A few weeks ago, I made a snap decision to get out of town, and spend the weekend wandering Waiheke Island. I’ve been in Auckland a few months now, and really hadn’t considered Waiheke Island a must-see destination. Plenty of visitors to Waiheke are there for the wine, but that was of little interest to me, I wanted to wander. So, after a little bit of research, I gathered a couple of friends, and we hopped on the ferry to set off on an adventure for the day!
We had a blast wandering the rustic trails and lounging on the golden sand beaches of Waiheke Island, and it wasn’t long before I was asking myself why I hadn’t visited earlier. While we did come across other hikers (or trampers, as the Kiwi’s refer to them!), we often felt like we had the trail to ourselves, and we could take our time soaking in the views along the way.
Just a 50-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island is the second largest, and most populated of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf. It is a picturesque blend of farmland, forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves. For those wanting to get out of the city for the day, there is a variety of activities on Waiheke ranging from hiking, mountain biking or sea kayaking for those active folks, through to hop on, hop off sightseeing or a relaxed vineyard tour for those looking for a more relaxed afternoon out. The island wineries produce a range of award-winning wines and there’s many a delectable meal served alongside those wines, making this little island an epicurean delight.
The population on Waiheke Island balloons from ~9000 in winter, to around 45,000 every summer, so taking to the trails and wandering Waiheke Island for the day is a wonderful way to escape the masses and connect with nature. Waiheke Island has a comprehensive network of trails, including the Te Ara Hura Walkway, which has linked walkways on the island to complete a 100km loop which circumnavigates the island. I walked just a small portion of this trail, and it was exceedingly beautiful. Just when you think that one little bay or inlet is so gorgeous that it can’t be beat, you reach the next one, and all bets are off!
Keep on scrolling to check out some of the sights you can enjoy on an afternoon or weekend of wandering Waiheke Island. If you don’t have time to read it now, then pin it here for later!
Te Ara Hura Walkway
Following the Te Ara Hura Walkway is a great way to get started wandering Waiheke Island. While the complete walkway circumnavigates the island, you can easily hop on and off the track at different points around the island, including right outside the ferry terminal at Matiatia Wharf. If you only have time for a short walk, then you can still manage to take in a section of the trail, and then use the Island’s public transport network to make your way back to the wharf once you’ve reached your final destination on the trail.
Here’s where we walked!!
Day 1 – Matiatia Bay to Little Oneroa
When you hop off the ferry, just exit the building, and take a quick left-hand turn, and after crossing the bus lanes, you’ll meet right up with the Te Ara Hura Walkway. In a complete stroke of dumb luck, we arrived at low tide, and we were able to walk across the sandy shores of the bay to begin our hike. If it’s high tide, then you just need to take the alternative route, which extends this portion of the walk by around 40 minutes.
Once you reach the end of the beach, the trail leads up a gentle slope onto the headland, and from there, you can watch the ferries come and go from Auckland, as you make your way along the trail.
Before long, you’ll come across a little bay, where you can walk out onto the rocky shoreline and explore the tidepools for any signs of marine life… We spotted a tiny jellyfish, a crab, and a starfish.
Continuing on, the trail winds its way along the coast, and you’ll take in some magnificent views of the coastline, as well as some of the luxurious homes along the way. Oh, how it would be to be rich and famous, living on the headlands of Waiheke Island, with these kinds of views across the Hauraki Gulf!
As you approach Cable Bay, the trail takes a quick dive down from the headlands to the bay. The trail is well established, so it’s an easy walk down, but of course, what does down, must eventually go up again! A couple of sections of the track between Cable Bay and Little Oneroa are closed for maintenance, but it’s all fairly well signposted, and from Owhanake Bay, it’s an easy stroll along the road to reach the ramp down to Oneroa Bay. From here, you just stroll along the broad, golden sand Oneroa beach until you reach the rocky headland separating Oneroa from Little Oneroa.
