Waiheke Island is home to an eclectic mix of die-hard hippies, resourceful hermits and city workers trying to put distance between their homes and offices, but on the weekends a hoard of Aucklanders and tourists take the 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Waiheke has plenty to do for a long weekend (or a long week if you want to sample each and every vineyard).
But on our agenda was a new experience: riding an electric bike. After the ferry dropped us off we walked through the Atawai Whenua reserve up to Oneroa as it’s much nicer than along the road. We’d reserved a couple of bikes from a place in Oneroa village rather than hiring one of the muscle-power bikes from down near the ferry. $60 each wasn’t cheap, but it’s a new experience, wasn’t pumping too much carbon into the atmosphere like a couple of scooters would and therefore worth it. Also, Waiheke Island is renowned for its elevation change and the prospect of solely using our legs for the ascents in 25-degree heat wasn’t appealing.
Along the way we found horses on the beach, cute cottages and a refreshing headwind, the last of which was negated by 250W of electrons at our disposal.
But first, a bit about the bikes.
The bikes would propel themselves on the flat, but you definitely needed some leg power to help them up the hills, and we’re not even big people. Our only risk was running out of battery and having to attempt the enormous hills with the added weight of the batteries. Waiheke’s roads aren’t that wide but there are frequent cycle lanes on the hills as the island has plenty of two-wheeled tourists.
We had several destinations in mind and the bike rental place gave us some hints about how to get there via the back roads.
Wild on Waiheke
A popular stop on our little circuit was Wild on Waiheke which had a constant stream of minibuses dropping off tourists. Here you can do archery and electronic clay pigeon shooting, but the food is a bit average.
Archery in the vines is a nice touch, with each row in the vines separating you from the other archers. There are also free games like chess and petanque that you can do while you wait.
Right next door, but up a hill, is Stonyridge which offers much nicer food options. If you want a view of the sea with your wine then there are better options, but the food at Stonyridge is pretty good and our plans were to head past lots of beaches later on. Instead, we simply enjoyed the view of hills we were glad to be not pedalling up.
A two-kilometre stretch of flat sand waited for us at the bottom of a welcome descent. Even though the bikes were powered, we weren’t used to pedalling at all!
The Strand which runs along the beach is home to an increasing number of quite substantial houses, replacing the fibrolite baches that would have lined the south side of the road, but little gems can still be found.
The Onetangi is home to the famous beach races which are held every February. The water was calm with gentle waves but the wind was up and blew cloud of sand that did their best to exfoliate our legs. It also made it impossible to sit on (or near) the dry section of the beach. Daniela got knee-deep in the water before deciding perhaps we should head to Palm Beach where it looked a bit more sheltered.
To the east of the beach The Strand turns inland and steeply rises through a zig and a zag to a ridge from which there’s a great view of the beach and out to the distance with Little Barrier and Great Barrier islands poking out of the sea. Further long the ridge there were peeks across to Auckland and eventually we reached the descent.
Daniela (who had the map) took the lead as we freewheeled down the winding road, unfortunately missing our turning and ending up on the south of the island at Ostend – a place we’d already visited that morning. The prospect of retracing our gravity-assisted ride, even with electron power wasn’t that appealing, but we worked out a route using Google Maps. Everything was going fine until we saw the horses.
Something was wrong with my bike, and the road in the picture is steeper than it looks. While Daniela sped off ahead, unawares, I ground to a halt. With only 6 gears on my trusty steed (all designed for cruising) there was no way I was getting up this hill without Olympic-sized thighs. So I walked. But after 50m or so I checked the throttle and it worked again – must be a loose connection, I thought, but it seemed fine and we made it to Palm Beach and Mawhitipana Bay.
Daniela, slightly annoyed at our inability to get some sun on Onetangi Beach, was happy that Palm Beach was calm and tranquil, but with a lot more people. She had a good swim while I read a book, keeping an eye on the bikes. It’s Waiheke, so they don’t give you bike locks, but the shop’s assurance of their safety didn’t make me any less wary.
Another climb awaited to get across to Little Oneroa. Would the bike make it? No. About 100m from the top of the hill it stopped working again. Fortunately it was not steep and the descent came soon enough.
There was an ice cream cone marked on our map at Little Oneroa, but unfortunately it was just a shop that sold pre-wrapped ice creams or Tip Top ice cream in old-style cones which are like weak cardboard. We knew there was a better ice cream option ahead in Oneroa.
The boat shed at Little Oneroa is worth a closer look, and there’s a pathway over the cliffs towards Hekerua Bay which would have been great to do, but only if we could have locked the bikes up.
While the beach is nice it’s nothing special and it was much busier. We wanted to get back to Oneroa village for a look around. Daniela’s been on the hunt for a cushion (not for the bike seat), so we (umm…she) didn’t want to miss this important opportunity to obtain some furnishings at what would have been an inconvenient time seeing as we still had to get back to the ferry and walk back to our apartment in Auckland.
The bike had found some power again and made it almost all the way back up the hill, but it did finally stop for good.
The centre of Oneroa is now bustling. I first went there in 1997 when Waiheke was a sleepy island; now it’s every bit the fashionable Auckland suburb. There are plenty of shops where you can spend a lot on cushions. But we didn’t. We got ice cream instead and went down to the beach.
Oneroa beach is beautiful with nice shady trees on its edge, soft sand and gentle surf. A lone sail boat played just beyond the breaking waves and the shadows started to lengthen.
We returned the bikes late, got a snack from the Four Square supermarket and began heading back to Matiatia wharf.
Alison Park sculptures
On the walk back down to the ferry stopping off at Alison Park to have a look at the sculptures makes for an interesting diversion.
Heading back to Auckland
The water was much calmer on the way back. Auckland always looks beautiful from a distance when the sea is gentle and the haze transforms the city into an undulating grey line.