Jenny Nicholls traces the stunning shores of Waiheke Island.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.