New Zealand’s Wine Island

Waiheke Island might be small, but it has made a big name for itself. Merely a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland, this island hosts over a dozen vineyards, with many being a walkable distance from one another. My husband Jimmy and I chose New Zealand’s epic wine island as our final day trip of our honeymoon. However, while I felt prepared going into it, I noticed that though there are many guides on what to do on Waiheke, there are not very many on how to do it. So… here we are!

One thing I noticed about Waiheke is that despite being only about 12 miles long, it feels soooooo much bigger when you arrive. Uber isn’t really existent on the island. Your choices for transportation are the hop-on-off bus, pre-booked taxis, a guided tour, car rental, or walking (some of the way). We ended up with the bus, which will be the basis for my guide here. Keep in mind that even with the bus, you’ll still be doing plenty of walking! It will get you in between winery clusters, but there will still be plenty of walks between the vines. Our day was fun, but it wasn’t leisurely, and I would recommend having some good physical fitness to help with the island’s hills.

Speaking of winery clusters, you can find a map of some Waiheke wineries here. Though there are many more, most won’t be convenient to a day trip. For instance, Man O’ War Vineyards is about a 20-minute trek down a dirt road! But don’t fear, you’ll be able to taste most wines in the local wine shop. Believe it or not, Waiheke is known mainly for bold reds and Bordeaux blends. My favorite trend I would see was Shiraz blended with a touch of Viognier. If you’re looking for traditional Sauvignon Blanc, you will find it here, but the grapes will mainly be brought in from partner vineyards in the Malborough region on New Zealand’s South Island.

Stop 1: Mudbrick Vineyard

No matter what your chosen mode of transportation is, Mudbrick will be the best first stop for a full day. In addition to being spectacular, it also opens at 10:00am, a full hour before most other wineries on the island. If you take the 8:30am ferry over from Auckland, it will give you more than enough time for the slow paced, yet very uphill walk from the ferry terminal. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs to guide you.

To say that Mudbrick is stunning would be a severe understatement. The gardens are incredible. You’ll see impeccably groomed gardens, rooftop seating overlooking the Pacific, and classic vines growing up vineyard walls. Once you arrive, you’ll have a choice of two tastings. My husband and I split both and shared. The “Light & Fresh” runs $10 and the “Bold & Complex” is $15. While we enjoyed the wines from the standard tasting, the ones that really shined were all from the complex one. Their Bordeaux style blend was particularly fantastic.

Stop 2: Stonyridge Vineyard

Stonyridge is among your second major winery cluster and just a quick bus ride or drive from Mudbrick. It’s also a pretty easy helicopter ride from Auckland, if you really want to make an entrance. Stonyridge markets itself as “ultra premium red wine specialists” and it really shows. Their flagship wine is their Larose, which received 94 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. It’s a Cabernet-dominate Bordeaux blend that costs $75 per glass. Luckily, it’s also available as part of your Premium $25 tasting. For the less Bordeaux-inclined, there’s also a Standard $15 tasting option.

Stonyridge, though beautiful, doesn’t possibly seem like it could be located on the same island as Mudbrick. Instead of high cliff views overlooking the ocean, you’re greeted with rolling mountain views behind their 25 acres of vines. You can really take things in while participating in their style of tasting. Instead of standing at a bar with an associate as your guide, you’re given a generous pour and time to wander while exploring the vineyard on your own until ready for your next wine.

Stop 3: Tantalus Estate Vineyard

About a 10-minute walk from Stonyridge is one of Waiheke’s newer vineyards–Tantalus. The downstairs of their estate is a speakeasy-style brewery, The Alibi Brewing Co. Upstairs is a sprawling wine tasting room and restaurant with plenty of natural life and room to wander. When we first entered, it seemed too crowded to be fun. However, it quickly became apparent that the staff can handle a crowd and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Like the wineries above it, Tantalus also has a choice of two tastings. There’s their Regional tasting for $10 and the Reserve tasting for $15. By this point, my husband had switched to the brewery, so I ended up with the Reserve tasting. Their ‘Voile’ Syrah was my personal favorite. Blended with 2% Viognier, this wine was full-bodied but still managed to go down like velvet.

Stop 4: Waiheke Wine Centre

Located in town and on your way back towards the ferry, Waiheke Wine Centre is your chance to try all the wineries you weren’t able to get to. You get a card that will allow you to taste multiple wines from a few very cool machines. The bus stop in town is directly across the street, but if you’re driving, it might be a little difficult to find a parking space.

Stop 5: Cable Bay

Welcome to your last stop! Cable Bay is actually the first winery you walk by on your way to Mudbrick, but it unfortunately doesn’t open until 11:00am. Luckily, it’s also the final stop on the bus. Though it shares similar views with Mudbrick, the vibe is completely different. Cable Bay has a very modern architectural style and only a single, $10 tasting available.

During this time of year, Cable Bay was the only winery I found to have a full Viognier on their tasting menu. Despite being in a rush to catch our ferry, I still managed to find the time to buy a bottle. I wish we had time to walk around here. The focus on sustainability, though not unique in New Zealand, is incredibly prevalent here. Coupled with views of the ocean, it’s tough to beat.

Lunch

If you’re on a time crunch, your best bet for lunch will probably be at a winery. Almost all the Waiheke wineries have restaurants, though you’ll want to plan in advance and make a reservation. Tables will fill up quickly. Lunch at the wineries will be a bit more on the fine dining side. Additionally, you can find plenty of oysters, seafood, and quick eats in the main street in town.

Other Winery Options

Oh boy… there are SO MANY options here. I’d love to go back for a long weekend and visit all of them. However, here are the main ones I continually heard about.

Jurassic Ridge // Near Mudbrick and Cable Bay, you’ll see signs for Jurassic Ridge Vineyards as well. While we didn’t stop, we did hear that the wine is excellent, but that the tasting is a bit eccentric and not for people just into a casual time.

Goldie Estate // Goldie Estate is Waiheke’s oldest vineyard and is currently run by the University of Auckland. It has a ton of wine science programs that are currently based on its grounds.

Wild on Waiheke // Wild also has a brewery to go with its winery, along with plenty of lawn games and outdoor activities. It’s not your typical corn hole–Think more along the lines of archery and laser clay shooting.

Man O’ War // This is down a dirt road located on the side of the island totally opposite the ferry terminal, but has absolutely fantastic wines. If you miss physically visiting them, be sure to try them in the wine centre.

Te Motu // This winery is right next to Stonyridge, they have an award-winning restaurant, The Shed, right on-site. Make a reservation, because they will book up!

Batch // One of the bus drivers, Matt, recommended this winery as his favorite on the island. They do high tea, which always makes them a solid choice!

Tips & Tricks

  1. Don’t make my mistakes. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. I didn’t anticipate how much walking we’d be doing!
  2. Bring an umbrella. Waiheke has its own microclimate that’s quite tropical. You might get an odd-off random rainstorm during your day.
  3. Many wineries in New Zealand produce two different labels. There will be a reserve range, which they mostly sell in-house only and is aged for longer. Then there’s there flagship label, that tends to be more accessible to the public. It can be easy to mix things up! Make sure you’re purchasing the right wine.
  4. The vast majority of New Zealand wine bottles will have a screw top lid. I didn’t see a single cork while on the island!

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