Travel #1

Jenny Ni­cholls traces the stun­ning shores of Wai­heke Is­land.

North & South - - North & South -

“I’VE BEEN ev­ery­where at least five times,” says Wai­heke map-maker Jan Ramp, re­fer­ring to the end­less is­land tracks he has not only run and walked, but also plot­ted on screen. There can be few who know the un­du­la­tions of this 19km-long scrap of land as well as Ramp, a Dutch mi­grant blown in from Am­s­ter­dam.

Ramp has run and walked Te Ara Hura, the 100km walk­ing trail that links tracks all around the is­land: from the ferry pier at Ma­ti­a­tia, around the built-up area in the west to the rolling, lightly stocked farms and old bush on the east­ern side.

Wai­heke is shaped like a dog – or, some say, a dragon. It is pos­si­ble to see the head and legs of a scraggy mutt, nose at Kauri Point, ears at Thumb Point, star­ing mourn­fully at Coro­man­del – al­though his tail has too many penin­su­las to be con­vinc­ing.

Not many is­landers, if they were hon­est, could name even half of the 72 bays which ser­rate the sea dog’s 133.5km out­line. We know Piemelon, Cac­tus, Man O’ War, Orapiu, One­tangi, Te Matuku, Sandy, Cir­cu­lar, Awaawaroa, Whakanewha, Oneroa, An­zac, Church, Ma­ti­a­tia. We’ve heard of Dead Dog Bay, but not the topo map’s Dead­man’s Bay.

Al­though I’ve lived on the is­land for 11 years, I have also never heard of Anita Bay, a crin­kle of Kauri Point

at the far end, or Whites or Lit­tle or Pa­tio or Pasadena or Opopo, Huse, Waiti or Ru­ruwhango bays.

Wai­heke has so many crin­kles and bites out of it, in some be­fud­dled over­sight, two of them have ac­quired the same name. The topo map has a Sandy Bay at the mouth of Te Mataku, and an­other near Oneroa Beach.

The up­side is there are beaches for bird watch­ing and beaches for nude swim­ming, beaches for show­ing off and beaches for hid­ing, beaches for launch­ing your boat in a northerly and beaches for souther­lies, beaches for west­er­lies and beaches for east­er­lies.

It’s a nat­u­ral place to live if you like the sea. “I had a Laser for many years,” sighs Ramp, “but I took up run­ning. It’s much sim­pler.”

Boat­ing re­quires a de­gree of ob­ses­sion, not to men­tion loot, that not every­one can muster. Many wind­ing roads here sport a rot­ting boat or two. The idea of Wai­heke as a play­ground for the wealthy is be­lied by these hope­ful but derelict tal­is­mans, al­though Wai­heke has no short­age of wealth – not all of it con­spic­u­ous.

One sign of lu­cre are the sta­tus sym­bols that in­vari­ably trun­dle across your path on One­tangi Beach from a well-ap­pointed garage near the wa­ter. Made by an Auck­land-based com­pany, am­phibi­ous Sealegs are so pop­u­lar they have their very own race at the an­nual One­tangi Beach Races. In 2016, 68 craft en­tered. The races, which have been run­ning in fits and starts for more than 100 years, once cel­e­brated horse rac­ing, and new-fan­gled trac­tor power. Now there’s even a race for Seg­ways.

But you are just as likely, on a week­day walk down One­tangi’s 1.87km of white sands, to come across a bloke launch­ing a bat­tered dinghy or old kayak with an alarm­ing num­ber of patches, look­ing for din­ner off Thomp­sons Point.

If the is­land’s fish­ing ob­ses­sives have a tem­ple, it is Ox Tackle De­vel­op­ments Ltd in Os­tend. Presided over by Wai­heke’s un­of­fi­cial fish­ing guru, Kasey Coghlan, known as “Ox”, this im­pres­sively stocked fish­ing

shop is the scene of foren­sic de­bates about fish, what they are think­ing, and where to find them. A strap­ping ex-skip­per with years of fishy in­tel up his black fleece sleeve, Ox is big on sus­tain­able fish­ing and fath­om­lessly gen­er­ous with his leg­en­dar­ily gold­plated ad­vice. A nat­u­ral teacher, he has the depth of char­ac­ter, when re­quired, to coun­sel gut­ted an­glers.

“It can get pretty in­tense some­times.”

The wis­dom of Ox en­sures there is gen­er­ally a long line of utes out­side his tackle shop.

