Friday 4 October 2019

Wine on Waiheke Island, New Zealand

On this trip I’m being hosted by Tourism New Zealand.

On our first afternoon of this New Zealand trip, Narrelle and I hopped on a ferry from the Auckland CBD to Waiheke Island. This pleasant spot is about 30 minutes away across the water to the northeast, which makes it a perfect spot for a) commuters to escape the stresses of city living; b) travellers to get a taste of island life.

“Taste” is a well-chosen noun here, as Waiheke is well known for its wine. We were meeting the Wine of Waiheke tour at the dock, which would take us to three wineries over 3.5 hours.

We were picked up by minibus by guide Jill, who’s lived on the island for many years. Aboard we had 15 tour members from a wide variety of places: Australia, the UK, the USA, Canada, the Philippines, South Africa and Colombia. I like that friendly “temporary community” vibe you get on a tour with a good crowd, and that was happening here. As the afternoon wore on and we sampled more wine, we swapped stories and learnt everyone’s back stories.

First stop was Mudbrick, one of the first wineries on the island. The name came from its original mudbrick buildings, but the place has developed greatly since then and is now a complex involving a cellar door, restaurants and a rooftop terrace with views. That’s where we had one of our wines, a tasty syrah, which we enjoyed as the wind whipped up.

Next stop was Cable Bay, a winery named for the nearby body of water which connected the island’s communications cable with the mainland. The wine I liked best here was their viognier, and our wines were accompanied by an excellent spread of cheeses. At the end of the tasting session we had a look at the atmospheric cellars and their barrels. 

The weather was getting dicey as we headed across the island to our last winery, Te Motu. As she drove, Jill told us some background on the island’s history. 

I was curious as to why one of its towns is called Ostend; it was obviously a link with Belgium, but was it named after an early settler from that country? In fact, as Jill explained, a group of New Zealander ex-soldiers who had fought in World War One had been given land to settle on the island, and it had been named Ostend in memory of those who had suffered on the Belgian front in that conflict.

At Te Motu, we were met by the winery’s “concierge” Skipper, a friendly dog who stayed with us for pats as we were enjoying the tastings. My favourite here was a rosé.

By now we tour members were on thoroughly chatty terms and knew almost everything about each other; but as always on these occasions, it was time to part. A quick drive back to the ferry terminal, and we were on a boat back to Auckland. 

It was a brief introduction to Waiheke but I’d like to come back on a more leisurely schedule; maybe stay over for a few days and use its hop-on-hop-off tourist bus service to see the sights. And to sample more wine.

For details and bookings for the Wine on Waiheke tour, visit its website.

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