A mini-guide to Great Barrier Island
A much-needed backup of my laptop led to me spending a good hour browsing through photos, including the folder of photos taken on Great Barrier Island in October last year. It is such an amazing place to visit and you would be surprised at how few NZers actually go there (especially considering it’s only about 100km out of Auckland – a mere 30min flight away). But maybe the fact it doesn’t get many visitors is actually part of the reason the island is so beautiful.
Travelling to Great Barrier really does feel like travelling back in time to what New Zealand must have used to be. I know it sounds cheesy but it is true that time seems to slow down on the Barrier and things are done in a much simpler way. There are no paved roads and no electricity on the island. Each house as its own power generator and don’t expect to find any street lights or traffic lights anywhere (take a torch with you!).
There are amazing pristine white sand beaches like I have not seen anywhere else in New Zealand and a network of great bush walks for keen hikers. Snorkeling and diving are supposed to be amazing here but I didn’t do any of those so can’t talk about them. It is also supposed to be a popular place for birdwatchers, for the many beautiful species that choose to call the island home. If you’re into mountain biking, there are a few good tracks. If golf is your passion (I won’t question it but I do find it a lil’ bit dull), there’s a nine hole golf course as well.
Population numbers are very low on Great Barrier (something like a little over 800 people covering 285 square kilometres). It’s not unusual to drive for ages without seeing anyone else and it is also not unusual to realise that pretty much everyone you’ve established any sort of contact with while on the island knows each other.
But there’s more to Great Barrier than just the stunning landscapes. Artists have found in the island their perfect refuge and many run small galleries where they exhibit and sell their creations. We bought a couple of unique handmade charms off an artist on the island, just as we were on our way to the airfield to return back to Auckland. That’s when we realised the galleries deserve a closer look (a reason to go back).
We only had three days on the island and I was a bit worried we’d be rushing around to see all the sites we had planned on seeing. However, as we arrived there, the relaxed, no-frills lifestyle kind of rubbed onto us and we found ourselves taking our time and not really stressing about getting through our list of places to see. We sat around for ages admiring landscapes and enjoyed the privilege of walking along deserted beaches.
Three days were enough to give us a taste of Great Barrier Island but they were also enough to make us realise we definitely need to return. And you should go there too.
How to get there:
You can either fly or take a ferry from Auckland to Great Barrier Island. If you’re flying, you can choose to fly with Fly My Sky (the company we used) or Great Barrier Airlines. The trip takes about half an hour.
If you’re choosing to take the ferry (which can either take 2 1/2 or 4 1/2 hours, depending on whether it is a car ferry or a passenger ferry), both SeaLink and Fullers operate from Auckland.
Where to stay:
There are many accommodation options on Great Barrier and most of them look very nice. Truth is, you’re never too far from an amazing beach on the island so, wherever you choose to stay, it’ll probably be amazing. We stayed in Tryphena, at the south end of the island, not very far from the airfield.
Getting around the island:
The roads on Great Barrier are not paved so my advice is that you do not take your own car to the island (which you can do with the car ferry). Hiring a car on the island is not very expensive and you’ll be thankful you are driving a rental car when you hit the really rough parts of the roads.
There are some good restaurants on Great Barrier, if memory serves me right. We had a delicious dinner at an Irish pub in Tryphena. I can’t remember the name but I’m pretty sure there aren’t two Irish pubs there so that should be enough information to get you there.
However, snacks can be expensive! Great Barrier Island’s groceries arrive weekly from supermarkets in Auckland and, therefore, stock is limited and prices are higher than you will find in other areas of New Zealand. If you’re going for just 3 or 4 days, like we did, I suggest you pack some snack bars or biscuits, in case you get hungry and don’t feel like paying 3 or 4 times as much for them.
There are no banks or ATMs on Great Barrier so take cash with you!
Not to miss:
The SS Wairarapa shipwreck site, on the north of the island, is well worth a visit.
Don’t forget to visit the Kaitoke hot springs, which are a short bush walk away from the road.
Windy Canyon is well worth the walk to (especially for the stunning panoramic views you get of the whole island). But they’re not joking about the name – don’t leave that jacket in the car!
* Winter has really settled in here in the land of the long white cloud (and we’ve been having some seriously cold weather). The next best thing after warm coats, hot cups of coffee and comfortable knitwear is to remind myself of how much I enjoyed the past summer. It is also a good reminder of the good times to look forward to when the next summer comes around. Oh yes it is!
This is the fourth post in the series.The first one was about Rarotonga, the second was about White Island and the third one was about New Zealand’s South Island.