Here, you have a couple of choices. At low tide, you can continue walking, making your way across the rocks directly around to Little Oneroa. At high tide, then just head up Beach Parade for the high tide route.
If you’ve planned your day well, it might be time for lunch, and you have a couple of options around here. Either head up to Oceanview Road and turn right to explore the cafes, restaurants and stores along the street, or turn left, and head on down the trail to Little Oneroa. Along Oceanview Road, there’s a bunch of restaurants which offer views over the bay. Everything from casual fish and chips or burgers, to fancy wine and food pairings are available. Once you’re done with lunch, then you’ll probably need to make a stop at Island Gelato before continuing on your way!
Another option would be to head down to Little Oneroa, which has a general store, as well as the delightfully delicious food truck Dragonfired, which pumps out wood fired pizzas, calzones, and sandwiches right by the beach.
We opted to spend some time relaxing on this gorgeous little crescent shaped beach. Beyond the gently washing waves and golden sand is a lovely green park, filled with majestic pohutukawa trees which provide the best shade for an afternoon of lazing on the beach.
Make sure you take your swimwear, as this is the perfect spot to take a dip and refresh after a sweaty morning of hiking. Conveniently, there’s a bathroom and changing room in the park so you don’t have to act like a contortionist trying to get changed on the beach. And did I mention the water? It’s calm and crystal clear, and just a little cold! And apart from a few dinghies coming and going, it’ll just be you and the other swimmers in the water here.
Little Oneroa to Onetangi (via Matiatia Wharf)
After your leisurely lunch and time to relax on the beach, it might be time to be heading back to the wharf, unless you’re staying the night on the island like I was.
To get back to the wharf from Little Oneroa, you have a couple of options. If you’re exhausted from your morning walk, then you can take the bus – and your AT Hop card is valid here. Most of the buses heading down Oceanview Ave will take you to the wharf. However, if you’ve got the time, I’d totally recommend walking back to the wharf. If you just stick to the main roads, and you can be back at the wharf in around 20 minutes, but you can also dilly dally, and take a few detours along the way. I’ll go into more details about that later!
After farewelling my friends at the wharf on Sunday, I took the bus out to Onetangi, and stayed at the Waiheke Backpackers Hostel for the night, so that be I’d able to make the most of my weekend, and have more time to explore the trails on Monday. There were some subtle sunset colors along the Onetangi Beach that evening – definitely worth a stroll – especially if you’re unprepared like me, and have to go out for dinner
Day 2 – Onetangi
My little weekend plan to stay on the Island overnight worked out really well. I got up early (because who can ever sleep in in a dorm room!) and walked along Onetangi Beach.
Facing north, this golden sand beach stretches almost 2km long! I didn’t walk quite that far, but hopped off the beach at Fourth Ave, and walked up to Victoria Reserve, where the lady at the info center had told me about a cathedral-like Nikau grove. The grove is a really easy walk from the beachfront, and just a short 10 minutes through the park (and I stopped to take lots of photos). If you make it as far as Onetangi, then this is one not to be missed, especially while the Waiheke Forest Park is closed off to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback.
Palm Beach to Little Oneroa
The Te Ara Hura Walkway passes right through Onetangi, and by all means, you could just pick it up right there, and continue on your way. I’d decided to head back towards Little Oneroa, and it seemed like there was predominantly a road walk from Onetangi to Palm Beach, so I hopped on the bus and headed off to Palm Beach to start my day of hiking. here’s a store just by the parking lot, so if you needed to stock up on water, that would be the best spot to do so, as you won’t come across another opportunity between Palm Beach and Little Oneroa.
Palm Beach is just another one of those gorgeous Waiheke Island beaches. They all have the crystal-clear water and golden sand, but at the same time, you’ll really enjoy the unique topography of each and every little beach and bay. I sure did!
