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Traced in a network of walking trails framed by lush hills and cerulean bays, New Zealand’s Waiheke island, or the “island of wine,” is nothing short of spectacular. The second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke was once a haven for the beach-seeking artists and free-spirited flower children looking to escape into the beauty of nature. Although it maintains much of this bohemian vibe today, Waiheke’s demographic is driven largely by the island’s main attraction: wine. Even more famous than its breathtaking landscapes and famed beaches is Waiheke Island’s booming viticulture scene.
With its warm summers, long autumns, and cool coastal breezes, the climate is ideal for winemaking. The island boasts some 30 boutique wineries —including Cable Bay, Mudbrick, and Batch Winery—many with elegant tasting rooms and swanky restaurants. With so many options, it’s hard to know where to start. Are you looking for humble local flavor or elegant atmosphere? Breathtaking views or mouthwatering food? Read on for our top picks of must-see Waiheke wineries for inspiration on where to start.
Best for Families: Man O-War Vineyards
Located at the easternmost end of the island, a trip to the idyllic Man O’ War Vineyards includes a free pre-visit tour in the form of a breathtaking winding gravel road with several photo-worthy stops along the way. If the drive doesn’t wow you, the wine certainly will. Featuring three collections of single vineyard varietals, Man O’ War produces Syrah to Malbec, Pinot Gris to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc to Bordeaux, and even Rosé. The only beachfront winery on Waiheke Island, Man O’ War is both scenic and accessible for the whole family (even the dog).
Best Ambiance: Tantalus Estate
Situated in the heart of the Onetangu Valley, the Tantalus Estate is a celebrated winery, state-of-the-art brewery, and world-class restaurant in one, and its décor—some cross of Spanish mission church and chic SoHo boutique—is exquisite. The restaurant flows seamlessly from a roomy, indoor dining room bathed in light, to the charming outdoor patio surrounded in rolling hills of vines. Meals are served alongside house-made Alibi beer and cider, house cocktails, and various Tantalus Estate varietals. Menu favorites include the truffle fries with crème fraiche and twice-cooked pork belly with banana and shiitake.
Best Views: Batch Winery
The cellar door and Thomas’s Bach vineyard restaurant at Batch winery serve clean and simple Waiheke favorites served with a side of breathtaking scenery. The scenic 15-minute Batch bus runs hourly from Matiatia wharf, arriving atop a hill just outside Whakanewha Regional Park. Here, you’ll be able to soak up stunning views from Coromandel to the Sky Tower while sipping your choice of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, or Flora.
Best Food: Casita Miro
A burgeoning local favorite, Casita Miro has recently exploded in the lists for the area’s most celebrated cuisine, winning the 2018 Metro Peugeot Peoples’ Choice Award for Best Destination restaurant and included in the acclaimed list of the 2018 Top 50 Auckland Restaurants. Their menu focuses on purist Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine, including both traditional and modern adaptations of Spanish tapas. The ambiance is quiet, but the loud cries of acclaim can be heard across the island, so be sure to secure your reservation in advance if you plan on sampling their celebrated fare.
Best Frill-Free: Obsidian Vineyard
Nestled near the Northern coast of the Onetangi Valley, this small, boutique winery has a humble atmosphere with a brag-worthy wine collection. Its signature is the Obsidian— a deep crimson, Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. Other popular varietals include Syrah, Montepulciano, Viognier, Chardonnay and Tempranillo. Obsidian’s artisanal small batches are grown in four vineyards arranged in an amphitheatre-like fashion, with its cellar door at the center. The wine is fantastic, the staff is helpful and welcoming, and you might even be poured a glass by the owner himself.
Most Sophisticated: Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant
If you want to sip like royalty, Mudbrick is the place for you. Surrounded in perfectly-manicured topiary gardens with sweeping views of the vines and Auckland’s City skyline on the horizon, the ambience alone is worth the visit. For a restaurant consistently gracing Waiheke’s “Best of” lists, set aside ample time to dine. For foodies, Mudbrick suggests a minimum of three hours to fully enjoy the 7-course degustation menu, which includes everything from locally-caught sashimi to Valrhona chocolate dessert with black olive, yuzu, and cardamom. Each course is served alongside a hand-selected Mudbrick reserve pairing.
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