city’s safe haven if somehow we discover that we’ve forgotten how to bike tour in the ten weeks since we were last properly moving.
Islanders were excited by the recent (like, last week) launch of a new ferry service to break Fullers monopoly, but I booked us on SeaLink, an existing service making me wonder where all the “monopoly” complaints came from? SeaLink is the only one that takes cars, so maybe most people only think of the passenger ferries? The others would have taken our bikes, but SeaLink was slightly cheaper, and took us closer to our hosts’ island house. Our five mile route to the west end of Auckland’s harbor was almost completely in bike lanes, including a pink one that let us check off one of the last things Rett had put on our Auckland to-do list. Unfortunately our final segment over a pedestrian waterfront bridge was closed, so we needed to backtrack to a big detour around a harbor within the harbor, but we still made it to the boat in plenty of time.
The 80 minute crossing was slower than the passenger-only ferries (and slower than SeaLink advertised!), but was fun and comfortable on the gorgeous day, both on the enclosed passenger deck and in the open air on top.
Waiheke Island is roughly the size of central Auckland, and about one additional Waiheke Island would fill the space between the two. Considering their proximity, and with both significantly surrounded by water, it was hard to imagine Waiheke being much different from Auckland, but given the draw that it has on locals and tourists alike, I’m not too surprised that I was surprised. Immediately I was washed over with the forget-your-cares atmosphere that seems to only exist on small islands, despite the fact that we were also immediately groaning up the island’s steep hills. And that’s probably some of the difference right there: Auckland is hilly, but Waiheke’s topography is that of a sheet of aluminum foil scrunched into a tenth of its size. The roads wind over the ridges, the greenery nearly overflows into the roads, and birdsongs fill the air. How lucky we are to have the opportunity to learn these contrasts!
Christine was at her house and welcomed us with ice waters. All the doors were wide open, with the island air breezing through the comforting space, and the vintage-style radio was playing the Eagles. While they do let family and friends and friends-of-family stay there, it’s not an AirBNB or anything, so once Christine left, the personal, lived-in feel created the intoxicating illusion that this could have actually been our own house. They have a spotting scope on a tripod in the bedroom. I pointed it at a random tiny portion of the far-distant water just to see how it worked, brought the waves into focus, and immediately saw dolphins leaping up and splashing down into the blue waters!
Waiheke is maybe best-known for its wineries, though I’m not sure if people visit because of the wineries, or if the wineries exist to give the visitors something to do? Anyway, that was the main draw for Rett, so we hopped on a bus (the same system that operates in Auckland) and took it a couple miles west where we then switched to our feet and walked up a steep hill on a path taking us to Cable Bay Winery. We drank wine, enjoyed the views, and maybe convinced a couple from Houston to move to Washington (there were at least two other parties of Americans, the highest density we’ve seen in NZ so far, are wine tastings an American thing?)
With rain on the way we walked up another hill to Mudbrick Winery for dinner. We definitely weren’t the only people walking the roads on the island, and there were plenty of bike riders too, which is the kind of active transportation that happens when you make it expensive to bring a car to the island. And it’s a big part of that relaxed island feel, so maybe take a lesson from that, rest-of-the-world!
We made it into their Bistro just before the rain came down hard, and enjoyed a fancy-ass expensive dinner, if not quite the glorious sunset views they’re known for on their hilltop. The radar showed more rain coming after a break, but we knowingly walked the mile back to another bus stop, got soaked (despite our rain jackets), happily knowing that we didn’t need to spend the night in a tent, and instead had a beautiful house in which to dry off, warm up, and snuggle into bed together.