There are more than 20 wineries on Waiheke Island, growing 11 varieties of grapes.
"Our driver, Wayne, took us to three wineries: Jurassic Ridge, Obsidian and Peacock Sky, which were all great choices.
"At Jurassic Ridge, the viticulturist and winemaker gave us an excellent history of the island's geology and told us how the soil impacts the taste of his wines.
"The winery has produced a gold medal-winning Montepulciano, which is a wonderful Italian variety, and we tasted a terrific Syrah Rosé.
"Obsidian Winery is named for the black rock, or black glass, left behind by the lava in an eruption from a volcano.
"They have two wine labels, Obsidian and Weeping Sands, and have won so many awards that the wall is not large enough to hold them all.
"We particularly liked the Obsidian Syrah and Viognier.
"Peacock Sky provided a tasty food pairing with each wine - something you would never get in the Napa Valley in California - and we loved the whole experience.
"I fell in love with their Merlot Malbec and bought some to pack in my luggage.
"We had lunch at another winery, Miro Vineyard, where they have a very popular tapas restaurant called Casita Miro.
"It is ranked very highly in restaurant listings and is authentically Spanish; we had tapas and sangria and it was a very fine meal for a very reasonable price.
"It was odd to find such a busy restaurant in such an out-of-the-way place; I think reservations would be recommended.
"Our tour was made much more interesting because Wayne is a resident of Waiheke and is descended from the first settlers.
"He took us to great photo spots and explained New Zealand history in a way that no college professor could.
"He told us all about the first settlers in New Zealand, who made their fortunes by selling timber to countries all over the world, the arrival of the Maori people and how the island had evolved with no animals other than birds, until the first settlers arrived.
"Wayne is committed to saving the island's ecology and it was all very interesting and
Value for money?
Frank and his travelling companions paid $NZ99 ($80) each for the wine tour, plus $NZ35 each for the return ferry trip.
Frank says the excursion cost less than most official shore excursions in his experience, even after paying for the lunch at Casita Miro.
"We thought it was very good value, much less [money] than we are accustomed to paying."
WHO Frank Hall, of Sierra Madre in southern California, on his 24th cruise.
WHAT Wine tour of Waiheke Island, New Zealand.
WHERE Waiheke Island is in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf, accessible via a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland.
THE SHIP Hall cruised with his wife Patricia and friends Larry and Patty Webber on Crystal Symphony (crystalcruises.com). They cruised for 12 nights from Brisbane to Auckland, via various ports in Australia and New Zealand, and booked the wine tour independently through Waiheke Island Wine Tours (waihekeislandwinetours.co.nz).
As told to Jane E. Fraser
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