Auckland's waterfront viaduct area was once viewed by locals as merely a dirty downtown industrial basin and home of fishing boats. But a complete metamorphosis has taken place since New Zealand first won the elusive America's Cup yachting challenge in 1995 and again in 2000. Much money was poured into the grubby area and it is now a showpiece, a place of partying, eating and drinking, with waterfront promenades, squares, piazzas and modern apartments.
Princes Wharf is a terrific mix of boardwalks, moored vessels, fine hotels and the largest super-yacht marina in the southern hemisphere.
A 35-minute ferry ride from the nearby downtown Auckland ferry terminal takes you to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Just 19.3km long and varying from 0.64km to 9.65km wide and with a coastline of 133.5km, Waiheke was once a place of isolated farms. During the 1960s and '70s it was claimed as a hideaway by artists and those seeking an alternative lifestyle. These days it still has that appealing laidback feel but is a mix of farms, olive and wine growers and commuting executives. It offers art, cafes and restaurants, bushwalks and 40km of beaches. The island's hot dry summers and stony soils provide perfect conditions for growing red wine.
Nick and Robyn Jones bought a block of land on the island in 1992 just bare land but with stunning sea views. After many disappointing failed vine plantings, they now have two vineyards on Waiheke Mudbrick at Church Bay and Shepherds Point at Onetangi, one of the island's best viticulture blocks. They have plantings of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, syrah and chardonnay. They also produce white wine from other New Zealand regions.
They built their barn/house/winery from mudbricks and their Provence-style eatery offers a la carte and set menus. There is a room for private dining.
The Glass House is boutique accommodation on top of the island's highest point above Rocky Bay. The surrounding geography was taken into consideration and the result is a place of privacy and intimacy for a maximum of six people. Pohutukawa trees, native grasses and Phoenix palms surround the building and a grassed retreat area has hammocks, picnic rugs and cushions.
The extensive use of glass allows 320° views across the Hauraki Gulf to the Auckland skyline, Rangitoto Island, the Coromandel and yachts gliding through the straight. Ceilings are three metres high and windows are full-length. There is a rotating collection of leading New Zealand contemporary art on display throughout the house.
The three guest rooms can be taken individually or outright for exclusive use. Each has a super king-sized bed, private deck, Philippe Starck designed ensuite bathrooms crammed with beauty products, bathrobes, candles and massage wax.
Communal facilities include a cliff-hugging infinity pool, cedar hot tub, living space with Italian sofas and an open fire. Massage, yoga, wine and art tours are available.
Dining at the Glass House offers the best of New Zealand cuisine prepared by an internationally experienced chef whose philosophy is to use local produce and present it in a simple, modern way.
There are several ways to reach Waiheke, by ferry, private craft or helicopter.
Helilink flights run on demand but the island allows a restricted number of landings, so book ahead! It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Airwork (NZ) Limited and based at Auckland's only downtown helipad. They have packages from Auckland to Mudbrick vineyard for lunch or dinner a wonderful way to take in the beauty of the area.
Waiheke Rentals can provide a vehicle for you to find your own way around the island and will meet you at any beach or wharf or your accommodation. They can also help with accommodation bookings and lead first-time visitors to places of interest.