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When staying in Auckland there are lots of interesting excursions one van make, especially by ferry to the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Great Barrier Island is the largest one, but is not so easily accessible as Waiheke, where there are scheduled departures by ferry every hour on the hour from Auckland Ferry Terminal inal, and return back to Auckland all day also once an hour. The actual passing takes about 40 minutes, and the sights from the ferry is actually worth the trip in itself. You get to observe Auckland Skyline, small and larger islands, the magnificent coloring of the Tasman Sea, birds hovering over the ferry among other things. Fresh breezes cools you down on hot summer days in December. Waiheke is the second-largest in the Hauraki Gulf. It is also the most populated, with nearly 9000 inhabitants and is therefore the most densely populated island and the third most populated after the North and South Island. Waiheke comes from Maori and translates as "the descending waters"This probably refers to an event when a Maori explorer landed on the island and urinated. People who live in Waiheke all have large houses and beautiful gardens, and seem to do pretty well financially. That is no reason why anyone would want to visit Waiheke. Approximately 3000 people have their second home on the island, and of course the population rises when most of these people come to spend holidays and weekends in their huts, cabins, cottages or houses. Waiheke can offer great walks in natural forests, lots of fantastic beaches where it is safe to swim, sunbathe, go surfing, kayaking, and even kiting at Surfdale Beach. The beaches are mostly covered with white delicate sand, palm trees – and you get to swim in lukewarm water.

The best way to get around on the island is actually getting a one-day bus pass. That means unlimited travel in any direction of your choice for the whole day – and there are lots of small villages to explore. Buses run quite frequently. The funniest village has to be mentioned, since of course I just had to get off the bus when a saw the name. Ostend. Obviously some Belgians must have settled here, since the town has been renamed after the Belgian seaport, the main street is called Belgium Street and they serve Belgian Fries and Stella Artois at the local bar. Nobody I talked to knew anything about the country of Belgium – not even that Stella was supposed to be a Belgian beer, but still it was interesting to make a stop.

The very best part of Waiheke, though, has to be all the fantastic vineyards one can visit and enjoy whilst on the island. Waiheke's climate are well suited to growing Bordeaux type grapes, Chardonnay , Sauvignon Blanc, and even the popular Italian grape Montepulciano. Waiheke winegrowers regularly win awards for Syrah proving the island's terroir suits it well. The local wines are relatively expensive because of the limited size of many of the vineyards. We chose to visit three of the vineyards, and had delightful high-quality wine at all three of them .

Cable Bay Vineyards – where they make wines from six different grapes. Goldwater Estate - Begun by pioneering Waiheke winemakers Kim and Jeanette Goldwater, Goldwater Estate was among the first wine making operations on Waiheke. Its awards include being named winery of the year by Wines and Spirits Magazine in 2001.

Stonyridge Vineyard - Stonyridge was founded in 1981 in the Onetangi Valley. Specialising in Bordeaux - style reds. The vineyard's most famous wine is its Stonyridge Larose. They offer exquisite dishes in their very nice restaurant as well .

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