Best Islands To Live On: Waiheke, New Zealand

Though only a quick ferry ride from Auckland — New Zealand's largest city — Waiheke is decidedly low-key. There's not a single stoplight on the island. A strong yachting culture makes Waiheke reminiscent of such American islands as Nantucket, though it's far more socioeconomically diverse. Multimillion-dollar homes share the island comfortably with summer cottages, and magnates mix easily with artists and writers. Much of the island is given over to olive groves & vineyards, but sandy beaches, gorgeous backcountry "bush walks," and ample opportunity for mountain biking abound. New Zealand, moreover, is English-speaking and notably emigration-friendly.


"The first thing you see when you get off the car ferry on Waiheke is a sign that says, 'You're Here — Slow Down,'" says Mike Spratt, owner of Destiny Bay Vineyards on Waiheke.

Slowing down

Slowing down was precisely what Mike, 58, and his wife, Ann, 57, sought to do 10 years ago after harried professional life in California's Silicon Valley. "I was a management consultant," says Mike. "You sort of live out of a travel bag; your whole life is in a Palm Pilot." Ann worked in technical marketing. "We'd never take a holiday, so 30 years go by, and you think, 'Jeez, I should take a holiday,'" he says. "Ann said she wanted to go to either Africa or New Zealand. I'd never heard of anybody being eaten by lions in New Zealand."


That first trip, in 1998, led to a return visit in 1999. "We were in Dunedin, and one morning at breakfast, a friend said, 'You should move to Waiheke and grow grapes.' Of course, we'd never heard of Waiheke, and we'd never contemplated growing grapes, but when we got to the Auckland area, we went over and drove around, and it's kind of a paradise island. It's really beautiful, and we noticed there were a lot of vineyards. Eventually, we found the property we're on now and moved in 2000."

A popular destination for tourists, too

Waiheke's proximity to Auckland has long made the island a popular summer destination for Kiwis and an appealing outpost for expats who prefer a quiet setting with the advantages of a nearby city. "We probably have several thousand people who commute to work every day in Auckland," says Mike. "You can get off the ferry and walk to the central business district." Even so, "a lot of people come here as a lifestyle choice," he says. "Whether it's the surfing or fishing or doing whatever they like to do, that tends to take greater priority than the economic or business side of things."


Mike's commute home now is climbing stairs from his office to an apartment above the winery. But most of the real work these days is the province of the couple's son, Sean, 37, who runs the day-to-day operations and, like his parents, has become a dual citizen. Mike knows that the idea of moving to a place on the other side of the world can take a while to get used to, but for his part, "I wish I'd done it years ago."