Thursday, March 1, 2018

Waiheke Island

We made a day trip to Waiheke when we were in Auckland for Christmas 2015, and decided this time to have a longer stay, and hire a car rather than rely on the somewhat infrequent bus service around the island. We caught the ferry over, and called our car hire company, Waiheke Island Motors. Which turned out to be a guy calling himself Julian, although I suspect he was probably Juliano, as he looked and talked South American.

Julian directed us to a rather old Nissan Maxima which was, frankly, in a bit of a state. None of the big car hire companies operate on Waiheke, as it’s too small, and there are just a couple of local operators with a fleet of ageing vehicles. This particular one had the seat adjustment bar broken off completely, so I couldn’t move it back at all, and spent the weekend driving around like an idiot with my knees up by my elbows.

Nevertheless, we set off and found our accommodation in Onetangi easily enough. We had time for a quick check-in before setting out for the evening’s dinner, at The Shed at Te Motu, a vineyard that we’d noticed passing on the way in. It was about five minutes’ drive away. They were doing a set four-course dinner with wine matches, and it was all very tasty and well presented. The wine waiter was a Californian chap called Brian, and he was very knowledgeable about the wines he was serving, which included a 1999 Te Motu – a blend of cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc. Not one that is normally available to the public, so I made the most of it.

The next day we set out early for the beach and a morning swim, before heading to breakfast at Charlie Farley’s, one of two caf├ęs on the waterfront. We weren’t in a massive hurry as most vineyards don’t open until about 11am, so after a leisurely start we drove round to Passage Rock vineyard, which is nestled above a little bay on the south of the island. Unfortunately there’s no access to the sea as it’s all cliffs round that side of the island. We tasted several wines and chatted with the winemaker, an English woman who’d lived and worked in France before moving to New Zealand. We discussed England and cheese, especially the unavailability of certain varieties. The wines were very good, as they are the most awarded winery on the island – in retrospect, it may have been a mistake to start there!   

We hung around at Passage Rock taking photos, as the next winery on our itinerary didn’t open until 12. It wasn’t a long drive to Poderi Crisci, which, as you might guess from the name, is an Italian-influenced vineyard, growing some varietals which aren’t available anywhere else in New Zealand – such as Arneis, which has a smell like burnt matches or gunpowder, and is supposedly very good with fruit. We didn’t have any fruit. An acquired taste, no doubt, and probably needs to be served in the right setting to get people to properly appreciate it. The tasting room, La Locanda, is separate from the Italian restaurant, which was soon filling up to bursting, as it was a sunny Sunday lunchtime. We left them to it, and drove to Casito Miro, another European-inspired vineyard that we’d visited last time we were on Waiheke. They were full too, but managed to get us a table after a 10-minute wait. We had a lunch of tapas there, but, given the crowds, decided not to try their wines again. I seem to recall from last time that their tasting is a bit desultory as well, with no real opportunity to discuss the wines with the maker, so I didn’t feel we were missing out.

After a hard morning’s tasting we decided to head back to Onetunga for a relaxing afternoon.

We still haven’t been to all the wineries on Waiheke, so next year we’re planning to do two Shakespeares and spend more time on the island in between.