A picturesque and calm 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland—the newly crowned world’s most-livable city—lies Waiheke Island. Positioned in the Hauraki Gulf, the picturesque island has a long list of lauded lifestyle features from wineries to a renowned art scene, and 40 kilometers of coastline and pristine beaches.
As the most populated and second-largest island in the gulf after Great Barrier Island, it is home to almost 10,000 permanent residents known as ‘Waihekeans,’ while a further 3,400 people own second or holiday homes.
Dubbed The Rock by some for its spectacular cliffs and landscape and known as the ‘island of wine’ by others for its maritime climate and abundance of local vineyards, there’s no doubting its broad appeal for a private and idyllic holiday hideaway or permanent home.
From the mid 19th century, the New Zealand government and private owners began buying up large tracts of land, attracted to the island’s abundance of seafood and extensive kauri forests.
As Auckland expanded and shipping companies launched occasional trips to the island in the 1880s, Waiheke’s reputation as a seaside resort began.
Waiheke Island’s townships and residents are linked by an inner loop road—and a series of smaller interconnecting narrow roads, many of them unsealed, that traverse the 19.5 kilometer-long island, west to east.
Waiheke Island’s diverse property offerings range from verdant unbuilt homesites to jaw-dropping clifftop or beachfront homes with spectacular ocean views and plenty of privacy.
Matthew Smith, principal at Ray White Waiheke, said the most expensive sites and streets can be found on the island’s northern beaches. He lists Beach Parade at Oneroa Bay, The Strand at Onetangi Beach and Palm Road, Palm Beach as some of the most popular locations.
However, he said the most prestigious dwellings are those located within Church Bay Estate, Park Point or Matiatia Estate, the most westerly points of the island, in close proximity to the ferry terminal, overlooking numerous bays with views back to Auckland.
“NZ$1million (US$707,000) is the entry level and only possible in the not-so-valuable areas, and you’re not likely to get any view of the water,” Mr. Smith said.
“[Land] sites on the northern beaches now start close to NZ$7 million and then the value of the dwelling is in addition to that,” he continued. Prestigious homes in the great estates are seldom available for sale, however, many are worth between NZ$10 million and NZ$15 million, with small basic dwellings on the northern cliff tops selling for NZ$5 million plus.”
Restricted travel meant Waiheke Island, as a popular holiday home location for many New Zealanders and overseas nationals, has become even more sought after amid Covid-19, said Bayleys Waiheke Island sales agent Mandy Brown.
“In the past 18 months, we have seen more of our fellow islanders embracing the ‘work-from-home’ lifestyle,” Ms. Brown said. “This has had an impact on the real estate market here with more prospective purchasers seeking homes that have extra space allowing for home office requirements.”
Of the 5,089 private dwellings on Waiheke Island—both permanently occupied and investment properties—counted in the 2018 national census is a diverse mix of holiday shacks, modest family homes and opulent beachfront or cliff-top mansions.
“There’s everything from bare sections of land, through to do-up cottages, re-development sites and multi-million-dollar award-winning architecturally-designed properties,” Ms. Brown said.
In June, NZ Sotheby’s sales associate Greg Dennerly listed a four-bedroom waterfront property set on the tip of Kennedy Point, which is a 10-minute drive from the main village and beaches of Oneroa.
Modern interiors, swaths of bi-fold glass doors, a gas fireplace and multiple outdoor living areas typify the island’s alluring lifestyle. Surrounded by manicured gardens and native trees, the modern whitewashed two-story home has 270-degree panoramic water views across the gulf to Auckland City.
Within days, Mr. Dennerly’s phone was running hot with serious buyer inquiries for the home in Surfdale. Comparable 2021 sales include a NZ$7.1 million cliff-top sale of a home in Palm Beach and a modern beach house in Onetangi, which sold in April for NZ$5.3 million.
Meanwhile, Mr. Smith said the release of Wawata Estate, a high-end gated enclave of 25 homesites positioned between Palm Beach and Onetangi Beach, is considered a rarity. Demand has been high, Mr. Smith said, and top dollar is being paid, with one purchaser picking up two lots for a combined price of NZ$4.8 million.
What Makes it Unique
Ms. Brown, who works alongside her daughter, and business partner, Holly Brown, said she feels fortunate to have lived in several countries and traveled extensively before she and her husband settled on Waiheke Island 23 years ago to bring up their children.
“My husband and I couldn’t have found a better place to raise our family in this small, interesting, caring and very creative community,” she said.
