This Island Was Named the Fifth Best in the World—Here's Why It's Extraordinary

The sun was high in the sky before I realized how utterly idiotic I must look. Bleary-eyed and dressed in the airplane clothes I'd put on 23 hours earlier in New York, I somehow found myself in the complete unknown: standing on a rocky outcrop in Waiheke Island, New Zealand, surrounded by fragrant lavender bushes that rustled and swayed in the coastal breeze.

I'd arrived that morning on the first ferry from Auckland and decided to go for a quick walk until I could check into my hotel. But every bend in the trail revealed a new delight—verdant rolling hills, vineyard vines heavy with grapes, quiet sapphire bays—and before I knew it, I’d embarked on a three-hour hike with little more than an eye mask and earplugs from my flight.

Waiheke Island will have that effect on you. Though small in size, the island has over 30 wineries and 80 miles of rugged coastline, flecked with tranquil coves, white sand beaches, and yacht-lined bays that beckon to be explored. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do here, and it doesn’t take long to realize why this local gem has started to gain international attention. 

Travel+Leisure named it the fifth best island in the world in 2018, ahead of popular destinations like Maui and the Greek Islands, and Vogue went so far as to call it “the Hamptons of New Zealand,” beloved by A-listers like Beyoncé and Cindy Crawford.

Waiheke’s appeal has nothing to do with celebrity spotting, though. Unlike mainland New Zealand, which attracts thrill-seekers who are eager to tear down the slopes and sling-shot through gorges, Waiheke Island draws a more relaxed, introspective traveler. Here, your only task is to slow down and appreciate what's in front of you, whether that be a picturesque coastal trail or ruby-colored glass of Syrah.