History of 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, scenic coastline and dramatic landscape, this Island is also applauded for its pristine wines.

Waiheke Island was believed to be connected to the New Zealand mainland when the sea level was much lower than it is today (17,000 years ago). As the sea level began to rise, Waiheke was gradually transformed into an island and was eventually separated from New Zealand.[2]

Waiheke Island

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 low to medium, making it slightly warmer than expected.

Waiheke History 

The island was initially named “Te Motu-arai-roa,” loosely translated 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 attracted several groups 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 top seaside resort areas. By 1915, the Aucklanders offered to buy pieces of land on the Ostend region of the Island at affordable prices, an event that signalled the start of the Waiheke subdivision.

How ‘Mission Grape’ Started New World Wine

Areas of land were put up for sale for as low as 8 pence deposit but were off-limits for the Maoris, the native people. When World War 2 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.

Did You Know: The first Vitis Vinifera grapes in Waiheke were planted in 1977 by Kim Goldwater.[3]

Waiheke Vineyards and Wineries

Over time the lifestyle, demographics, and infrastructure of Waiheke has evolved a great deal. The social composition includes Europeans, Maori, Pacific Islanders, and Asians. With the Europeans having the highest representation.

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 grapes. However, Merlot and Syrah are the two most planted varietals.

Waiheke wines are rated highly among the best wines in the world. Sadly, there is not much land available for cultivation, making the wine more expensive. Most vineyards in the area don’t have enough land and have to employ costly farming practices to grow their grapes. 

One of the first wineries, Stephen White’s vineyard opened in 1982. Then the Hamilton’s, Te Motu vineyard, and Fenton estate followed. Cabernet topped the leaderboard and served as the Island’s flagship blend for most of the 1990’s. With so many wineries popping up on the Island and the mainland, Waiheke winemakers are now exploring and looking outside Bordeaux-style reds.

Read more: A History of Wine in Tasmania and New Zealand

Visiting Waiheke

Here are a few more top spots to visit on Waiheke Island:

  • Mudbrick Vineyard: Mudbrick Vineyard is a popular destination on Waiheke Island, known for its stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf and its high-quality wines. The vineyard offers tastings of its wines, as well as a restaurant and accommodation options.

  • Cable Bay Vineyard: Cable Bay Vineyard is another popular destination on Waiheke Island, known for its beautiful setting and its premium wines. The vineyard offers tastings, as well as a restaurant and accommodation options.

  • Palm Beach: Palm Beach is a popular beach on Waiheke Island, known for its clear, blue waters and its white sandy beach. The beach is popular for swimming, surfing, and other water sports.

  • Onetangi Beach: Onetangi Beach is another popular beach on Waiheke Island, known for its wide, sandy beach and its calm waters. The beach is popular for swimming, sunbathing, and other beach activities.

  • Waiheke Island Art Gallery: The Waiheke Island Art Gallery is a popular spot for art lovers, featuring a range of exhibitions by local and international artists. The gallery is located in the heart of the island, and is a short walk from the ferry terminal.

Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!

Waiheke Island- A history A Brieif History of Waiheke Vineyards

Wine Pairing Recommendation

This day in wine history

February 6th, 1928: Recordings of Maori songs were broadcasted on this day. This was the first time a broadcast was made across New Zealand in the Maori language. The broadcast also included Maori history. Its mission was to improve the pronunciation of Maori words.

March 29th, 2008: Waiheke amalgamated with Auckland 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 favour of Waiheke parting ways with Auckland.


  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 via Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Country Profiles, New World, Wine, Wine RegionsTags: , , By Published On: June 15, 2022Last Updated: February 20, 2024

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