Friday, March 6, 2015

A Visit to Waiheke Islands - A Kiwi Favorite

Auckland's waterfront as seen from the ferry.
Since New Zealand is a country consisting of two islands, there is water everywhere. The coast line is rugged and filled with bays. The Tasman Sea is on the western coast and is not something with which most yachties care to reckon. It can be wild and dangerous. The east coast of the North Island is yacht-friendly and has many islands with beautiful anchorages. Most of the sailing is done near Auckland or in the  Bay of Islands or Bay of Plenty.We plan to visit a few on our way back north to Opua in April. There are not many harbors as you go south along either coast.

Being a water-based culture, most activities center around boating or taking ferries to the some of the islands for the weekend. We decided to check out one of the most popular islands near Auckland - only a 45-minute ferry ride.

Waiheki (pronounced why-he-key) Island is like a modern Mackinaw Island is some ways. There are beautiful homes, hotels and many tourist places to eat and shop. And there are about 30 wineries on the island! Wine tours are a big attraction.

The biggest difference is that there are 1,400 residents who commute to Auckland by ferry everyday. There are several small villages with city centers around the island. Most are located on beautiful bays where boats anchor regularly. Many of the people we have met at the marina head out to Waiheke Island for the weekends. 

Once again we saw the outstanding public transportation system of New Zealand at work. There are bus stops everywhere so it is easy to get around the island.

One of the many beautiful anchorages on Waiheke Island
Our Waiheke adventure began with one of those OPPS! moments. We headed over to the Gulf Harbour Ferry Dock for the 7:30 AM ferry on a Saturday morning. There were only a couple of people on it and when we boarded, the ticket gal asked if we were going to Auckland. It was obvious to us that the ferry goes to Auckland so that is where we are going.

This is the longest beach on the island. Beautiful!

After we left the dock, she asked how we knew there was a Saturday morning ferry. I said that I saw it is in the schedule brochure. She then pointed out that there is no weekend ferry at 7:30 AM  or any of the other times on that schedule! They had made a run across to drop off crew and we happened onto the return run along with a young couple from Germany who had made the same mistake.

So the next question was: how do we get back to Gulf Harbour. It looked like we were about to learn the ins and outs of the local bus routes! So after a lovely day on Waiheke Island, we returned to Auckland and went to the Britomart to check out the bus schedules. Unfortunately, there were no express buses on the weekend so we were going to experience a very long and round about way home.

Back "home" in the marina.
The biggest challenge was finding the right bus. It seems they have 3-5 different bus companies that run various routes in and around Auckland, so it was a challenge to find the right bus stop. After an hour, we finally got on a bus which took over an hour and a half to get to the bus stop near the marina - then a 20 minute walk to the marina.

The buses are very clean and comfortable and the drivers and other passengers were very helpful as we had to make a transfer. The positive was that it was relaxing and we saw many of the small inland and coastal communities that we would not have visited. Detroit metropolitan area could take a lesson on how to operate a great public transportation system from Auckland.

In general, we have to say that the Kiwis and Maori are the most helpful people. They are very friendly and giving of their time and knowledge. It is a real treat to spend six months here! Beautiful land, beautiful people.

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