If you are visiting Auckland New Zealand, you should definitely consider taking the 40-50 minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island. Kiwi Connect is an expert tour company on Waiheke island. If you can stay for one night or more, do it. Waiheke has become known as the “Island of Wine.” In fact, while I was enjoying this tour my wife was on a wine tour. There are numerous vineyards and wineries there. The island is well-known for its lovely secluded beaches, public art, beautiful vistas, olive groves, hiking, fishing, boating, and birds.
Once you arrive at the island, you will need a way to get around. If you booked a tours in advance, someone will meet you at the port. If you are staying at one of the luxury lodges on the island, they will pick you up. Those who are just visiting for the day can rent electric bikes. I had a very different agenda than most visitors. I was on vacation with my wife in New Zealand, but I was also doing some photography for an exhibit back home. To maximize my chances of getting great shots, I needed private transportation. My hope was to shoot at both first light and sunset. I needed to find someone who knew the island extremely well.
My wife and I were staying at the famed Delamore Lodge. I knew I could get some great photographs from there, if I was unable to find a driver. The views from Delamore are incredible. A short walk downhill brings you to a stunning, often secluded beach. A brief walk uphill brings you to a vista.
Kiwi Connect Waiheke
The gardens surrounding the lodge are lush, colorful and outright gorgeous. Still, I did have my heart set on getting to at least one sweet spots for sunrise and another for sunset. Fortunately, all it took was one conversation with the manager of Delamore Lodge, and I was set. Steve suggested I contact Graeme at https://www.kiwiconnect.co.nz/ “He knows the island like the back of his hand. If he is not fully booked, I bet he would love to do a private photo tour.”
It turns out that Graeme was indeed happy to offer this type of private tour. Kiwi Connect is well-known for its wine tours and executive transport. A private photo tour was something a bit different. He wanted to do it, and had no problem picking me up before sunrise. Graeme understood we needed time to travel, so we would be at the right place at the right time. He also had a specific destination in mind.
Graeme was fishing the local beaches of Waiheke as a young man, so he knows the island’s sweet spots well. Depending on the weather and other factors, morning light for landscape photography can come and go very quickly. Then near sundown, a similar situation often leaves only a brief window of time for the best photo ops. If you are not where you want to be, you will not have time to move.
Graeme pick me up at 6am, and we headed towards the spot he thought would be best. On the way, whenever I asked, he pulled over. I would take a few shots, and we would keep on rolling. The island is so beautiful. I started seeing potential shortly after first light. Stopping to shoot along the way slowed us down, but I was compelled by the surroundings. I just had to pull over a few times. There were a lot of sheep roaming the bright green undulating hills. It was beautiful and peaceful watching the babies hop around, as the sun began to illuminate the landscape. I had a hard time getting back in the van, but photos of sheep were not what I was after.
Soon we arrived at a profoundly beautiful vista overlooking Waiheke Channel and several islands. A magical misty morning haze surrounded everything. I liked what I saw and started shooting. This was exactly what I was hoping for. I was using a great camera with a great lens, so all that subtle detail in the haze was being captured. If you ever wonder why people invest in expensive cameras and lenses, this is why.
Cell phones are great for many things, but not for capturing nuanced scenes like this and then selling large scale prints. The moisture burned off quickly as the sun rose, and I felt I had captured the best moments. I was happy with the photos, so I asked Graeme to show me more of the island. We moved to a great little spot on the water. It was apparently discovered by Captain Cook in the late 1700’s.
We spent a little time down there at Orapiu wharf. Then we headed for the Cascades waterfall trailhead. With the sun rising higher in the sky, I wanted to get into the trees. It was a short hike, a bit slippery in spots with short steep sections. I spent some time in solitude marveling at the fern-filled forest with light streaming through the trees. I was the only person there. It was still early, so no tour groups had arrived yet.
The name made me anticipate a large waterfall, so that aspect of things was a bit underwhelming. It was more like a cascading stream. After a peaceful time there, I felt compelled to walk and explore. I returned to the Cascade Waterfall turnoff and checked out a map of the other trails. There were several options. My cell phone worked, so I sent a text to Graeme with a photo of the sign I was following to the beach. “Can you pick me up at the beach?” He answer quickly “No problem. I will find you.”
rare New Zealand dotterel birds
My new unexpected destination was Sculpture Park Beach. Upon arrival, I found only a researcher there, involved in studying and protecting the rare New Zealand dotterel birds. He told me there was a mating pair within reach of my telephoto lens. I was free to photograph the couple, as long as I kept my distance.
Suddenly, there was a loud screeching sound. A territorial dispute broke out between 2 male birds. The ranger immediately knew what was happening. A brief battle unfolded right in front of us, and I felt blessed to be with the ranger when it happened. I don’t usually photograph birds, but I did have a telephoto lens with me. By the time I had it out however, the dispute was over. The male challenger fled, and the original pair had moved way down the beach.
The scientist left his post for the day. I relaxed at a picnic table enjoying the beach all by myself. Apparently we visited Waiheke Island a couple weeks before it gets really crowded. Several different types of birds showed up, while I was sitting there. I took a few shots, before Graeme showed up. We spend a little time together enjoying the beach then jumping back in the van.
A Day Well Spent
I spent a long, fun day with a very cool guy who absolutely loves sharing his knowledge of the island with visitors. The amount of places he brought me to visit was pretty amazing. One of the highlights for me was when we fed bacon to a giant friendly eel in a little pond by the sea.
I was ready for a break, so we returned to Delamore Lodge. Our original plan was to head back out for sunset, but Graeme proposed a different option. Knowing that Kathy and I publish an art-inspired travel site, he asked if we wanted to visit an exclusive privately-owned art and sculpture garden. Kathy was scheduled to return from her wine tour about 4pm. We had enough time, and the clouds were not looking great for sunset photography. Graeme called the owner ahead of time, as the garden would normally be closed by the time we arrived. He happened to be home and said we could come by.
“Dead Dog Bay” was the name of the garden. However, since it is not actively promoted, it is an unlikely tourist attraction. It’s essentially the owners’ private property, featuring gardens, sculptures, exotic chickens, roosters, pigeons, birds, and handcrafted structures. Visitors are asked for a courtesy donation to help with maintenance costs.
The husband builds all kinds of structures and his wife is both an artist and landscape designer. I am not sure who created what, but it is a very special place.
If you are interested in visiting the best attractions on Waiheke Island, find out more about Kiwi Connect’s private tours or small group tours. Visit the Kiwi Connect website for additional info – https://www.kiwiconnect.co.nz/