From Rotorua, we headed further north toward Auckland. Bypassing the capital entirely, we hopped over to Waiheke Island, a mere 30 minutes away by ferry. On Waiheke, we stayed with Steve’s parents at their island retreat. Waiheke is a gem. It’s wineries, beaches and olive groves draw everyone from millionaires to artsy types and despite it’s popularity, you still get that blood-pressure lowering, leave-all-your-cares-away island vibe.
On Waiheke we enjoyed lots of tasty, home-cooked dinners and delicious local wines that Steve’s dad was pouring generously. The home-cooked meals were much appreciated by us, unfortunately our decision to bring home some local (and rather stinky) Manchego cheese was not very much appreciated by our hosts, though they were very polite about it.
By this point in the trip the weather had taken a turn, and a big storm was passing through. The good news is that this did not prevent us from partaking in one of our favorite pastimes…wine tasting! Waiheke has about 20 or so boutique wineries that produce premium wines, particularly reds, and we’ve never met one of those that we don’t like. So we passed a couple of great, soggy days knocking around from one tasting room to the next. One of the best memories was lunch at Mudbrick, a gourmet vineyard restaurant with views overlooking the ocean (drizzly views in our case).
On our last day the sun finally came out, and were able to see Waiheke Island in it’s glory – with views of pristine sandy beaches and sparkling emerald water. As a result of the storm, loads of perfectly intact seashells had swept onto the shore, piled up against the rocks – 2 feet deep in some parts. Needless to say, Katie spent a great deal of time with her head in the sand, searching for mementos.
We rang in the new year back at Steve’s, hardly able to believe 2011 is already a thing of the past. What an amazing year we’ve had – seeing more of the world, meeting good people and feeling grateful for our loving and supportive families back home. We feel truly blessed.