Waiheke on a whim, and in the rain
Even the rain failed to dampen Yeoh Siew Hoon’s New Zealand sojourn, complete with rugged coastlines, vineyards and olive groves.
For a small island, it is amazing how diverse the landscape is, and you can go from vineyards and olive groves to sandy beaches to hills in a matter of minutes.
The rain was pelting down as the car ferry moved slowly towards Waiheke. It had been raining non-stop since I arrived in New Zealand two days earlier and a bad weather front was promising more rain and wind for the week.
As a traveller, you have to make the best of the weather and it was clear, after two days in Mangonui, in Northland, things weren’t going to get any better and it was time to make a hasty retreat back to the city.
Two nights in a row, I fell asleep to the sound of whistling wind. Actually whistling is probably an understatement; it sounded more like a howling banshee. Strong winds blew into the bay, and our room, right on the edge of the cliff, was pretty exposed.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself. I dined on what was hailed the “best fish and chips in the world”. I walked on hills and beaches between bouts of rain, and saw rainbows.
But Waiheke remained in my mind as the car ferry made its approach. Waiheke is an island just under an hour’s ferry ride from Auckland. We decided to take the car so that we would be able to move around more freely.
I visited Waiheke a few years ago and there’s a laidback feel to it that reminds me of Penang, my hometown; it’s an island thing. I searched the web the day before for a place to stay and decided on an eco-lodge bed and breakfast.
It sounded quite cute from the description and I wanted something different from the beachfront place we stayed in the last two nights. The thought of sleeping amidst greenery was pleasing.
From the front, the lodge looks like a small wooden house that wouldn’t be big enough for a hobbit, but once inside, it opens up onto a patio and huge garden. It’s laid out in a way that provides enough privacy for guest and host.
The family of four live in the main room and we got the room in the attic. There are symbols of environmental accreditation everywhere. The lodge prides itself in environmentally responsible practices and urges guests to be careful with water and energy usage.
This is a growing trend in travel and more travellers are becoming conscious about the kind of places they choose to stay in.
It was indeed a good place to spend the first night in Waiheke. The family was hospitable and respect your space and privacy, so we got the patio to ourselves in the evening and morning.
Refreshed by the greenery, we headed out to explore more of Waiheke. For a small island, it is amazing how diverse the landscape is, and you can go from vineyards and olive groves to sandy beaches to hills in a matter of minutes.
With no plan in mind, we took our time wandering around the island. We stopped at a vineyard to taste wine. We walked along Palm Beach and stopped at a restaurant called Wai Kitchen in the main town of Oneroa. I have to say it was the best meal I had on this trip - order the Vietnamese salad and the grilled calamari with avocado and walnut.
As the rain continued to pelt down, it was time to find refuge for the night, and the Waiheke Lodge, perched on a hill overlooking Putiki Bay, looked promising. We were given the keys to two units so we could decide which one we wanted.
This is what I love about travelling in New Zealand, people are pretty casual about things like this. “She’ll be right, mate” is the general attitude, meaning, whatever, it’s okay.
And so for the next two nights, we took shelter in our studio unit and, in between rain showers, discovered more of Waiheke.
On our last day, we drove to the eastern end, the least inhabited part. Here 4,500 acres of rugged coastal farmland is family-owned and they operate a winery called Man O’ War. It’s also the site of the Stony Batter Coastal Defence batter, a network of tunnels built during World War II to protect Auckland from naval invasion.
In the bracing air, we toured the fort and walked to the headland for the kind of views that only New Zealand can offer. We then visited the winery and walked off with at least half a dozen bottles of wine. (The bottle of Dreadnought Syrah is still sitting in my refrigerator, waiting for a special occasion.)
So who says you can’t have fun on an island in bad weather?
Sustainability is embedded in Shangri-La’s practices and in 2010, it released the Sustainability Report which covers caring for the environment and nature among other objectives.