Waiheke Background

Historical Waiheke Background

The name Waiheke means ‘cascading waters’, but it was actually given to the island by mistake. The original Maori name of the island was ‘Te Motu Arai Roa’, or ‘long sheltering island’. It first came to be called Waiheke when a group of European surveyors were travelling around the Hauraki Gulf recording names on their maps. They landed on a local beach and asked the nearby Maori fishermen what the name of this place was. The Maori told them “Waiheke”, which was the name of the stream they were standing beside. The surveyors then recorded that the island was called Waiheke and it has been recorded on all European maps since then.

Waiheke has been home to various Maori iwi (tribes) for about a thousand years, and there are remnants of more than 40 pa sites on the island. A pa is a fortified Maori village, usually on a hilltop with good views of approaching people. When Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour off the eastern end of the island in 1769, the island belonged to the Ngati Paoa iwi.  During the 1820’s, the famous Maori chief, Hongi Heke, killed most of the inhabitants in a big battle at Onetangi beach. Unsurprisingly, Onetangi means “weeping sands” and the name Weeping Sands is now the brand name of one of Waiheke’s great wines.

Waiheke settlement by Europeans began in the mid 1800’s, with the clearing of timber. The felled timber, mostly kauri, was shipped to Auckland for housing and furniture for the new settlements there. Some of it was also used for building on Waiheke, and for construction and repair of ships. As the land was cleared, it was planted with grass and used for sheep and cattle farming.

The eastern end of the island has network of tunnels known as Stony Batter built as part of a system to defend New Zealand from naval attack. They were started in 1941 and finished in 1944, with a total length of tunnel of about half a mile. There are two gun emplacements, now empty, but the two guns were each mounted on a carriage on a concrete pedestal, each installation having a total weight of 135 tons. They had a range of 30 miles when test fired, but were never actually used against an enemy.

Modern day Waiheke

Waiheke currently has a permanent population of around 8000 people, making it New Zealand’s third most populated island after the North and South islands. With the large number of “baches” (holiday homes), its population swells to over 30,000 in summer and long festival weekends such as Easter.

The island is 19 km long, with a coastline of 133 km, including 40km of beautiful beaches. It is very hilly with few flat areas, with the highest point being Maunganui at 231 metres.

Waiheke is generally warmer than Auckland, by between 2 and 4 degrees on average. It has a climate similar to the Mediterranean which makes it ideal for grape and olive growing.

Modern day Waiheke Island is a picturesque blend of farmland, forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves. Activities include sightseeing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, beachcombing, or simply eating/drinking your way around the numerous cafes/restaurants and award-winning wineries.

We’ve listed a few of our key things to do/places to go in this booklet. However, if you’d like to get more detail on what there is to do on Waiheke, this is a good website: http://waiheke.aucklandnz.com/index.html

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