“I’ve seen some of the great­est an­glers on Wai­heke... amaz­ing an­glers,” Ox says, sagely. “But they aren’t the su­per-rich guys. Of­ten it’s the tradies. Some of them are in­cred­i­ble.”

In sum­mer, as the fer­ries pump tourists through the is­land’s ar­ter­ies to winer­ies and One­tangi Beach, and two- decker buses rum­ble pre­car­i­ously along the nar­row roads, the is­land’s south­ern beaches and tracks are fre­quently de­serted. You can pack a fish­ing rod and a sand­wich, and, if you don’t mind get­ting your feet wet, you can walk around the beaches and rocks of Park Point – a few min­utes walk from Oneroa – and have the place to your­self, even in Jan­uary.

Those lo­cals who don’t de­pend for their in­come on a shop, a taxi or hospi­tal­ity worry about the num­ber of vis­i­tors whisked ef­fi­ciently to an is­land with few side­walks and no traf­fic lights. Around 9000 res­i­dents in the win­ter swell to 45,000 souls in sum­mer. Rental ac­com­mo­da­tion is in crit­i­cally short sup­ply, and some­times there’s even a bit of a traf­fic jam at the Oneroa round­about.

I told an is­land friend I was writ­ing a story about Wai­heke.

“Tell them it’s shit,” he said.

Poukaraka Flats camp­ground, Whakanewha Re­gional Park

This leafy camp­ground is on a child­friendly beach and has toi­lets, cold wa­ter and gas-fired bar­be­cues, with bush tracks nearby. You’ll need to catch a taxi or shut­tle here if you don’t have your own trans­port, as it’s quite a hike from the near­est bus stop. Adults $13, chil­dren $6. Self- con­tained ve­hi­cles $6. Ph (09) 366-2000, auck­land­coun­cil.govt. nz

Jan’s Bach

Jan Ramp’s clas­sic mid-cen­tury bach in An­zac Bay has di­rect ac­cess to the Te Ara Hura walk­way – the 100km track that cir­cum­nav­i­gates the is­land. It also has wrap-around decks, a bar­be­cue, and two dou­ble bed­rooms. No sea view, but Palm Beach is five min­utes away by car. Un­lim­ited free wifi. From $150 per night. See “com­fort­able retro bach, close to ev­ery­thing” on Book­abach or Calais­bach on Airbnb.

To Eat

Wai­heke has more than its fair share of top-flight restau­rants. Three of the best are based in vine­yards: The Shed at Te Motu, Ca­sita Miro at Miro, and Mud­brick, which also has a range of high-end ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Oneroa

A few stops on the bus from the ferry ter­mi­nal, the tiny town­ship of Oneroa has ev­ery­thing you will need for a lazy day trip to Wai­heke. Eater­ies in­clude Fenice, Lit­tle Frog, The Court­yard Restau­rant & Gar­den Bar, Wai Kitchen, The Oys­ter Inn and The Is­land Gro­cer. The Lo­cal does the best fish & chips on the is­land, and the burg­ers at Too Fat Buns and the pock­et­breads at Dragon­fired on Lit­tle Oneroa Beach are stu­pen­dous. There are bars, art galleries, a swim­ming beach, and even a shop­ping strip. Oneroa is a sur­pris­ingly good place to find sum­mer clob­ber such as togs, sarongs, t-shirts, bags, dresses and san­dals. The Up­cy­cle Re-de­sign Store sells re­cy­cled jew­ellery, cloth­ing and home decor – and wins our Most Wai­heke Shop in Wai­heke award.

Jenny Ni­cholls is North & South’s art di­rec­tor. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Ken Downie.

Wai­heke map-maker, tram­per and trail run­ner Jan Ramp un­der an an­cient pōhutukawa at Whakanewha Bay. Bush tracks curl into the hill be­hind him, and Poukaraka Flats camp­ground is just around the bay.

Span­ish ac­cents rise above the surf at dusk on One­tangi Beach. Young South Amer­i­cans flock to the is­land, where the soc­cer-mad among them have helped pro­pel the Wai­heke United AFC men’s first team into North­ern Re­gional Foot­ball League 1. The club has a ded­i­cated fan base, known as “La Banda del Pi­pazo”.

Danielle Robb, Kingston Har­rop and Kim­berly Twi­dle rais­ing money for their friend’s hockey club at the Satur­day morn­ing Os­tend Mar­ket. One of the coun­try’s long­est-run­ning mar­kets, it helps fund the Wai­heke Com­mu­nity Child­care Cen­tre.

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