A taxi. A plane. A shuttle. A boat. A bus….10 hours after leaving Sydney, I (with hubby and three kids in tow) arrived at a place I had thought must surely be a myth. A place of dreams…of wineries – so many wineries – and beaches. Oh yes, it exists.
Waiheke (also known around these traps as Wine Island) is a 35 minute boat ride from Auckland.
So since we were already heading to the Coromandel Peninsula for Christmas…what better place to detour for a few days and start my quest to learn a bit more about wine (but – important caveat* – without being a wanker about it). I find Kiwis are pretty laid back, a bit quirky, and don’t take themselves too seriously…perhaps a massive over-generalisation, but I had high hopes for some non-wanky wine chat.
Our first night started with a 1km stroll down Onetangi Beach to the one and only place to eat (and buy booze) within walking distance from our apartment. Us city folk (and three small kids whinging “I’M HUUUUUNGRY” on repeat for two hours) quickly realised this was not a place to play it by ear…some advance research would have been quite handy. What should have been an idyllic sunset meander was a starved, panicky dash for sustenance**. Thank GOD for the pub at the (far) end of the beach. Charlie Farley’s was an oasis for us hungry, weary, fresh-off -the-boaters and we quickly recovered from our starvation and enforced sobriety…and discovered a pub grub kids menu which the minions gobbled up..as well as a nice little drop of Bordeaux from Man O’ War Winery …definitely one to check out the next day.
The next morning (up at 10am due to skewed Sydney sider internal clocks), with no food in sight or bellies, and the stark realisation that Waiheke was WAY bigger than we had expected, we quickly ditched our plans of living simply and surviving on public transport – and hot footed it back to the wharf to rent a car. Ah freedom (and transport to much needed snackage). We visited a few wineries on the more heavily populated and commercial west side (the side closest to Auckland, and the ferry that brings all the Aucklanders) and I was quite disappointed to realise that wine wankers are also quite prevalent in NZ. The views were stunning – clear blue skies, rolling green hills down to turquoise water…and city views on the horizon.
But the actual experience was not really what we had hoped for – rushed tasting rooms (presumably used to dealing with day tripper groups stumbling out of the double decker hop on hop off buses that tour that area) reading from pre-scripted jargon-y blurbs about grapes grown in the south island. And (given I am homeless and soon to be unemployed – and so quite budget conscious and looking for bang for our limited bucks) tastings were quite pricey (one was NZ$30 to taste 3 wines…I would much rather buy a whole bottle, go back to the beach and read the back of the label – that’s pretty much word for word the info we got from paying for a taste…and we only got a sip!).
So new plan – where was that yummy Bordeax we had last night from again? The east side of the island only had one loop road, most of which were dirt tracks. No double decker bus could get down there…but our tiny Japanese rent a car would give it a go. About half an hour of oceany /viny / volcanic beachy / dirt tracky spectacularness (seriously the drive there was worth it alone) and about as far away as you can get from the Auckland ferry – is Man O War Winery. A green lawn full of bean bags and picnic rugs down to a deserted bay (no waves, good for kids to splash in – and close enough to the tasting room to keep an eye on them – SCORE!)…and the WINE – wow, the wine. Tastings were free and Miranda was a lady of my heart. She cut through all the bullshit – “I know you Aussies like gemmy, plummy shirazes that kick you up the arse… but try some of our Syrah and I’ll get you to be a bit more “sophisticated” ” (Yes, she used air quotes…yes, she was taking the piss. For the record Miranda also loves our arse kicking shirazes…but damn I am totally buying into this syrah “la-di-dah” jazz).
Get this – born and bred Waiheke local, Kit, tells me that their “Kulta” reserve Syrah grow on the steepest vineyard in NZ, so steep that the vines are canti-levered, the vines almost horizontal with the grapes hanging vertically, every grape gets sunshine and the harvesters better not have vertigo to hand pick those babies. And my oh my can you taste the effort that has gone into it. Not so friendly on the credit card… but we will have a LOT of fun drinking this one. Their Bordeaux blend is grown on nearby Ponui Island – which is only accessible by (very small) barge on a kingtide. Miranda herself waits for those king tides every year, gets in and out of that barge and harvests those grapes – and then she’s the one giving us the low down on this wine as we sit sipping it in the breeze watching the kids splash around on the beach. Man (o’war)…this place has personality, and you can taste it. We stocked up – they sell in Oz so we could get it delivered straight to our Sydney wine storage without the massive shipping fees that Aussies generally cop. Really, this place can do no wrong…I am a HUGE fan!
I have found my wine island kindred spirit – quest done… will soak up the beaches now*** (and drink our takeaway Malbec).
—– A terribly sad post-script – this tale had a devastating ending when our bottle of Kulta (and four other kiwi beauties) were confiscated by security at Auckland airport because we had stupidly forgotten to put them in our checked in luggage. The 2.25L alcohol allowance into Australia is completely inconsistent with the liquid allowance in hand luggage…and when it comes to wine my focus is always on maximum rather than minimum quantities… argh!!! So our delicious (and expensive) Syrah was poured down the drain (boo hoo – I am struggling to even write this!!) and I will have to savour that slurp at the cellar door in my memory.
* Oops – caveat is one of those overly used lawyer words…clearly still have a bit to go in not being a wanker
** A tip for the uninitiated Sydneysiders heading to a remote NZ beach full of holiday “baches” and no shops … stop at the supermarket near the ferry and BYO FOOD!!!
*** Well the kids will – I am a big Sydney wuss and prefer my water temp above 16 degrees. Wine and beaches sounds good…but cool climate wines means freeze your bits off beaches