If you live on the East Coast of Australia, going overseas for an indulgent and picturesque long weekend is not as impossible as it sounds.
Just 3.5 hours of flying will get you to a destination that has views reminiscent of the Greek Islands, mountains and lakes as grand as Switzerland, vineyards to rival Tuscany and harbours as bustling as Venice.
Next surprise? It’s all on the lesser-travelled North Island of New Zealand – Auckland. Now, frankly speaking, the actual city itself is nothing particularly special. But it’s a great place to kick-start a long weekend. Here is my sample itinerary and tips for a long weekend in Auckland:
Day 1 in Auckland (Friday)
A day in Auckland is going to be plenty. After a lazy start, find somewhere for brunch or lunch – I’ve heard good things about Depot Eatery. After that, head down to the harbour and jump on a ferry to Devonport (a quick 15 minutes and $11.50 return). This marine village is one of the oldest suburbs in Auckland. You can spend the afternoon strolling around the craft shops, hiring a bike or enjoying the seaside view. There’s a small chocolate shop and a gelateria (Piccollo Blu) that make a good afternoon snack.
The evening “thing to do” is the Sky Tower – a 328 meter tower that provides a stunning panoramic view of Auckland. It’s $28 for a ticket to the top and last tickets are sold at 10pm – so don’t leave it too late! I’d suggest just having a cocktail at the top and eating dinner at one of the many restaurants at the bottom of the tower instead.
Hint: We used the Secret Hotel Deal on LastMinute.com.au to score a room at the Langham Hotel. The rooftop pool is a great way to spend your afternoon!
Day 2 on Waiheke Island (Saturday)
The bulk of your weekend should really be spent on Waiheke Island – a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland ($36 return). I highly recommend that you hire a car (or scooter) and take turns to be designated driver for the next two days – it’s well worth sacrificing any excessive drinking for the flexibility offered by your own transport. There is a bus service on the island but it’s not overly convenient and will definitely limit your options.
If you arrive early in the morning, line your stomach with brunch at Wai Kitchen and ask for a table outside – the ocean views and salty morning air is undeniably the best way to start your morning. After, head to Wild on Waiheke. It has wine and beer (yes, one for the boys!) tasting, a giant chess board, archery and clay shooting – if you can, call ahead of time to make a reservation if you have your heart set on the archery or shooting. You could easily spend a couple of hours here, with plenty to keep you entertained.
Right next door is Stonyridge Restaurant Vineyard. It has an amazing view and an impressive menu – there is more of a young, fun atmosphere here than your average winery, with music in the background and DJ decks set up. Spend some time here in the deck chairs, sipping wine over lunch. Late afternoon, head for a drive along the coast to Man O’War Bay – it’s about half an hour to the other side of the island but the views are worth it. Man O’War Bay Vineyard specialises in wine tasting and cheese boards / platters, so your afternoon snack is sorted (no full menu though, so if you turn up ravenous after a long drive, you’ll be disappointed).
There are plenty of accommodation options on Onetangi Beach and the Onetangi Beach Apartments seem to have the best overall reviews. An apartment with a balcony, kitchenette and living area is more than enough to help you rest and recover for the next day of indulgence.
Hint: The tastings at most wineries cost between $2 – $10 (not free like in Australia). Buy a bottle or two along the way – maybe even some cheese and nibbles – to enjoy on the balcony of your apartment in the evening.
Day 3 on Waiheke Island (Sunday)
Start the day by driving down to Te Whau and Rocky Bay. There are some amazing views of the island, ocean and vineyards and you can ease into the day with some olive oil tasting (Azzuro Groves Olive Oil and Rangihoua Olive Oil Estate). The best spot for a drink or an early lunch is at Te Whau Vineyard Café – call ahead and make a reservation if you want to eat here because it books out. The view is stunning – reminiscent of the Mediterranean, with the white-washed exterior of the building and views of the island, ocean and vineyards.
After this, head over to Mudbrick Winery – easily one of the most picturesque wineries I saw on the island. The gardens are very French / English with trimmed hedges and lavender, wide courtyards and well-dressed polite waiters. I can recommend the fresh oysters with raspberry sauce and a glass of pinot grigio.
Finish the day at Cable Bay Restaurant Vineyard – Sundays there is usually an acoustic guitar to accompany your wide-spanning views of the vineyards and island meeting the water. The wine tasting in the cellar here is good, costing $10 but deducted from the price of any purchase. Enjoy a bottle of wine out on the grass (bean bags and cushions supplied) to finish up the day. Head back to the harbour to catch the 6pm or 6.45pm ferry to Auckland (don’t worry, the ferries run fairly regularly and quite late).
Hint: The white sandy beaches along the northern party of the island are beautiful – if the weather is nice, definitely prioritise a swim during your weekend! Or find a friend with a yacht to cruise around!