I started the hike by walking along the sand toward the northern end of Palm Beach. At the northern end of the beach, there’s a rocky spit that you can wander through at low tide or climb over at high tide. On the other side of the spit is Little Palm Beach – where beachgoers visit to let it all hang out. That’s right folks, it’s one of Waiheke’s clothing optional beaches. I passed through (fully clothed), because there’s an optional trail up from the beach through Mawhitipana Reserve to Cory Road where you can meet up with the Te Ara Hura Walkway again.
Alternatively, you can follow the walkway proper from the end of Palm Beach (before the rocky spit), but that involves another walk along the road for around 45 minutes.
Take your time to stop and enjoy the views over the bay (and catch your breath) as you walk up the trail. Once you’re at the top, you’ll turn right, and you have a bit of a walk along the road before you reach Mackenzie Reserve, and head back down the hill towards the coast, and Enclosure Bay.
The trail continues on past almost too many scenic bays to mention along this portion of the walkway. I’ll just leave a few pics here and you can decide which one you think is most scenic. I’ll give a special shout out to Enclosure Bay, but it really was a tough call! Some of the bays are a little more rugged than others, but if you wanted to swim along the way, there are certainly a few options available.
After one final climb, and then descent along a rocky headland, I reached Little Oneroa, which as mentioned from the previous day is a great spot to stop for a break. If you reach here around lunch time, then you definitely should check out Dragonfired. I had the most delicious Vegetarian Mexican Pocketbread. The bread pocket was crisply wood fired on the outside, but still soft in the middle, and it was stuffed full of refried beans, salad-y things, with an awesome avocado drizzle over the top. It was SO good that I had demolished half of it before I stopped to realize I should have taken a photo first. Guess you’ll just have to go and try it for yourself when you’re there.
Little Oneroa to Matiatia Wharf
If, like me, you’ve already walked the section of trail from Matiatia Wharf to Little Oneroa, then I’d recommend taking a leisurely stroll through Oneroa on your way back to the wharf. Sculpt Oneroa was taking place during my visit – so I took my time wandering through the village, checking out the sculptures and installations. Look out for this outdoor exhibition each summer – the art pieces are all created by local Waiheke artists – and displayed for a couple of months during the high tourist season.
If you’ve missed out on Sculpt Oneroa, or you’re just in the mood to take in some more art installations, then further along the road towards the wharf, you’ll come across Alison Park, you have A path runs through this unassuming garden park past some large size sculptures over looking the scenic Blackpool Valley. These sculptures were originally displayed during previous Sculpture on the Gulf exhibitions (a biennial event on the headlands surrounding Matiatia Bay) and have been purchased by the township to remain on display in the park.
From Alison Park, head back to Oceanview Drive, and continue walking towards the wharf. Not far down the road here, you’ll have an option to join the trails through the Atawai Whenua Reserve. The trail runs parallel to Oceanview Road, and you have the option to take the high trail, or the low trail. I chose the low trail, and could hear the traffic from Oceanview Road all the way down the trail. I’ll try the high trail if I get back there, just to see if it feels more secluded. Regardless, it’s a nice trail that winds through a little bit of forest as you’re heading downhill towards the wharf. The trail ends to the southern end of Matiatia Bay, and from there you can just stroll along the sand towards the Ferry Terminal.
Here’s a map of the key locations I’d recommend visiting while you’re wandering Waiheke Island…
Essential tips for a great day out
- Get there early, and beat the heat (and the crowds) in the summer.
- Grab a map of the island and its walkways from the visitor stand in the ferry terminal when you arrive.
- If you’re not up for walking the trails, then there’s always the hop on hop off bus, or the local buses to transport you around the island.
- Consider staying overnight to make the most of your time on the island. Accommodations range from high end to hostels, and everything in between. You’ll be sure to find something that’s just right for you.
- If you’re planning a special lunch at one of the Island’s most renowned wineries or restaurants, then make sure to make a reservation in advance.
I’m looking forward to heading back to Waiheke to explore even further. Have you been before? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments. If it’s your first time to the island, then I hope this post helps you get the most out of your trip!