This is about my experience zip lining in Waiheke, the most scenic place I have been to. Here it goes.
Waiheke island is the 2nd largest island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand. The Maori name for Waiheke is “Motu-Wai-Heke”, which means “island of trickling waters”. Located about 40 minutes, by ferry, off the coast of Auckland is this scenic island with hilly terrain and crescent shape beaches. For me, who has lived in a concrete jungle his whole life, Waiheke seemed like a world away.
There are some things you’ve got to experience to understand.
The beginning of an experience
I had only heard about Waiheke from our colleagues and it was not a place we (me and my colleagues) had planned to visit during our stay in Auckland. So, without any expectations we laid out our plan. ‘Spend a day in Waiheke’. Little did I know that this place would forever hold a very special place in my heart. We left our home before daybreak to catch the first ferry from the Downtown ferry terminal to Waiheke. As planned we got the first ferry out to Waiheke. The weather didn’t seem very conducive for a trip. Overcast with a possibility of heavy showers. But as they say in Auckland, “If you don’t like the weather wait for 10 minutes”. We sure did. In a short while the sun started to shine through the clouds. Yay! Now this is a good day to head to an island. Drizzle, sun and choppy waters do make for a bumpy yet exciting journey.
40 minutes in and we arrive at Waiheke. Step out of the ferry terminal and you are at a small crescent shaped beach with water so still and clear that you could mistake it for a swimming pool. A large swimming pool with a lot of small boats. The view from the beach was sheer beauty. Just as we arrived a father and son had anchored their yatch, got into a small paddle boat and were rowing their way back to the beach. It seemed like a regular weekend thing to do for the duo. Well, who wouldn’t want to do that when you live in an island so beautiful.
New Zealand is a country that is visited less by travelers compared to Europe or America. This has helped the country’s flora and fauna remain in pristine condition. Waiheke is still further out from the mainland thus preserving its beautiful landscape and waters in and around the island.
Into the heart of Waiheke
Onward from the ferry terminal we head to Eco Zip Adventures for my first zip lining experience. Picked up in a minivan by the guys at Eco Zip we drove inward. To the heart of Waiheke.
Waiheke’s hilly terrain provides for some narrow roads. The speed limit too is a mere 60 Kmph compared to that of mainland Auckland where it is 100 Kmph. Driving further inward we reach the narrowest part of the island. This narrow isthmus is just 600 meters across. It is so narrow that you can see the shores on either side of the landmass. Passing through this narrow stretch gives you a feel of driving across a bridge over a large water body. Only here the large water body is the majestic Pacific Ocean.
We move on, slowly soaking in the beauty of Waiheke. As we move towards the center of the island we notice a number of vineyards. In fact, the whole island is strewn with vineyards owned by the local people. Waiheke is in fact known for its award winning Wines. Some of these vineyards provide spectacular views of the Auckland skyline with the Sky Tower towering over the other buildings.
Set in the heart of Waiheke is EcoZip Adventures. We step into the visitor center and it does not give you a feel that you are about to have the adventure of a lifetime. The visitor center has a small lawn kind of setting in the center with a few tables laid out like a cafe. Around this setting are a couple of small buildings with sloped roof.
Still not feeling the adventure.
After we signed the disclaimer we were escorted to the safety briefing area by Sally and Sarah, our guides. At the briefing we told how to get in and out of the harness, how to hold on to harness when we are zipping among other safety guidelines. Paying close attention was of utmost importance as it literally was a matter of life and death, especially when you will be hanging a couple of hundred feet in the air. We then move onto the first platform. After a last minute briefing we were declared ready. Ready to ZIP! And not before we take a customary picture in full gear.
The first zip line. We get onto the platform. What we see below us is a beautiful vineyard. Yeah, that’s right. We were going to be flying, I mean zipping, over the vineyard. The setup is such that there are 2 parallel lines that stretch across from start to finish. Meaning 2 people can zip side by side.
Being a little bit on the heavier side I had my doubts as to whether the line would hold my weight. To my relief, Sarah told me that these lines are tested to hold 2 tonnes. Well, I dont weigh anywhere near that mark. Relieved!
Zip line 1:
Sally straps her harness to the wire line, checks to see if the line is properly attached, moves to the ledge and slowly lifts her legs. She was away! We stood there watching her all the way to the finish. My excitement level just went up a notch. Sarah now helped the others in the group one by one get strapped on to the line. Two at a time they zip. Effortlessly. Squealing and howling. Some even shouted aloud, like Tarzan. I could see that the excitement was uncontrollable. Then came my turn. I was partnered with Shen. We get to the top of the platform, connect our harness to the zip line, move to the ledge. And just like Sally showed, we slowly lift our legs.
WOW! We were away. What an amazing feeling that was. Words just can’t describe.
