A very long time ago I bought a french interiors magazine, purely for it's images of a property that I understood was on a little place called Waiheke Island off Auckland. The views from this architecturally designed property were like nothing I'd seen before - huge undulating hills overlooking the ocean that seemed to go forever. From that point onwards, Waiheke Island was high on the to-go-to list.
Beautiful shot of the view from Cape Retreat, Waiheke Island by talented friend Connor Beaver.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding on Waiheke Island last December and since I hadn't been yet, I went into full tour manager mode!
I planned the ideal road trip from Auckland and looping around the parts of the North Island, taking in a few sights.
Here's my tips / suggested itinerary for Auckland and surrounds:
Before you do anything else, make sure you hire a car or a sleeper van as you will need one to get around. Also keep in mind that the car hire businesses open regular business hours, so when you get the cheap red-eye flights from Melbourne (fail!), you will have a few hours to kill drinking coffee before you pick up your car #notfun.
We used Happy Campers and got an Elgrande campervan, which is pretty much a lounge room on wheels.
Get yourself to The Federal Delicatessen and eat the Ruben sandwich! Not only is the sandwich unreal, so are the staff, their uniforms and the fit out. It's straight out a New York deli. Not going to lie, went more than twice!
Pic of Federal via Noted.co.nz
Another great place to eat, particularly for dinner is Coco's Cantina. Beautiful Italian food and lovely staff! Highly recommended.
Pic of Coco's Cantina via www.silverkris.com
Wander around the beautiful area of Parnell and make sure you visit Blush Flowers, probably the most beautiful florist in the world.
Pic of Blush Flowers via Idealog.co.nz
Also check out Ponsonby, a great little area filled with drinking holes, cafes and cute shops. I'm totally in love with the local label Lonely lingerie, check out their store in the area. Absolutely gorgeous product!
Pic of Lonely exterior via lonelylabel.com (of their newest Newmarket store)
We stayed at a cute little Airbnb in Remuera, aka the upper East side of Auckland. It is a gorgeous area where I loved just walking around the hood, checking out the beautiful homes and gardens. You will need a car if you stay here though!
It's a cute self contained studio above a car port on property where the hosts live. Great little spot that was clean and comfy.
Photo of Remuera accom via Airbnb
Below is another option for somewhere closer to downtown Auckland, we didn't stay here but it's on my Airbnb wish list.
No hotels got me excited in Auckland, so Airbnb is the best way to go.
Photo of Auckland accom via Airbnb
We stayed here to visit friends and to break up our drive between Auckland and Tongariro National Park.
It was a great midway point where we could tick off the mud baths and white water rafting. I'd only suggest 1 night and only if you wanted to take part in the activities in the area.
We didn't find any amazing food in the area and we stayed in our campervan for the night so my tips are for the activities: Hellsgate Geothermal Mud Bath and Rotorua Rafting.
The mud baths are no luxury spa, but it is a fun and quite relaxing experience if you pick your time right in between tour buses!
The white water rafting was a fun experience that takes you through some spectacular scenery along the Kaituna River. You get to jump out of the rafts and swim down rapids and the highlight being a 7 metre drop down a waterfall. A fun day out!
Photo of me heading down the 7m drop by Rotorua Rafting photographer.
TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
It's a good 4.5hr drive from Auckland, so you may want to stay somewhere en-route (as we did in Rotorua).
We stayed at Base Camp, all ready for the next day to hike up the mountain to see the spectacular scenery but we were hit with bad weather and such poor visibility that we didn't end up walking the mountain. I was so devo after driving all that way but I basically didn't want to hike without the reward of a view! Not the dedicated hiker at all!
Tip: double check the weather before driving up, unless you're a hardcore hiker.
Pic of Tongairo National Park (on a good day!) via www.nationalpark.co.nz
Coming from Tongariro, Piha was like we were a different country! It was warm, tropical and sunny!
It is a striking seaside town with beautiful little shacks scattered across the steep hills that overlook the black sand on it's beaches.
We stayed at the caravan park by the beach, it was serviced well and in a good spot to enjoy walks along the beach (including climbing Lion rock) and close enough to the local watering hole, the Piha RSA that is an old school pub that has been untouched for years. Go there for a sunset drink on the deck.
Photo of Piha beach by me!
A 40 minute ferry ride from the Auckland water front - if it' one thing you do, promise me you make the time to get to this magical slice of heaven.
Think of it as the Hamptons of Auckland. In saying that though it has such a relaxed and welcoming vibe that I fell in love with!
We frequented Charlie Farley's each morning for a coffee after our morning run and we had a few afternoons here enjoying the sunshine over a few glasses of Aperol Spritz!
Go to see the wineries! We only got to Cable Bay and that was beautiful. The food was great, so was the wine and the view was spectacular.
Add Mudbrick to your list as I heard great reviews too:
Photo of Mudbrick via gioiamiadesigns.wordpress.com
Now this is my gift to you - my accomodation recommendation for the Island.
It is not found on Airbnb, so you can thank me later for doing all the hard yards, trawling the internet finding this beauty:
Cape Retreat Onetangi via Stay Waiheke.
Overhead view of Cape Retreat via Stay Waiheke.
Stay Waiheke specialise in luxury accomodation on the island and houses they list cannot be found on Airbnb. Check out the other houses on offer too.
Enjoying dinner at sunset. Photo by Connor Beaver.
This place was perfect for our group holiday. We could have done with an extra bedroom or two for those who weren't couples. That always gets tricky on big group holidays.
The house has generous sized areas such as the kitchen and outdoor area as well as a pool and a large grassed area.
I highly recommend the house, truly relaxing and with breathtaking views overlooking the Kauraki Gulf that you could never tire of.
Taking in the views from the pool. Photo by Connor Beaver.
So there you have it - my tips for Auckland and surrounds. I hope you find some tips useful. Let me know if you use any of them.
I'm looking forward to getting back there soon!
Until next time,