Pastoral WAIHEKE, 20km east of Auckland, is the second-largest of the gulf islands and easily the most populous, particularly on summer weekends when day-trippers and weekenders quadruple its population. The traffic isn't all one way, though, as the fast and frequent ferry service makes it feasible for a growing proportion of the islanders to commute daily for work in the city – a trend that is turning Waiheke into a suburb. For the moment, with its chain of sandy beaches along the north coast and a climate that's slightly warmer and a lot less humid than Auckland, Waiheke retains its luxuriant character.
Avoid Waiheke at the weekend, when it's flooded by Aucklanders shopping, tasting at vineyards and occupying the eateries and bars, where there's often live music. Lots of accommodation will demand a two-night minimum for Friday and Saturday, or will charge an additional fee. Better to visit midweek, the downside being a few wineries may not open, artists occasionally close their studios and trips requiring minimum numbers are harder to organize (outside the summer season).