We were told we can curl up and go faster. But we decided to flap our hands and legs instead. Once the initial excitement settled I regained composure and took a look around. There we were, zipping over the vineyard below us. In the distance we could see the Auckland skyline. The view was awe-inspiring. I was flying over the land. A couple of feet to my right I could see Shen soaking in the view and the experience of zipping over the most beautiful place we had ever been to.
The harnesses are designed to rotate as you zip. And that means we get a full 360-degree view. We could even control the direction of rotation. I felt like a young kid on a merry-go-round. Except here I could control the direction of the spin and I was suspended over a vineyard.
At the end of the line we could see Sally waiting for us. She was on the landing platform holding a rope which we could hold on to and pull ourselves closer to the platform. We reached the end of the line. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself closer to the platform. Sally then disengaged the harness. I walked away from the platform and all I could do was look back at the starting point and just recollect the amazing experience I just had.
At this point I thought, ‘it cannot get any better than this’. Only, I was wrong.
Zip line 2:
My first zip line was an experience like no other. I could only ask for more. And we did have more to come.
The group then moved on to the second platform. It was just a short walk through the bushes. When we reached the platform we were in for a welcome surprise. The second line was longer than the first. But this time there was no vineyard below us. We were going to zip through the jungle. Yup, we were going to cut our way through the tall trees and other flora.
The same procedure followed. Sally first and the rest followed in pairs. Soon me and Shen got strapped on and we were off. This time a lot more relaxed. This line provides a birds-eye view of the spectacular Onetangi valley in the distance. We start off from the top of the tree line and slowly descent towards the trees approaching a clearing among the branches. We pass through the clearing just a few feet from the branches. This was quite exhilarating. We were flying past the trees at more than 50 Kmph. What an experience.
Moments later we reach the end of the line. Then Sally. Rope. Pull. Disengage. And then the traditional look back. What a view it is from the base of the platform. I have never gone past trees the way I just did. Just amazing.
There was that thought again, “What can possibly be better than this?”. You know, in Waiheke, if you ask for more you get more!
Zip line 3: Kurinui
We to climb up a little from the base of the second line to make our way to the final platform. We stood there gazing at the never ending line of wire. It stretched far out in front of us. Just standing at the platform made us realize that this zip line was in whole different league compared to the first two.
If the first two were regular family cars, the third was a race car. The tempo just got bumped to whole new level.
It looked far scarier than the previous two. This line was name Kurinui (in local Maori), meaning Big Dog. Pair after pair they descend to the base of the line. Come my turn and I am terrified. Did I mention I am scared of heights? The view from the platform just reignited that fear with a lot more force. We were about a 150 ft. above the forest canopy. Unlike last time not in line with the trees. We were well above them. In fact, this line was to high that the second line crosses under this line.
Alright, it was time. Harness tightened. Double checked. And we were off.
It was fast. Very, in fact. Remember, I told that the speed limit on the island is 60 Kmph? Well, The Big Dog reaches speeds in excess of 70 Kmph. We were travelling faster than the legal speed limit on the island. It was damn scary. This is what birds see. The view from way above the tree line.
A couple of seconds in and you settle down. The fact that the harness has been tested to withstand 2 tonnes was reassuring. We zip away. We zip fast. Flying above the canopy at break neck speed we witness some of the most amazing views one can ever imagine. The thick forest cover below, the Hauraki gulf in the distance, the vineyards, the beautiful beaches and possibly everything Waiheke can offer. It’s said that sometimes you can even see birds flying between you and the tree line below.
We begin to descent into a small clearing in the middle of the forest. We hit the brakes hard. And in a matter of seconds we stop rocking in our harness and come to complete stop. I stood there at the base recollecting the experience of my lifetime. This is the coolest thing I have ever done my whole life.
Walk back through the bush:
We were now at the heart of the jungle. A long wait through the bushes awaited us.
The thick canopy blocked most of the direct sunlight. Trails made of wood and dirt lead us on our way back to the top. The vegetation in this part of the island is very thick. We made our way through the flora. It was a well guided tour through the jungle. Sally and Sarah explained the various kinds of plant life seen in this part of Waiheke.
Sally led the pack with Sarah the last in line. Me and Shen were the last ones to walk back and therefore had an opportunity to chat with Sarah. Sarah shared her experience of being in Waiheke from a very young age and how she came to join the EcoZip team. We in turn told her a lot about India, especially Bangalore, because that is where I am from. We got an insight into the lives of the people here at Waiheke through Sarah. Sarah indeed was a lovely lady to hold a conversation with. Just like any other person I met in New Zealand Sarah and Sally were really nice people. I am writing this blog after nearly a year and I still remember them very well.
