© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Winery Hopping on Waiheke Island

© NZPocketGuide.com

330 Days on the Road

As we gaze out of the Fullers‘ ferry window getting absolutely caned by the intense rain and rough seas, we think this is not exactly the journey to the island paradise of Waiheke Island we were imagining. We guess we’ll have to wait for the return journey to report any notion of ‘views’. Until then, we make use of the ferry’s free WiFi to catch up on some emails.

Welcome to Hekerua Lodge, Waiheke Island

When we arrive on the island, 40 minutes after boarding at Auckland’s Downtown Ferry Building, we charge from the ferry to the car of the Hekerua Lodge‘s manager, Tom, who kindly offered to transport us to the hidden hostel during this epic rainstorm. Taking a short walk down some steps through native bush, we arrive at a large decking area overlooking a swimming pool and spa pool. Is this really a backpackers?! Tom gives us a quick tour of the homely hostel, before leaving us to a quick lunch with the company of our fellow hostel-dwellers who are playing some mind-twisting games that you don’t want to join in the middle of. Nevertheless, we are saved from any extreme moments of embarrassment by our winery-hopping tour with Ananda Tours!

Waiheke winery hopping with Ananda Tours

Our driver at Ananda, Jenny, picks us up from the hostel. She gets out a map to point out to all the various vineyards of Waiheke Island that we are going to visit today. Waiheke Island has around 26 vineyards (?!) so visiting them all would probably result in death. Ananda, however, has picked out some highlights, as well as an artisan food-maker that also can’t be missed. That just happens to be our first stop!

Starting off with olive oil tastings

After some casual chatty conversation with Jenny, we arrive at the Rangihoua Estate. Here, we are going to get a behind-the-scenes peak at some international award-winning olive oils! As we walk into the circular foyer with large windows overlooking the olive gardens (which isn’t looking too inviting in the rain right now), we are greeted by an olive oil expert, Sarah. She gives us a quick overview of the work they do here at Raingihoua, before taking us to see the olive oil-making in progress!

Behind the scenes at the olive oil-makers

Under a stone arch, we walk into a room of machines currently churning away. With a DVD playing in the background showing the olive oil-making process, Sarah explains how the machines crush and press the olive oil straight out of the olives that were picked yesterday. We even get to watch the pouring of the extracted oil hypnotically fill up a bucket – that’s as fresh as it gets!

Back in the tasting foyer, Sarah prepares four different olive oils for us to try with bread, while also explaining what to look out for when buying olive oil ourselves and how to store oil. Then we get down to the good stuff: the tasting. We dip bread into smooth oils that progresses in freshness up to a bottle that was made yesterday! Midway, we cleanse our palettes with apple, and end the tasting with, well, some more tastings! We now have herb spreads, chutney and two different types of manuka honey.

Getting some great tastings at Stonyridge

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A rustic and casual tasting at Stonyridge

Although our winery tour got off to a oily but welcome start, we are now hitting the roads to the first of Ananda’s picked vineyards, Stonyridge Vineyards. A Buddha statue welcomes us into a rustic restaurant and tasting room. The ceiling is decorated with vines of a different kind, while letting in some natural sunlight for that outdoorsy feel. Instead of having a standard tasting at the bar, we have a casual and relaxing tasting on some leather sofas with one of Stonyridge’s expert wine connoisseurs – an English girl who is on a working holiday/backpacking herself!

Here, we learn how the majority of wines produced on Waiheke Island are reds, so we are surprised to have our first tasting of Sauvignon Blanc. We then move onto four red varietals while we are told the sort of tastes we might be able to taste. One of those reds is a sneaky taste of Stonyridge’s most-expensive wine at around $400 a bottle(?!) – a little out of the backpacker budget, but it gives us the opportunity to taste what a truly well-balanced wine.

The Batch Winery: a tasting of many settings

It’s back into the Ananda van and onto the next one, the Batch Winery. Although the drives between the island’s vineyards are relatively short, we realise that the vineyards are not exactly in walking distance – and only those with a certain amount of stamina would be able to tackle the hills by bike. We’re thankful to be making the most of the vineyards in just an afternoon.

The Batch Winery is a relatively-small scale vineyard compared to others on the island, but they emphasis more on quality rather than quantity. What’s more, they also provide a variety of special settings to go with the wine tasting. First, we taste the island’s only endemic sparkling wine at a rustic-looking tasting room in the entrance to the winery. Then, we move into a room of huge vats and wooden barrels – inside the winery itself – to taste another white varietal. The final two wines are enjoyed between the stunning setting of the Thomas’s Bach Restaurant and garden overlooking Waiheke Island – a view that has only just been revealed by the parting clouds! The sun has come out and all of a sudden, it’s a beautiful day on Waiheke Island. The views can continue to be enjoyed from behind the enormous windows of the restaurant with some red and desert wine.

The premier wine destination: Mudbrick

On the drive to our final winery of the day, we get to appreciate the scenic side of the Ananda Tour, as Jenny stops at various viewpoints so we can snap up some photos of the island. This is just a taste of the views we are about to get at our next winery, the Mudbrick Vineyard.

The premier winery situated in a huge country-house made out of brick – an unusual sight in New Zealand – is surrounded by wonderful gardens full of veges, lavender and, of course, grape vines. But before we explore the gardens, we have our final wine tasting in the cellar door. We enjoy a tasting of five wines from their premium range meaning all the fruit is sourced from Waiheke Island. The tasting is a true example of Waiheke Island offerings of mostly red varietals. Syrah, Bordeaux-style blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. When we tell our guide the type of wine we are more craving, she is happy to let us try the Riesling. She also points out a quick walk to the top of the property to get some great panoramic views.

Epic views of Waiheke Island

After following some steps up the country-bumpkin garden, we arrive on top of a hill where we can see right across the island and out the the surrounding islands of the Hauraki Gulf. We can’t believe we started the day not able to see a thing for the rain. No amount of alcohol can make us see this epic scenery!

Back to Hekerua Lodge

On the way back to Hekerua Lodge, Jenny kindly stops off at the supermarket for us to grab some supplies, then we say goodbye and part ways at the hostel, which just happens to be throwing a party for a long-termer who is leaving and everyone is invited! Beers, burgers, music and good vibes give a great introduction to hostel life on the island. We think we’re going to like it here.

Join us tomorrow for the more adventurous side of Waiheke Island with a zip-line tour!

A great place to capture those island views!

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