History of the Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island ranks second on the list of the largest islands in New Zealand’s gulf of Hauraki, second to the Great Barrier Island. In addition to its stunning and scenic coastline and dramatic landscape, this Island is also applauded for its pristine wines.

Waiheke Island started as a landlocked island when the sea level was more than 110 times lower than where it is today (17,000 years ago). As the sea level continued to rise, Waiheke gradually transformed into an island, and it eventually got separated from New Zealand.[2]

mountain beside sea

The warm-heartedness and hospitality of the Waihekians gained global attention and were applauded when it was listed among the best regions to visit in 2016. [1] While the great stretch of coastline and beaches is a memorable sight, the topography is also remarkable.

Maunganui is the highest point on the Island, and it peaks at 758 feet. The climate in this region is just perfect. There is enough sunshine during the day, and rains and humidity are in the low to medium range, making it slightly warmer than expected.

How Waiheke came about

The island was initially named “Te Motu-arai-roa,”  which loosely translates to “the long sheltering island.” After the first Europeans arrived on the Island, it got a new name, “Motu-Wai-Heke, which means “island of trickling waters.” The perfect location and abundance of seafood on the island attracted several groups to the region, which is why virtually all Waihekians can trace their ancestral ties to the Island.

In the late 1800s, shipping companies made their way to the Island. Waiheke has expanded at a jaw-dropping pace into one of the best seaside resorts of its time. By 1915, the Aucklanders offered to buy pieces of land on the Ostend region of the Island at affordable prices, an event that signaled the start of the Waiheke subdivision.

Areas of the land were put up for sale for as low as 8 pence deposit and they were off-limits for the Maoris, the original settlers. When the second world war began, gun encampments were constructed to keep intruders at bay while protecting the harbor in Waitemata. Today, these monumental constructions serve as tourist attractions alongside the maze of tunnels underneath them.

Waiheke (Waiheke Island) vineyards and wineries

Over time, the lifestyle, demographics, and infrastructure of Waiheke have evolved a great deal. The social composition includes Europeans, Maori, pacific islanders, and Asians. With the Europeans having the highest representation at 82% of the population.

Waiheke is nicknamed the “wine island of New Zealand.” That speaks volumes about the impact this region has on New Zealand’s wine industry. The climate and soil structure on the Island are excellent for all grapes. However, it is said to best suit the Syrah varietals.

They are rated highly among the best wines in the world. Sadly, the unavailability of land for cultivation is taking its toll on the wine consumers as they have to pay more to get wine. Most vineyards in the area don’t have enough land and have to employ costly farming practices to grow their grapes. Going back in time, the first Vitis Vinifera vine was planted in 1977 by Kim Goldwater before finally settling on the island in1983.[3]

After Stephen White’s vineyard opened in 1982, the Hamilton’s, Te Motu vineyard, and Fenton estate followed. Cabernet topped the leaderboard and served as the Island’s flagship blend for most parts of the 90s. With so many wineries popping up on the Island and the mainland, Waiheke winemakers are now exploring and looking outside Bordeaux-style reds.

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A Brief History of Waiheke Vineyards

Waiheke Island: A history

This day in wine history

March 29th, 2008 — Waiheke amalgamated with Auckland city in 1989. On this day in 2008, 3,080 submissions out of a population of 1.2 million were made to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance seeking Weiheke’s separation from Auckland. A public meeting was held to that effect, with 150 residents present. An overwhelming majority voted in favor of Waiheke parting ways with Auckland.

February 6th, 1928 —  Recordings of Maori songs were broadcasted on this day in 1928. This was the first time a broadcast was made across New Zealand in the Maori language. The broadcast also included Maori history. It was also geared at improving the pronunciation of Maori words.


  1. “Best Regions To Visit In 2022 | Best In Travel – Lonely Planet”. 2022. Lonely Planet. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel/regions.
  2. “Estuary Origins.” 2022. NIWA. https://niwa.co.nz/te-kuwaha/tools-and-resources/ng%C4%81-waihotanga-iho-the-estuary-monitoring-toolkit-for-iwi/estuary-origins.
  3. “Waiheke Island Vineyards | Waiheke Unlimited.” 2022. Waihekeunlimited.Co.Nz. https://www.waihekeunlimited.co.nz/waiheke/vineyards/.


Trakesht at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Country Profiles, Featured, WineTags: , , By Published On: June 15, 2022

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