Moving on we approached the father of the jungle and nearby was the mother. Two large trees that are considered to be the oldest of all plant life here. Narrow trails with signs at regular intervals lead us forward. A walk through these bushes are considered to be very safe as there aren’t any wild animals in New Zealand. So you do not need to keep an eye out for prying predators or even deadly insects.
Our long walk culminated at the foot of the vineyard. The same one we zipped over. Last few steps by the side of the vineyard and we reached our starting point.
Our day at EcoZip was coming to an end. We unstrapped our harness, bid goodbye to our lovely guides, Sally and Sarah, and were ready to leave. What a day this has turned out to be. I enjoyed every moment of this wonderful experience. This is something no material possession can replace. I leave EcoZip promising myself that I will come back again. The same van that picked us up early this morning was ready to drop us off at our next location.
Waiheke has more in store for us. We were headed to Wild On Vineyard for lunch.
Having zip lined over vineyards and jungles, and carrying a lot of wonderful memories, we left EcoZip for a hearty lunch. Next stop, Wild On Waiheke.
A couple minutes, by car, to the west of EcoZip is Wild On Waiheke (WOW). WOW is a restaurant set in the heart of the Wild Estate Vineyard. The restaurant has a relaxed style and feels like a bar set in an open garden. You enter through the lawn and are immediately greeted by vineyards on all sides. As we approached the restaurant dining area we could see young kids playing giant chess. Some of the pieces on the giant chess board were half as high as these kids. There were some playing Pentanque. Others just relaxing in their chairs in the lawn. The whole environment was that of a big garden party and less of a restaurant.
We decided to sit outside the main dining area. Right next to the vineyard. The pleasant overcast weather meant we did not have to hide under the umbrella to block out the sun. The chances of rain were high. We decided to take our chances any way.
Soaking in the relaxed mood we began ordering. It is customary to try the local beer and wines when in a place like this but we chose to go the ‘Cocktail’ way. The drinks at WOW are served in a ‘jar’ with a handle. And it’s a pretty big jar in that. It was the first time I was seeing cocktails being served in a jar. Well, I believe it was to stay in line with the ambience of the place. No complains. I loved it. Moments later came in the food. And also the rain. We rushed in to the main dining area, found ourselves a warm cozy spot and settled in to finish our meal.
Having settled in I dug into my meaty lamb burger and fries. The quantity of food served here will surely surprise you. They serve large quantities. My burger was the twice as big as a McDonald’s burger. You need a large appetite to finish one of this which, after all the cocktails (in large glasses), I was short of. As for the taste, it was delicious.
With our energy reserves stocked up we decided to indulge in the activities at WOW. We first chose to shoot some clay targets with shotguns. You heard it right. Shotguns! Before our excitement hit a new high we told that the firing pins of these rifles have been removed and it has been retrofitted with laser targeting systems. Now, that’s some high tech stuff. These rifles do not fire shotgun shells instead they shoot a ray of laser beam at the target. A sensor attached to the barrel calculates if the laser beam hit the target. The targets here are clay birds, just as the ones used in professional shooting. The high-tech rebuild of the rifles mean they do not recoil when fired.
We moved to the center of the lawn, chose our rifles and took our positions. One by one the clay targets flew into the air and we were trying hard to place a laser beam on the target. Every time someone hits the target we hear a sound similar to that of breaking glass. It took a while to get a hang of it and soon we were all hitting our targets.
A short while later some of us moved on to archery. Shot a few arrows. The others resting in the lawn enjoying the beautiful weather and the place.
It was soon time to leave.
We left WOW to our next stop. The ferry terminal. Our ferry was scheduled to leave Waiheke late in the evening, meaning we had a couple of hours to reach the terminal. So we decided to head to Oneroa beach.
We reached Oneroa, a crescent shaped beach with calm waters. It was a perfect place to spend a few extra hours at Waiheke.
Sitting on one of the many benches along the beach I began recollecting the events of the day. I woke up not knowing what lay ahead for the entire day. The island, the zip line, the vineyard lunch, shooting and now the beach. Everything was an experience in itself. I was one of those engineering graduates who wanted to join an IT company so that I might get a chance to visit US at least once in life. The so called on-site opportunities. Never ever have I thought of travelling to New Zealand on a project. After reaching Auckland I had no idea that I would be sitting here on an island so beautiful that I do not want to leave.
I had fallen in love with Waiheke.
The people, the experiences, the many beaches and almost everything captivates anyone who steps on this island. I have not been to a more serene place in my life. This day, today, is one of those days I will never forget in my life. Given an opportunity I would love to relive the entire day again.
I now understood the meaning of the saying “Money cannot buy experiences”. Absolutely true. I had a wonderful experience and more over I got to share it my friends.
Sitting there, I told myself, “I will come back again. Someday.”
Until next time, good bye Waiheke!