Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lost on Waiheke Island

A little over-confident in my weekend-planning abilities after last Saturday's escapade to Auckland City, I thought a little bit "bigger and better" while consider this weekend's adventure. Little did I know that this confidence would lead to driving around in circles and swerving into ditches...

As the 10:00 am ferry departed from Auckland City, I watched as the skyline slowly disappeared from the horizon. Within 40 minutes, we approached Waiheke's Matiatia Bay. Slowly approaching the ferry depot, anchored sailboats and houses resting upon the rocky cliffs encircling the bay let us know that we had arrived to the most visited island of the gulf.

I walked into the depot Welcome Center with one intention: to find my scooter. I spent days before my departure researching Waiheke travel. I bookmarked pages in magazines and tour guides, I read company reviews and previous visitors' recommendations... after all of the searching, I knew I only had one option: renting a scooter. Sure, there were endless opportunities for informational and tasting tours, but they all had an agenda. And after hearing rumors of the island's beauty, the last thing I wanted while there was an agenda. I wanted to be able to stop when I wanted to stop, eat when I wanted to eat, and go down gravel paths that buses could not drive down.

So I rented a scooter. $60 NZ for the day. "Piece of cake," I thought. "I saw students steer them through Bloomington all the time!


Brief disclaimer: I would like to thank my dad for inspiring, nay, encouraging the adventures that that follow. After years of standing besides a man who I so innocently considered the coolest guy on earth as he organized rental cars for our family vacations throughout the years, I learned two things:
1. When given the option of one cooler or faster vehicle over "another," take the cooler one.
2. In order to dodge unnecessary insurance or rental fees, speak with confidence and assurance in both driving ability and experience.
Thanks a lot, Dad...

With all that being said-
After finding the rental agency and discussing safety guidelines, I signed the insurance forms, chose a helmet, securely strapped my backpack, and went on my way. But I didn't get very far. It only took seconds after sitting on my scooter seat to realize what I had gotten myself into. You see, I chose the black scooter over the yellow scooter. Translation: the cooler, faster scooter over the "other." Did I have any experience driving a scooter? No. But I wanted the one that got me from A to B most quickly, and with as little hassle as possible.

Wrong move. Turning the throttle as slowly as possible, I quickly jolted as the scooter jerked forward. WOOPS! Let's try that again...a little better. Once more...good enough.

So I was off. First stop: Ostend's Saturday market. That's when I realized that my scooter wouldn't be the only challenge of my day. To get to the market, I had to do two things: stay on the left side of the road, and make my safely around the roundabouts. Attempting to do both of those at once, I quickly overshot the market, and had to make my first correction in travel. But I made it. And the market was wonderful! All of the Waiheke residents (and Auckland travelers) manning their tables, offering their previous belongings, homemade foods, and independently-manufactured products.

Next on my list: Te Wahu Vineyard. But, needing a bit more time to acquire a sense of direction, I "took a detour" and...purposely of course...drove through the Whakandeha Regional Park instead. There, I found a safe place to park my scooter and found a return-tramping path leading to the Cascades of the park. After the two hour tramp, I returned to my scooter and quickly enjoyed a peanut butter and hazelnut sandwich before continuing on my way.

Re-establishing my location, I soon found my way to the Te Whau (pronounced Te FOW, not Te Wahoo, as explained by a local resident in the midst of my asking for much for blending in), a vineyard and restaurant known for its 36o degree view of the Hauraki Gulf and Auckland City. After that, Stonyridge restaurant and vineyard (only after a visit to a nearby neighbor's driveway for a quick turnaround). Stonyridge's property was my favorite visit of the day; the gravel drive leading up to the Tuscan-inspired restaurant, hillside vineyard, and canopy patio makes leaving seem impossible.

After visiting the two intended vineyards (along with another, just for the fun of it...) I headed to North side of the island for a tour of the beaches/bays of the area. Beginning with a drive down "The Strand," I enjoyed Onetangi Beach's coastline. From there, Palm Beach. Now, I'm not one to compare... but Waiheke's Palm Beach was...different (see picture below for details). Next on the list: Sandy Bay. Here, I unpacked my lunch box and watched two kayakers begin their journey along the rocky coastline. After a small snack, Oneroa Beach was next. As sunset grew near, I watched as families and couples packed their belongings and headed home for the evening. With my adventure coming to an end, I found my way to the Cable Bay Vineyard, where I watched the sunset behind the olive trees and rolling hills before returning my scooter and departing on the evening ferry back to Devonport.

Now, mind you, my tour-de-Waiheke sounds, and was, quite wonderful, but please keep in mind that while I was making my way from one destination to another, I continued to struggled while attempting to turn right from the left lane, make it around corners without swerving into ditches, and turn off my turn signal well after establishing myself on a new road. The planned "loop" that I had intended on following throughout the day...the one that has been clocked at as an hour return trip, took me 6. It say the least.

I just don't know what was more terrifying: Fighting every instinct in my body and mind while stepping 192 m off a platform and falling toward to pavement, or driving a scooter through Waiheke...

Looking forward to next week:
Saturday: Oceanside tramp to Waiake
Sunday: Tree planting on Motutapu

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