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Kingfish escabeche with smoked paprika potatoesKingfish escabeche with smoked paprika potatoesEscabeche is fish marinated or pickled after it has been cooked. There are many renditions of this dish found throughout the Mediterranean and Mexico.

Isle be there (Waiheke Island)

Waiheke's 2013 Headland Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition will offer statement artwork and great food alike, finds Sarah Wall.

by Sarah Wall | Cuisine issue #156 | Wednesday, 27 February, 2013
The headland comes into view as the ferry nears Waiheke – steep, sculptural cliffs of green rise out of the sea, adorned with vibrant pohutukawa trees. Look closer and at the right time of year you’ll glimpse additional splashes of colour gracing the hilltops – up-close revealing themselves as everything from a cluster of roadworks signs to a flock of birds perched on a jungle gym.

Waiheke Island’s Headland Sculpture on the Gulf – a biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition set along a 1.5km coastal walkway – is set to transform the headland for the fifth time in 2013. And to celebrate the fact, the organisers have decided to give visitors an extra taste of the island. In late January 2013, a pavilion will be erected at Matiatia, just a few minutes’ walk from the passenger ferry terminal. Over the exhibition’s duration (25 January-17 February) you’ll be able to pick up an exhibition catalogue; enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack; sip on local wine, beer and coffee; take in the views over the water; and learn more about the island’s producers.

Waiheke is a community-focused and creative place, a fact that’s evident as soon as you step off the ferry (a short 30-minute journey from Auckland). On a recent trip, I arrived to find the local Lifemark group – who proudly claim to be the world’s oldest flash mob group – dancing in perfect unison in front of the terminal, walking sticks, wheelchairs and all.

If you’re visiting on a Saturday, Ostend is just a 10-minute drive from the ferry – there you’ll find the weekly market where you can snack on French crepes, local baking and organic egg and bacon sandwiches, as well as pick up local produce, from Jenny’s Tamarind Chutney to Waiheke Herb Spread and island-harvested honey. Just around the corner is the cute-as-can-be Island Coffee cafe, run by the smiling Jane Burn. She and her team roast beans from Colombia, Papua New Guinea and India and have been involved with Sculpture on the Gulf since
its inception. While in previous exhibitions they catered to visitors’ caffeine needs by way of a cart set up on a hill, this year you’ll be able to pick up your flat white in the pavilion.

Locals Nico Fini and Ana Schwarz are clearly regulars at Island Coffee – every second customer pauses to greet one or other of the pair.

Schwarz, who’ll be familiar to many after becoming runner-up in 2012’s New Zealand MasterChef, has lived on Waiheke for the past eight years and is a well-known local cooking talent.

French-born Fini lived in Christchurch for 15 years, most of that time in Sumner, but 18 months ago he and his family moved to Waiheke. “It feels just like Sumner here – we love the community feel,” he says. Fini has worked everywhere from a Michelin-starred restaurant in the French Alps to Akaroa’s French Farm winery – in Auckland, he’s been re-establishing his Christchurch catering business, Urban Escargot, kicking it off by serving venison burgers and “12,000 portions of snails” at the fan zone during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Fini and Schwarz will be behind the food at the pavilion this summer. They say their plan is for it to be “fresh, fast and simple” and want to use as much local produce as possible. For breakfast you’ll find Ringawera brioche and homemade granola with Waiheke Island Cheese Company’s sheep’s milk yoghurt; lunch and dinner options will showcase local cheeses, honey, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, plus charcuterie from local restaurant Casita Miro.

“We didn’t want a boring normal cafe – we want it to be really special,” says Schwarz. And from daily changing platters and salads (the likes of Israeli couscous, green olives, tuna and orange with smoked paprika dressing) to freshly shucked Te Matuku Bay oysters, venison and port wine burgers, rabbit and hare rillettes, Ringawera breads, Waiheke honeycomb and more, the menu does indeed sound pretty special.

Offerings from three island wineries – Obsidian, Kennedy Point and newcomer Batch – will also be available in the pavilion, as will beer, cider and ginger beer from local brewer Wild on Waiheke.

Further exploring
If your appetite is whetted by the pavilion’s offerings, it’s well worth hiring a car then spending a day or two on Waiheke to experience more of the island’s charms.

A short drive from Ostend along Onetangi Rd is Wild on Waiheke – home to Topknot Hill Vineyard, as well as archery, clay bird shooting and the Waiheke Island Brewery. There, you can sit in the sunny garden and sample tasting flights of the beers, including Onetangi Dark Ale and Matiatia Malt, as well as simple pub-style meals.

Head further along to the golden sands of Onetangi then up into the hills to find the laid-back headquarters of Obsidian winery, with a cluster of picnic tables set outside the corrugated-iron cellar door. Owners Lindsay and Janet Spilman have been supporters of Sculpture on the Gulf for a number of years. “The pavilion is a great way for us to support the event, as well as to help people find out a bit more about us,” says Janet. Three of the winery’s Weeping Sands labels will be available at the pavilion, but to try the upper-tier Obsidian wines (the viognier is particularly good), you’ll need to call in here.

A track runs from Obsidian up the hill to Casita Miro – if you’ve developed a taste for the restaurant’s charcuterie at the pavilion, walk up the path to admire the views over olive groves, vineyard and the sea, then settle in for a delicious long lunch cooked by chef Justin Scheihing.

Towards the Whakanewha National Park is Waiheke’s newest winery, Batch – a must-visit for the views. It’s launching in 2013 to coincide with Sculpture on the Gulf and occupies the highest point of any vineyard on the island, with a 360-degree panorama of the sea, Auckland and Rangitoto. At the pavilion, Batch will offer a sparkling blanc-de-blanc, plus a pinot gris and a cabernet sauvignon.

Down the hill from Batch is Waiheke’s main olive oil producer, Rangihoua Estate. Anne Stanimiroff and her team produce four different oil blends each year – the Waiheke blend will be used in dishes at the pavilion, but if you visit Rangihoua’s headquarters you can taste the others, including a wonderful Italian Frantoio oil (which was recently voted in the top 20 olive oils in the world by the Italian Flos Olei guide).

Kennedy Point is the island’s first organic-certified winery, perched above Kennedy Bay with views of the water amid an olive grove, vineyard and numerous gnarled pohutukawa trees. Owners Neal Kunimura and Susan McCarthy emigrated to New Zealand from Hawaii 16 years ago and have been involved with Sculpture on the Gulf for a number of years, sponsoring the event in 2009. “We’re still thrilled to be involved – it’s such a wonderful event,” says McCarthy. A selection of Kennedy Point drops can be sampled at the pavilion, but again it’s worth taking time to visit the winery to try the full range.

There’s so much to see, eat and drink on Waiheke that one visit is never enough. Whether you have an afternoon or a long weekend to spare this summer, make sure to pay a visit to Sculpture on the Gulf for artistic and gastronomic satisfaction.

Headland Sculpture on the Gulf runs from 27 January-17 February 2013. For more details, go to

Stay Waiheke offers a wide range of premium holiday home rentals, from romantic cottages to expansive villas.


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