Now that I’d explored Auckland City for a couple days, it was time to continue on to Waiheke Island, a popular vacation spot just east of Auckland. But first: coffee.
In the morning I walked down Ponsonby to Cafe one2one, one of the neighborhood’s original cafes that came highly recommended by Elisabeth. It didn’t disappoint — the interior reminded me of Caffeine Dreams, a now-deceased Omaha coffee shop, with a back garden to boot. I ordered an espresso and a salmon bagel, one of my go-tos.
Cafe one2one also has live music a few nights a week, though I couldn’t make it to any of them. I sat and sketched a bit before heading back to the house to say my goodbyes.
Elisabeth graciously offered me a ride to the Omega rental car office in the CBD. After a lot of back-and-forth on whether to rent or flat-out buy a car in NZ, I decided to rent. Since I’ll at most be here for three months (and probably less), I decided it wasn’t worth the work to buy a car or campervan and then have to sell it at the end of my stay. The process of buying & selling cars here is actually pretty simple — some used cars can go for about $2-4k NZ, depending on the car and the season. Campervans go for much more money, but they save on accommodation significantly. It’s all about your priority.
I booked the rental car for 3 months for $2300 NZ (about $1500 USD) for an economy car. Again, it seems steep, but when you factor in everything it’s a pretty good deal, and it offers more freedom than taking buses or having to drive around a big campervan.
I recommend booking through Omega, as they seemed to have the best prices and super helpful people. I arranged to drop it off in Christchurch at the end of March, but I can always change my reservation if I stay here for less time.
But before getting the rental car, I wanted to take the ferry across to Waiheke Island and spend a day on the beach. The ferry to Waiheke costs about $20 NZ each way and takes about 40 minutes, after which I was dropped off and ready to take full advantage of the beautiful island.
I took the 50A bus for $3.5 NZ across the island to Onetangi Beach, near where my hostel was. It’s one of the farther away parts of the island, with gorgeous views. I climbed a massive stairway to get to my hostel, but the scenery at the top of the hill was worth it.
I stayed in the Waiheke Backpackers Hostel, a relatively quiet place tucked into the hillside and close to some wicked wineries. The total came out to about $30 USD per night. My 2-bed room looked a little bit like I was in basic military training, but that could have just been my camouflage shirt.
Since it was early afternoon and I was hungry, I walked up the street to Casita Miro, a tapas restaurant and wine bar that absolutely made my life. It’s named after the wonderful Spanish painter Joan Miro, and you can tell the decor’s inspired by his work. I ordered a class of their Aphrodisiac wine (a refreshing red with some sweetness — I don’t know how to judge wine so I’m just spitballing here) and some fried eggplant with honey and harissa sauce. I grabbed a blanket and sat on the hill overlooking their vineyards, lying back and taking a nap after applying some sunscreen, because the UV levels in NZ do not mess around.
After FaceTiming my parents and listening to a podcast, I decided to move on down the hill to Obsidian Vineyards, accessible by a path from Casita Miro through a delightful vineyard. Is my life real?
Obsidian, one of about 40 vineyards on Waiheke, offers wine tastings at their cellar door until 5pm. For $15 NZ, you can taste 4 different wines — three estate wines and one reserve. The Montepulciano was the clear winner of my heart, but I also ended up trying 5 wines (the sommelier brought me a fourth estate wine by accident). Their Obsidian Reserve is also literally the winner for best New Zealand wine. As a person who doesn’t know anything about wine, I still say you should go here if you’re in the area.
I walked back to the hostel as the wind picked up — NZ weather reminds me of San Francisco, where you kind of just have to carry a jacket at all times but also suddenly get really hot. I walked along Onetangi beach for an hour or two near sunset, playing with some good dogs along the way and finding a secret forest path that unfortunately led to a regular house and not a mystical water wizard hut.
I grabbed some ice cream at The Beach Store, a cute shack that I hear serves a mean fish & chip. There are a few other dining options on this side of the island, but it can be a little hard to find a convenient store so plan ahead on snacks. I got a scoop of hokey pokey, a New Zealand ice cream flavor that consists of vanilla and honeycomb toffee but in reality tastes sort of like marshmallow. I was in love.
Getting sleepy after sunset, I headed home and watched a documentary about Elton John that was playing in the hostel before falling asleep for the evening.
The next morning, I woke up and talked to my bunkmate Kelly, a Dutch girl who was traveling in NZ for a few weeks. After checking out of the hostel, we parted ways at the bus stop and I walked a few kilometers down to Honey House and Cafe, a small restaurant on a honey farm with gorgeous views into a field with a tractor. It was a great way to start a sunny morning before heading back to town. It seems like almost all their menu items were made with fresh honey (a big thing in NZ), and they also sold honey wholesale. I ended up with the salmon croissant because my life is clearly all salmon.
Finally, it was time to catch the 50A bus back to the ferry so I could pick up my rental car in Auckland. My tummy happy, I tried to sit on the top of the ferry but the wind gets nippy fast. I settled into my seat inside the boat, saying goodbye to little Waiheke and hello to hitting the road solo.
Next stop: Northland.