The Waiheke Walking Festival returns November 5th to the 21st and I was lucky enough to get a taste of one of their most popular trails.
Started by a bloke with a passion for walking and all things Waiheke, The Waiheke Walking Festival is a fantastic opportunity for both locals and visitors alike to enjoy new experiences, places and views from the island. The series of over 50 guided walks over 17 days is a guaranteed sellout event every year, and I was generously invited to preview their progressive lunch walk a few weeks before lockdown.
It had been over 10 years since I last step foot onto Waiheke and my memories of it were faint to say the least. I wasn’t even of legal drinking age at the time. But when I was given the opportunity to preview the 2021 Waiheke Walking Festival, I felt an immense sense of excitement. For years, friends had been telling me about how much they enjoyed their time on the island... I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bad word uttered about the place.
To begin my journey, I was whisked away from the ferry terminal towards Onetangi beach. The first thing I noticed as I opened the car door was the sound of the incoming tide washing upon the beach. That familiar wooshing of water filled me with an immediate sense of calm – this is what island life is all about!
In the distance, you could see the outline of the Coromandel peninsula and the glimmering sunshine sparkling across the water. The views from above were just as breathtaking, and I mean that literally, because I was huffing and puffing while making my way up the staircase towards Casita Miro. Mind you, I was trying to talk at the same time - not something I recommend.
I’m in love with Casita Miro’s restaurant, it has a very rustic charm that’s simultaneously homely and hip courtesy of its Mediterranean influence. Once you’re inside, it’s impossible to ignore the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Big, open and airy, I have no doubt that it would make for a fantastic spot in summer.
My guide Nicky and I sat down to a fabulous morning tea with a glass of Casita Miro’s Albariño wine, a gorgeous dry summer wine which went down beautifully alongside our platter of freshly baked foccacia bread and the star of the show, the goat’s cheese croquettes. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, one bite into these little beauties triggers an explosion of salty, creamy goat’s cheese in your mouth. I’m not usually one for double dipping but when you mix it with the honey and almond dressing there’s simply no avoiding it. Table manners be damned!
A close runner-up, the foccacia bread was daintily soft and pulled apart with ease. Dipped in the olive oil and Spanish cherry vinegar, I was left nothing short of satisfied. A perfect beginning to the day, but I had to make haste as there was yet more work to be done!
Taking a little shortcut through some private property, which is exclusively permitted during the Waiheke Walking Festival, we made our way down into the bush and through to the other side for more spectacular views of rolling green hills and clear blue skies. If you had told me that I died and gone to heaven, I probably would have believed you.
On the other side, we ended up in the elegant yet unpretentious Tantalus Estate restaurant. Given our luck with the weather, I opted to sit outside on the deck and admire the views. But out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help noticing the brewery that fed into their downstairs bar, Alibi. Just a few steps down from the light, bright atmosphere of the restaurant led you into the dimly lit, but nonetheless fancy, speakeasy bar. A true embodiment of the term ‘man cave’ if ever there was one. I was treated to a tasting paddle and was blown away by every drop but if I had to pick a favourite, I would go for the Midday Marauders, Hazy Pale Ale. Such a fantastic name for a beer and a delicious one at that.
Back upstairs, I chose the Awatoru Venison* for lunch, which was beautifully tender and a match-made-in-heaven with the juniper celeriac-chestnut puree. And to my surprise, was the crisp, delicate piece of kale on top. I’ll never look at kale the same way again. Despite having just finished my tasting paddle, I did also have a glass of the Cachette Chardonnay Reserve 2019 to go with my lunch. The creamy, oaky notes we’re the chef’s kiss alongside my meal.
Three Seven Two
Begrudgingly, we departed Tantalus and moseyed down the other side of the hill towards our final stop, Three Seven Two, which is parked right in front of Onetangi beach. Even though I had done almost as much eating as I had walking, I welcomed the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy the beachy boho vibes.... and dessert, but that goes without saying.
To celebrate the end of our journey, we were treated to a glass of bubbles and a pillowy soft lemon merengue pie as well as a feijoa sorbet and crunchy coconut biscuit. Let me tell you, if you’re feeling at all fatigued after your walk, a scoop of the lemon merengue pie will hit you with a lightning bolt of energy! The intense, citrusy flavours were a delicous awakening to my palate. Follow that up with the cool, creamy feijoa sorbet and you have a perfect end to the day.
After not visiting Waiheke for so long, my memory of it had faded but it also gave me the opportunity to completely experience it all over again. And now that I have done so from such a unique point of view, I know that my next trip will be much sooner than the last!
To learn more about the festival and to become notified of when the full programme becomes available visit waihekewalkingfestival.org
*Just a side note that the menu will likely change come November.