Auckland is a city that must be visited, mostly for its vibrant diversity and cultural flair. Known as the “City of Sails”, and surrounded by the Hauraki Gulf, it offers a unique experience. Explore volcanic landscapes, black-sand beaches and award-winning cuisine. Epic adventures are around every corner, and let’s not forget about the chic shopping. While that in itself is impressive, almost a stone’s throw away from Auckland, you’ll feel as though you’ve escaped into another world far away.
Waiheke Island is easy to reach with a short 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland CBD. Once you step on the ferry you’ll immediately feel the pace slow down. In lifestyle and look it is worlds apart from Auckland. It is a beautiful blend of laid-back beach vibes with a sophisticated mix of culinary delights.
World famous for its vineyards and wineries, olive groves and beaches, it’s one of the top island escapes in the world. A good reason for that could be the 30-plus vineyards nestled into the hilly landscape. Waiheke produces some of the best red wines in New Zealand, and there is nothing better than enjoying a glass while watching a glorious sunset over the ocean.
With a nickname such as “Island of Wine”, wine-hopping on Waiheke Island is a must-do. There are options of course to do this by bike but why not feel part of the world you’re enjoying in a classic car tour? Let your host collect you in a 1950s glamor Cadillac, and all you have to do is relax in style and enjoy the panoramic coastal views.
Waiheke Island is all about enjoying the quintessential good life. There is always something to see and do with events, festivals, and art exhibitions. The island exudes a strong sense of creativity, and many creatives have made it their home. Every few years there is a special outdoor exhibition called Sculpture on the Gulf that transforms the Matiatia Coastal Walkway into a connective path of walking and playing. Feel the excitement of a child when you find a sculpture hidden in nature that makes you think and reflect. Savor exploring the island on foot with majestic views all along the way.
The island is as famous for its wine as it is for its beaches. Oneroa beach is sought after for its white sand and calm blue waters. Spend the day swimming, kayaking or paddle boarding. It’s the perfect place to relax with family and friends with the Pohutukawa trees providing shade and plenty of play area for the kids.
Onetangi beach is the longest, whitest and has the largest Pohutukawa trees. Popular for swimming, fishing and surfing, it is lined with bars and restaurants. On the shores of the beach is Charlie Farleys, a bit of a Waiheke Island institution. Pop in for a tuna poke bowl and incredible views.
Rangitoto Island is considered Auckland’s most iconic island for its peculiar symmetrical cone and stunning location. Created from years of volcanic activity and hardened lava it is a unique place to explore in New Zealand. A quick and scenic 25-minute ferry ride from Auckland, this little piece of paradise is favored by hikers and nature lovers.
You would expect a dormant volcano to have a harsher landscape but Rangitoto Island is surprisingly green and beautiful. It is home to over 200 species of flora, and abundant birdlife and is the world’s largest Pohutukawa forest.
There are hiking trails all over the island, but the most popular one is the summit of Rangitoto. Walk on paths through age-old lava fields (which at times make you feel as though you’ve landed on mars), and lush forests. Although the summit is not far in distance, the terrain is tricky so it is important to be careful and pay attention. The panoramic views at the top are spectacular. You’ll spot islands dotted in the Hauraki Gulf and Auckland in the distance.
For an adventure of a different kind, you could take a slight detour and explore the dark world of the seven lava caves and tunnels on the way to the summit. Or you could make an entire day of it and kayak to Rangitoto Island, and enjoy an amazing sunset over the water on your way back to Auckland.
Great Barrier Island
The greatest attraction at Great Barrier island is the night sky. Looking up takes on a different meaning here. The island is off the grid and designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. With minimal outdoor lighting, it is only the billions of stars in the Milky Way that light up the dazzling night skies. There are few places in the world where you can sit back and relax in silence with the feeling that you have an entire universe to yourself.
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Approximately a thousand people live on the island and rely on renewable solar power and the collection of freshwater. Part of the charm of traveling to the Great Barrier Island is that you feel like you are experiencing New Zealand as it was decades ago. A few artists are residents here and you could pick up some beautiful pottery or wood carvings.
Nature reigns supreme and there are many walking tracks with stunning forest landscapes and breathtaking views. At Great Barrier Island, you disconnect from the world and reconnect to nature. There are so many ways to recharge and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit.
Explore the many sandy beaches or hidden coves and find a private spot for the day. Tackle the waves at Oruawharo or kayak around the dramatic coastline. Discover mermaid pools and get lost in time as you float on your back while the sun caresses your face. Go on an adventure on the Kaitoke Hotspring Track and take a relaxing dip in the hot springs. Walk to Awana Falls and swim in a natural pool. Visit a local brewery and sample some beer or head to Port Fitzroy for the best burger with a view.
Exclusive experiences and secluded escapes await you a short distance from Auckland city. Venture off the beaten track to find hidden gems, unparalleled beauty and pure relaxation.
Andrew Morten is Founder of TravelEssence. TravelEssence creates bespoke, tailored trips to Australia and New Zealand.
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