Each year in New Zealand, Easter marks the end of summer and beginning of Autumn (no spring chicks hatching around here!). Many restaurants and tourism sites take advantage of the holiday weekend before they close up shop for the 'slow season'. So before I embark on the infamous windy and wet Wellington winter that everyone keeps warning me about, it's time to go up north where summer lives in New Zealand — Waiheke Island.
New Zealand holidays always have a way of sneaking up on me. The seasons throw me off, public holidays are different than in the US and suddenly I realize we have a 4-day weekend. Having Good Friday and 'Easter Monday' off is an excellent idea!
So when I found out I'd be flying up to Auckland for work, I thought why not take advantage of Waiheke Island, a warm and luxurious little island just a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland's CBD.
While I was in Auckland I had the pleasure of meeting up with my friend and former colleague from Hawke's Bay, Charlotte. Charlotte introduced me to the most wonderful ice cream shop in the world — Giapo!
Giapo is really more of an ice cream experience. The line is long and the prices are more than what you pay for your average ice cream cone, but it's totally worth it; they serve brownie bites while you wait and the ice cream cones really are a work of art.
The ice cream flavour you choose determines what kind of embellishments you'll receive in your cone or cup. I opted for classic dark chocolate gelato which was then sprinkled with dried strawberries, chocolate, gold flakes and a gold dusted chocolate moon.
Charlotte ended up with a magical chocolate unicorn horn to top off her gold wafer encrusted hazelnut ice cream. Ah-mazing. Giapo is an absolute Auckland must-do.
The following day, Joe met me in Auckland and we hopped a ferry to Waiheke Island. The ferry rides range from $15-30 and don't require booking in advance, making it easy to catch a ride to Waiheke on a whim and come back in the evening if you like.
Waiheke island has a little something for everyone. It's probably best known for its wineries, warm weather and beautiful beaches. There's so much to see, do and eat.
The coast is lined with sandy beaches and the water is speckled with yachts. The vibe had me feeling like I was somewhere in the South of France but without the price tag.
Something for the foodies
The main village of Oneroa is chock full of fantastic little restaurants. Our first stop was Oyster Inn. This sunny restaurant and boutique hotel overlooks the beach and harbour. The swaying palm trees and signature yellow and white striped awning have you immediately feeling like you're on vacation.
Joe and I enjoyed champagne, oysters and lobster risotto, which was to die for, while taking in the ocean views and enjoying tunes from a live jazz band. Can we please eat here for every meal?
Another restaurant that's not to miss is Fenice — fantastic and authentic Italian food. We ate there two nights in a row!
My one piece of advice for visiting Waiheke Island is to plan ahead and get in quick when it's a holiday weekend. Many Aucklanders commute into the city from Waiheke, while another 3,000 or so people have holiday homes here. Since it was an impromptu trip, pickin's were slim in terms of accommodations. As we explored the island, I marveled at all of the incredible houses along the coast that seemed to be right out of a magazine. It would be great to rent one of these places with a group of friends.
Ultimately we ended up finding a decent little apartment. Although it was nothing out of Architectural Digest, it was still across the street from the beach. We spent most of our Saturday basking in the sun and watching the boats bob in the harbour.
Adventures for everyone
The following day, we rented a super cheap 'fun rental' and tooled around the island. I was really hoping to rent scooters, but with rain threatening, we opted for this sweet blue truck.
Archery, shooting and wine at Wild on Waiheke
The weekend couldn't be all shopping and dining; I had to plan some 'boy' activities for Joe. We stopped for lunch at Wild on Waiheke and did an hour of archery and clay shooting amongst the grape vines.
Of course, Joe got the highest score in everything and I left with very sore arms, but we still had a fun time.
Not only does Waiheke have wineries but also plenty of olive groves. Due to the Easter holiday, New Zealand places strict rules on alcohol, which can only be purchased and consumed with food during the Easter weekend (lame.) So instead of wine tastings, we opted for an olive oil tasting. As an avid olive lover, I had no problem with this! Although I highly advise against eating random unripened olives you find along the road. They're so bitter!
As we left the olive oil tasting at Rangihoua Estate, we noticed hoards of people parking their cars along the road and migrating to a fence around a dirt track. In typical Joe fashion, Joe walked up to a group of men sitting outside of their van smoking cigarettes and drinking beers and asked what they were waiting for. The demolition derby of course.
Boom - Easter Sunday just got a little more interesting.
When in Rome!
It's not what I would have expected for a luxurious little island filled with holiday homes, wineries, boutiques and 5-star restaurants, but this event hidden in the hills seemed to attract people from all walks of life. We had to stick around and watch.
If you've never been to a demo derby (this was my first), the premise is basically this: About 20+ of the shittiest old cars you could ever imagine (spray painted with all sorts of fantastic phrases) drive round and round a dirt track ramming into one another until the track is littered with bumpers and flat tires and there's only one car left standing. Why anyone would ever sign their spine up for real live bumper cars is beyond me, but boy is it fun to watch!
By the end of the event, my sun glasses were caked with red dirt, but I was so glad that we stuck around to watch. Whenever we travel, we always manage to stumble across the most random things. I really have to credit Joe for this, as he's the one with the guts to walk up to strangers or knock on doors and ask, "Hey, what's going on here?" And for this reason, he makes for an excellent travel buddy.