“We have people living on the Island from all over the world, and we enjoy the global feel of ‘the Rock’ and its cultural diversity,” she said. “We are only a short ferry ride to the ‘big smoke’ of Auckland City and there are many commuters on the Island.”
Waiheke’s appeal and lifestyle is undeniably linked to the water. Beaches and water sports, stunning views, headland hikes and world-class food and wine make for an attractive package.
The community ties on the island run deep, too, with dozens of activities and amenities contributing to its appeal.
Culturally rich, there’s a Waiheke Island Community Cinema and local theater in Oneroa, which hosts regular musicians, performances and local productions, a multimillion-dollar architecturally designed Waiheke Library and at least 10 art galleries and studios both private and community-run.
Numerous sports teams, competitions and facilities are offered on the island, including rugby, cricket, soccer and netball as well as a golf course, tennis club, mountain bike club and 18-hole frisbee golf course.
The three main sports facilities on the island are Onetangi Sports Park, Ostend Sports Park and Waiheke Recreation Centre for indoor sports.
Education facilities incorporate two primary schools and one secondary school. The Te Huruhi School underwent a $23 million rebuild in 2019 and Waiheke High School was redeveloped to the tune of $17 million at the same time.
Te Huruhi Primary School caters for years one to six (typically ages 5-11), in Surfdale, 5.6 kilometers from the ferry terminal. Waiheke Primary School is for students in years one to eight (ages 5-13) in Ostend, 15 minutes from the ferry, and Waiheke High School in Surfdale is the only secondary school for students for years seven to 13(ages 11-18).
Regular ferry services provide access to and from Waiheke, traveling the 21.5 kilometers between downtown Auckland to Matiatia passenger wharf in 40 minutes.
Waiheke also has a public bus service and an airport, which is serviced by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The island is also accessible via a seaplane service.
Gourmands frequent high-end Oneroa eateries such as The Oyster Inn and Vino Vino Restaurant & Bar or head to Onetangi for the Estate Restaurant at the family-owned Tantalus Estate, Bach Restaurant at Batch Winery and the waterfront modern restaurant Three Seven Two.
For those pressed for time to visit the island’s numerous cellar doors, there’s the Waiheke Island Wine Centre at Oneroa, which carries samples from all 26 local wine labels.
The biennial exhibition Sculpture on the Gulf has established an international reputation for its outdoor artworks displayed on the Waiheke Island’s spectacular coastal walkway, which snakes its way from above Matiatia toward Church Bay.
Held for six weeks in the first quarter of each year, it attracts up to 30,000 visitors across six weeks, and is next scheduled for March 2022.
For active types and families, there’s myriad water sports such as kite surfing, kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding, boating, swimming and beaches to discover. There’s more than 100 kilometers of walking trails to explore on the island and for the fit and adventurous, an active mountain biking scene.
Who Lives There
New Zealand’s accommodating foreign ownership policies saw Waiheke become increasingly popular among international buyers, with more than a quarter of residents born overseas. However, national restrictions introduced in October 2018 have limited non-resident purchases to Australians and Singaporeans, unless approved under special circumstances by New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office.
This highly diverse social makeup includes artists, musicians, scientists, writers, poets and actors, a strong and tight-knit business community with 1,200-plus operators and around 1,000 daily commuters who travel to Auckland for work each day.
Hospitality and retail are the two biggest employers, followed by education, agriculture and healthcare. The cost of living is moderately higher than in mainland Auckland, due to shipping-freight costs for building materials, food and essentials.
It’s also a relatively older demographic, with about 16% of residents aged under 15 according to figures from the Census held in 2018, and one in five residents aged 65 or older, almost twice that of the number in Auckland.
One of the newest purchases on Waiheke is well-respected New Zealand architect Julian Guthrie, who has bought a lot within Wawata Estate and is designing a holiday home for his family on the site between Palm Beach and Onetangi. Other high profile residents on Waiheke include former All Blacks rugby coach Sir Graham Henry, Mainfreight transport founder Bruce Plested and New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart, who bought several tracts of land at Church Bay and has since built a sprawling beachfront home called Church Bay Farm.
After two decades in the industry, Mr. Smith of Ray White doesn’t recall a time when the island has had so little stock for sale and very low transaction levels.
For the first time the agency has resorted to approach property owners with unsolicited offers on behalf of desperate purchasers.
“Due to the inability to travel with Covid, New Zealanders are spending billions of dollars upgrading their lifestyle, resulting in huge demand and pressure on the Waiheke market,” Mr. Smith said.
“It has resulted in sale prices being paid at unimaginable levels. The premiums being paid for properties in great locations on the island are at least as high as any part of New Zealand and possibly the highest.”