Beaches, baches, benches, bush, birds and a bus – that’s a favourite Waiheke Island walk summed up; but the delight is in the detail.
Leaving the ferry terminal at Matiatia, I pass the first of today’s many wooden benches near the big red sign by the road that reads “Slow down, You’re here”. It’s a leisurely ramble up the hill to the small, but bustling town of Oneroa, where I fuel up.
It’s hard to resist the lure of the shops, art galleries and music museum, but my focus is on coffee and food, though it’s hard to choose between so many temptations.
Big to Little
Oneroa’s long, sandy beach is the low-tide option for the start of the walk, with an irresistible archway photo opportunity en route; but today I take the grassy track along the top of the cliff, past houses with enviable views over the bay and the church with such a lovely lookout that stained glass behind the altar would be positively sacrilegious.
Here are more tempting benches, carefully sited facing a glorious panorama; but I stride doggedly past and down the path to Little Oneroa, with its arty bridge, convenient conveniences, barbecues, playground and sheltered beach. Sadly, the dairy here is a recent victim of the lockdown, and it’s too early for a pizza from the food truck.
At the end of the beach, climbing up the headland, is the first of many stairways today. The views are one distraction from the effort involved; and the stairs themselves are another, so neatly built that they are a triumph of carpentry. They take me into the bush, which is full of birds: tūī, kererū, kingfishers, blackbirds and chaffinches, all busy and tunefully noisy. The track dips down to a little bay with a rope swing hanging from a big pōhutukawa, and then a final burst of stair-climbing brings me back to the tarmac.
Ignoring the detour down to well-named Fisherman’s Rock, I follow the quiet road around the coast, alternately impressed, envious and enchanted by the houses and baches lining both sides. My favourite is the little shingled cottage that wouldn’t look out of place on Cape Cod.
Now I head off-road again, past a row of letterboxes and down a zigzag concrete path that takes me to tucked-away little Hekerua Beach below. The track is the only way to get here, so the pebbled beach is always quiet, if you don’t count the gulls and the colony of shags in the pōhutukawa trees. Blue penguins and kākā also live here – and so do people.
Behind the beach, Te Aroha Avenue heads into the bush: a paper road, with no vehicular access, so the residents living along there, who own those letterboxes back at the top, have to carry everything in, and out again. A row of colourful kayaks shows one alternative to feet.
Mine carry me over the next headland, up more steps and along to the top of an impressively big landslide caused by Cyclone Debbie in 2017, which closed the track for over a year. The clay gash, now secured, is a distraction from the clear blue sea below, the black rocks, and the possibility of glimpsing a ray cruising past.
Further out, I can see the Noises, Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island, beyond a sea dotted with boats. Another, bristling with fishing rods, is being launched from the beach when I come down to Sandy Bay; but I’m just relieved to see the public loos.
It’s a short walk along the road to little Enclosure Bay, briefly world-famous for the video clip of two orcas cruising in through the rocks that give it its name, passing by some understandably startled children in the water, and then gliding out again. There are none today, though, so I head inland, along a dirt road that takes me to Mackenzie Reserve.
It’s a marvel of local enthusiasm and effort: a former pine plantation cleared and replanted with thousands of native trees and grasses, threaded with inviting tracks, punctuated by information boards and honoured with a striking pou installation at its lower entrance.
At the top, I’m glad to walk along level road for a while; and also that, since footpaths are rare on Waiheke, the road itself is not busy. I’m tempted by a honey stall, but not far away is one of the island’s most famous lookouts: over the golden sand of Palm Beach down below, with Coromandel and Great Barrier Island beyond.
It’s spectacular, which is perhaps why there’s a wooden sign pointing out the lookout bench just a few metres away: distracted by that view, might you miss it? Now come more steps, all the way down to Little Palm Beach, where it could be as well to be distracted by the view again: here, it’s clothing-optional.
Crossing the little headland to Palm Beach proper, it’s shoes off for a pleasant paddle towards this lovely journey’s end. I can detour to the Red Shed art gallery, watch children in the playground, admire the lovely houses lining the beach, see dogs and people enjoying themselves.
At the far end, near the palms that gave the name, there’s a dairy with excellent coffee and pastries; and also Arcadia, the restaurant where my reward awaits, if I can only manage to make a choice from the tempting range in its menu. There, too, is the bus stop, for an easy return to my starting point.
The walk is less than six kilometres in total, and takes two hours at a leisurely pace, including plenty of stops. Some climbs are quite steep, but require only moderate fitness. Wear proper shoes and carry water because there are few taps and just a takeaway between Oneroa and Palm Beach.
Get information about a range of routes from the Walk Waiheke website (walkwaiheke.co.nz) and for one-off specials, book now for the Waiheke Walking Festival (waihekewalkingfestival.org), which is this year behind held between November 11 and 29.