I was fortunate enough recently to go on a Waiheke Island weekend escape. For those of you who aren’t from New Zealand, Waiheke Island is an island in the Hauraki Gulf around Auckland. It has about 10,000 permanent residents and 3-4 times that over the summer. It is well known for its beautiful beaches and subtropical climate, and for its wineries.
I was going over for a wedding (being held at a winery) and lucky to be able to stay with a friend Chloe who lives on Waiheke. I decided to take the Friday off as well to make a long weekend of it. When searching ‘what to do on Waiheke’, I came across the Botanical Distillery’s Gin & Tonic Experience that was being held that Friday. I convinced (without too much difficulty) another friend from the island, Margot, to join me.
The two hour Gin & Tonic Experience was held at The Batch winery that is on the highest point of Waiheke with spectacular views all round (although it was very hazy). They picked us up from the 10.00am ferry from Auckland and transferred us up to the winery. The tasting experience was set up including two beautiful copper stills (unfortunately just decoration for this experience).
First up we got to sample each of the botanicals that make up a classic gin (from juniper berries through to angelica and cardamom) – just a small piece each to chew on and get their distinctive flavours. Then we got to make our own classic gin using a finger of vodka in a shot glass to which we added botanical extracts:
Juniper Berry 6 drops
Coriander Seed 6 drops
Angelica Root 4 drops
Liquorice Root 4 drops
Cassia/cinnamon Bark 2 drops
Clove 1 drop
Lemon Peel 1 drop
Orange Peel 1 drop
Orris Root 1 drop
Cardamom 1 drop
Give it all a shake and then pour over ice, add tonic and lemon. You can add freeze dried fruits to make a pink gin. After we have downed our first gin, we set to work to create and name our own gin recipe, which is much harder than you think because how do you change a successful recipe? You have to think carefully about the things that are present in the smallest quantity because they can make a big difference.
I was very surprised with mine because I decided to make a very citrus forward gin adding 4 drops of lemon and 2 of orange. But I also added an additional drop of cardamom and it completely took over the citrus flavours when I tasted it undiluted. However once I added the ice and tonic, the cardamom flavour all but disappeared.
With 2 gins under our belts before lunch(!) we were definitely in need of some food. Our experience included the Batch Winery’s famous High Tea (served with their Fizz Rose) – this was just spectacular and a lot more substantial than any high tea I’ve had before. There was a cheese board on the bottom tier; a chicken pie, lamb toasted sandwich, salmon mousse on toast and a salad in the middle tier; and an amazing deconstructed pavlova on the top tier.
After enjoying a long lazy lunch we caught the shuttle back and got dropped off near Margot’s place. She felt that I needed to round off my gin experience with a visit to the Waiheke Distilling Co out on the far side of the island. They make 3 different types of gin (London Dry, Spirit of Waiheke, and Red Ruby). We choose a gin and tonic and sit outside on the patio to enjoy a spectacular views across Rotorua Island and over to the Coromandel Peninsular.
The sun has come out and the haze has cleared but the temperature is dropping quickly – thankfully they provide blankets so we can continue to enjoy the scenery. As we sit and soak in the ambience, we watch a flock of kaka parrots fly back and forth. Then we are entertained by the barman photographing a gin cocktail. We discover that the next day is World Gin Day and he is creating a series of gin cocktails from different parts of the world. This one is a French Martini and he very kindly leaves it for us to enjoy.
That evening Margot and I join Chloe, Mike and Carly for dinner at Casita Miro, an award-winning restaurant and winery. There is a definite Spanish influence here, complete with the owner’s incredible mosaic work that is inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell in Barcelona. We enjoy a shared tapas-style dinner complete with wines and desserts. Our taxi drops us all back at our various abodes.
Next morning Chloe and I go out for brunch at Aperitivo in Oneroa (discovering that one of the guys who had been at the Batch Winery with us yesterday worked there). We enjoy the well-recommended French Toast sitting on the verandah in the sunshine looking out over Oneroa Beach.
Then we decide to conduct our own Art Trail starting with the Waiheke Art Gallery and then continuing on to the many and varied art and craft shops in Oneroa. There are a lot of talented artists living on Waiheke, and many are eco-conscious so we see a lot of art made from ‘up-cycled’ materials. A walk along Oneroa Beach from one end to the other, up the cliffs and back round completes a lovely outing.
I go to a wedding in the afternoon held at the Mudbrick Winery, with another stunning view back to Auckland City and Rangitoto Island. The weather has put on a stunning display today and it couldn’t have been any better for Sam and Zach’s wedding. The ceremony was held at the Lodge and then we went down the hill to the restaurant (a separate area) for the reception. The food and wine was magnificent too.
After a leisurely start on Sunday, I head back home on the ferry. The journey was made much more entertaining this time by the presence of pigs! The black one near me was extremely well-behaved (in fact we probably wouldn’t have noticed if her friend hadn’t squealed!). She had a little harness and mostly just sat contentedly in her human’s arms.
Waiheke is a perfect place for a winter weekend get-away.