Welcome To Waiheke: Paradise At The Bottom Of The World


Photo: Nicholas Carlson

I flew down to Auckland, New Zealand last Thursday with no plans for the weekend.By that evening, I’d met some locals.

By Sunday afternoon, I was with one of them, 35 minutes from the city, off the coast of a small island called Waiheke, reeling in ocean salmon and snapper.

Before I went out there for myself, Kiwis would describe Waiheke to me, a New Yorker, as their equivalent of the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard.

It’s a fair comparison.

Like those places, Waiheke is a vacationer ‘s island – with a population of about 5,000 in the winter (now) and more than 20,000 in summer.

But unlike those places, Waiheke is full of Kiwis. And nothing beats Kiwi hospitality.

Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city. It has 1.5 million people and feels a lot like Seattle.

Right from downtown, there's a 35 minute, $35 ferry ride to Waiheke.

New Zealand is a archipelago of volcanic island. The newest one near Auckland is 700 years old, and on the horizon here

We're passing boats anchored in the marina; we must be getting close

We're here! On to the island.

A taxi driver named Max picks us up. He and our host, Dr. Tom Mulholland, have lots of mutual acquaintances

We stop at a lookout over one of the Island's many beaches.

Turns out we're looking out over Mawhitana Bay. We'll go down there later…

…for now, let's head to a vineyard.

We arrive at Stonyridge

Stoneyride wines are served as far away as St. Tropez and Madrid favourite, Viridiana.

The bread there is stuck into some delicious duck liver pate. It'll buckle your knees.

There were also oysters, pulled from the ocean a short jog away. If only we could go back for more of them.

Somehow, we pulled ourselves away. We head for the ocean for some fishing. It's raining, but that won't last.

We arrive at the family home of an islander fisherman named Blake – an old friend of Dr. Tom's

Amid mult-million dollar mansions Blake's is a modest, almost ideal spread. See the boat with wheels? It's called a Sealegs. It's amphibious. Blake drives us right over the beach and out into the bay on it.

Two hours later, we do not come back empty-handed! Left to right, that's an ocean salmon and a snapper.

Next, we filet the fishes. I watch.

With a lifetime of experience, Blake shows us how it's done.

Dr. Tom cuts us each off a piece of sashimi. We eat it, right there – not 150 yards from the ocean.

Let's go to another vineyard!

On the way, we pass one of the many helmeted horse-riders we'd see that day

We arrive at Te WHAU vineyard

Here's the amazing view from the driveway. That's Te Whau Bay.

Welcome inside.

The proprietors are Tony and Moira Forsyth. They bought the land in 1996 and opened the restaurant in 2001.

They make the wine downstairs in the basement.

They store in it oak barrels.

Te WHAU sells wine from other vineyards, too…

…like this bottle, which costs $6,000!

After the vineyard, it's time to head to Dr. Tom's place and cook up the fish! We stop at a grocery story.

Looks a lot like an American grocery store, no?

We head to Dr. Tom's lovely home.

Whoops! We meant to snap a photo of the cooked fish, but we scarfed it down too fast!

Fortunately, there were some leftovers.

Sadly, it was time to head back to the ferry.

We take the ferry back, and sleep well in Auckland.

Special thanks to our Waiheke guide, Dr. Tom Mullholland

DISCLOSURE: Why did I fly to New Zealand, and who paid for it?

You should know that I flew to New Zealand on New Zealand's dime. The government offered to buy my ticket and get me a hotel room so I could meet some entrepreneurs down here.

I agreed.

Scratch that; I jumped at the chance.

I promise to keep any stories I write about them honest.

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