Waiheke Island is a small sub-tropical island in the Hauraki Gulf, an easy 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland in New Zealand. Tourism websites abound with details of the island’s attractions, particularly emphasizing its beaches, vineyards and walkways. Year round the current population is nearly 8,000 residents, of which about one-quarter commute to Auckland city each day.   Its unique location so close to the largest city in New Zealand means that at the height of the summer season, Waiheke’s population can swell to over 50,000 at weekends with visiting holidaymakers and families with batches dotted among the bush and around the beaches. Most of the permanent population lives close to the western end of the island in the villages of Ostend, Surfdale, Blackpool and Oneroa.  Much of the eastern half of Waiheke Island, ‘the bottom end’ is privately owned farmland.

Socially the island is highly diverse.  While it is renowned for its exclusive lifestyle settings for the rich and famous, the majority of residents are “average kiwis”, and the median income is $38,725. More than 30% of households have single occupants; 45.9% of families are couples without children. There is a small mixed-iwi marae reflecting the small number of permanent Maori residents.  Of those residents born overseas the majority originate from the United Kingdom and Europe.  In the 1960s and 1970s, Waiheke became home to alternative, hippy lifestyles and this is reflected in the large numbers of artists, musicians, scientists, writers, poets and actors who reside there.

The burgeoning New Zealand wine industry spread to the island as the weather patterns and hills were found to produce good quality wines.  The vineyards have gone on to develop niche restaurants.  Kiwi families were also attracted to its location in the early years because of its ease of access to and from Auckland, and the ability to purchase cheap land and build batches, with little formal building controls.  The sought after “freedom” of the island, while still an aspiration, is an illusion for it is regulated by a disparate City Council. The ready access to tramping tracks, kayaking and sailing as well as wide, clean beaches for swimming and picnics, sustains it as a desirable lifestyle option. Property has become expensive as a result, but affordable rental properties are available. There are a wide variety of accommodation businesses catering to summertime visitors.

Between its accessible and desirable location, its artistic community and its vineyards, Waiheke has developed a unique image or lifestyle brand that is reflected in real estate brochures and in tourism brochures. It is also reflected in the multitude of summertime events that are designed to draw in the daytime visitors from Auckland, as well as entertain the holidaymakers.

For more on Waiheke go to  www.tourismwaiheke.co.nz OR www.waihekenz.com