A look at Waiheke Island’s history as one of Auckland City’s favourite island getaway locations

Jane Groufsky is Project Curator History for our upcoming Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland exhibition, where we will share the story of Waiheke and some of the objects pictured in this blog.


Waiheke today brings to mind sunny vineyards and beachy weekend getaways. The image of Waiheke as an “island paradise” has its origins in 1920s marketing, but the island has long been desirable even as its character has changed over the past centuries.

Situated in the Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana, Waiheke’s strategic position, abundant kai moana (seafood), and extensive kauri forests made the island appealing for human habitation. These natural assets also caused it to be hotly contested, and therefore several different iwi have ancestral connections to the island. These include Ngāti Huarere, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Pāoa, and it remains a central part of the latter’s rohe (territory) today.

The desirable qualities of the island made it similarly attractive to Pakeha, and from the mid-19th century, large blocks of land were sold to the Crown. Private owners were also eager to purchase land for settlement or for profit through speculation, benefiting from Governor Hobson’s establishment of Auckland as the new capital of the colony in 1840. By 1870, Māori-owned land was limited to the 2100-acre Ngāti Pāoa block at Te Hurihi, the west end of the island. (1)

It was in 1987 that a pivotal development led to another change in the character of Waiheke. The Quickcat was the first new catamaran ferry of a fleet which provide efficient access to and from the mainland, in a journey of just 40 minutes each way. A daily Waiheke commute was more viable than ever before, and property prices rose accordingly.  At around the same time that the new fast ferries took off, the island’s wine industry was also picking up speed. In 1977 the Goldwater family planted the vines that would become Waiheke’s first vineyard, taking advantage of Waiheke’s moderate climate. Goldie Estate is now just one of the dozens of vineyards that have made the island a destination for “wine tourism”.

Today Waiheke is New Zealand’s third most populous island, although population numbers fluctuate highly with the coming of summer holidaymakers and seasonal vineyard workers. The lure of a laidback seaside lifestyle continues to draw people to the island, making it as sought-after as ever.


(1) Monin, Paul. Waiheke Island; a History. The Dunmore Press: Palmerston North, N.Z. (1992). p145.

(2) “Advertisements”, New Zealand Herald, Volume XXIII, Issue 7834, 31 December 1886. p1.

(3) “Surfdale; Auckland's big new seaside resort” Oneroa Beach Estates: Auckland, N.Z. (1921)

(4) Ibid.

Image credits:

Cowes Bay. Waiheke Island, George Bourne, circa 1905. PH-ALB-328-p1-2​

Pamphlet, Surfdale: Auckland's big new seaside resort​, 1921. DU436.118 SUR

Map, Palm Beach Estate, Waiheke: a popular marine resort, 1920s. G9082.W2

Waiheke ferry passengers disembarking, Robin Morrison, 1979. PH-1992-5-RM-N2-F9-25. All Rights Reserved. 

Teapot, Denis O'Connor, 1980. 2003.66.15. All Rights Reserved. ​


Blog Changing Waiheke by Jane Groufsky, Auckland Museum Project Curator, History.

Published Monday 25 May 2020.