GREAT BARRIER


GREAT Barrier Island is referred to as 'the Barrier' by locals, but could have easily been called 'the Great'. It is stunning, but what makes it great, is that it is so different from most other places in New Zealand.

This subtropical island lies in the outer Hauraki Gulf, 90 kilometres north-east of central Auckland. With an area of 285 square kilometres, it is the sixth-largest island of New Zealand. The highest point, Hirakimata Mt Hobson is 621 metres above sea level. The Barrier currently has around 1000 inhabitants, mostly living from farming, tourism and conservation, pest management and recreation. 


-- recharge your batteries in paradise --

Good Heavens: Milky Way over Medlands Beach - photo: Mark Russell

Barrier Activities

Some people wonder what we do all day. Or what you will do all day when you are here. Plenty of scope to sit and watch the view or read your book and totally relax.

But Great Barrier Island has stacks to do for active people, and for art lovers, too. The below is just a start. Often, you have to make your own fun, just get out there and do it, but there are people who are happy to assist with this too. Check with us if in doubt.

As a total aside, we do not have reticulated power or water on the island, only a few dairy-like shops and no ATMs. Most shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, however.

Not having reticulated power means that power hungry items such as electric toasters and hair dryers/straighteners are not very popular items to bring. It also means that there are no street lights and that land marks are not so visible after dark. Bring a torch and don’t get lost after dark.

Below are some of our personal favourites, but for general information http://www.greatbarrier.co.nz/ is a good place to go.

There is a visitor information desk inside the airport terminal in Claris. Phone 09 4290033 info@dgbi.co.nz

The island does get busy. If you are keen to do certain activities, or go out for dinner, plan ahead and book.

Natural World

A large part of the island (around 60%) is a conservation park, administered by the Department of Conservation (DoC), and Auckland Parks. Within these areas, there are many fab walks including the 3 day Aotea Track in the Aotea Conseravtion Park. You will also find many shorter walks to waterfalls and lookout points, both on DoC and Auckland land. And the many largely deserted beaches are just waiting to be explored and walked from end to end, without another sole in sight.

Endangered species are a common sight on the island. Don't be surprised if you spot kaka, pateke brown teal duck, taiko black petrel, dotterel, banded rail and chevron skink and many people travel to the island especially to see these taonga (treasures).

At XSPOT you will notice kaka and tui in the flax, especially when they are in flower, and gannets glide past the windows on their way to the gannet colony close to Port Fitzroy. And its not just these endangered species that are interesting, many of the humans inhabitants are too. See if you can spot the odd hippy, hermit or grumpy shopkeeper. Mostly, the natives are friendly though, as visitors make our island thrive. On the road, stay well to the left, especially in corners, look out for the island wave and pull over to gaze at the view.

Travel to the Island

To get here, you can either catch a plane from the domestic side of Auckland Airport in Mangere, and easy connection with your international or national flight or catch a ferry from downtown Auckland. Recently, flights to Northshore Airfield have been added.

Barrier Air is our most reliable airlines, and they fly you to Claris, in the centre of the island, in half an hour in a six- to twelve seater plane. This can be a very scenic flight. The airfield in Claris is 17 kms from the XSPOT.

Another option is to sail across the Hauraki Gulf from Wynyard Wharf in Central Auckland on the Sealink car ferry. This ferry lands you at Tryphena wharf, around 12 kms from XSPOT. The sailing takes approximately 4.5 hours, but on a good day, it's a wonderful cruise along the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Keep an eye out for dolphins riding the bow wave, flying fish, whales, and penguins.

Beware that sometimes planes or ferries do not run, due to adverse weather conditions. For islanders, this is just a fact of life. But if you have an international flight or an important job to get back to, make sure to leave at least one day between your journey back from Great Barrier and real life on the 'mainland' and take out travel insurance, just in case.

Should your flight or ferry not leave on the planned day, please return to your rental car company and come back to the XSPOT. We will make space for you, and you are always welcome.

Off the Grid

Its remoteness is not the only thing that makes the Barrier so different. There is no reticulated power, water or gas, here. We make our own. Every Barrier household has its own combination of solar panels and wind or diesel generators and sometimes even water wheels. This makes us very resilient, independent and very low power users and probably slightly stubborn, as you'd have to be, to cope with the challenges alternative systems provide.

This also means that there is an expectation of you as a guest at the XSPOT to join in and be a considerate power user. Devices with heating elements, such as hair dryers and straighteners, rice cookers, toasters, or little electric heaters are not welcome. If you cannot cope without those comforts, then Great Barrier is not the place for you. Oh, and there are no street lights. So bring a torch if you intend to go out on foot after dark (and perhaps binoculars or a telescope because...).

Super Stars

As there is no light pollution, the night sky is very dark. Great Barrier Island has been granted Dark Sky Sanctuary status in 2017 as the first island in the world. Our sky is that special! This status will solidify and preserve Great Barrier's night skyscape forever. To get the most out of our sparkly sky, consider booking a tour with Good Heavens - The team will guide you through our galaxy, and perhaps provide a stepping stone for future stargazing.

Food

The XSPOT is equipped for self-catering. You'll a gas AND a wood stove, and a large fridge freezer. To top up your supplies, there are a few small shops on the island. The closest shop, Stonewall Store in Tryphena has a large selection of organic and gluten free food also. If you prefer to go out for dinner or lunch, then the island has a few options. See here for a dine out guide.

Walks

It is claimed that the walks on Great Barrier Island are amongst the best in New Zealand. They are very scenic and well maintained. Recommended tramping tracks include:

  • Kowhai Track: top of Rosalie Bay to Medlands Beach, about 1.5hrs one-way, mostly downhill. Extend it to a 6hr loop track by joining it to the Station Rock Track.
  • Harataonga coastal walk, about 5hrs one-way, from Whangapoua to Harataonga, or the other way around. Hitch or book a transport to get you to the beginning of the track.
  • Harataonga loop walk, about 1hr, beautiful views into bays (or a steep walk down), including old Pah site, last bit of this track is a very steep downhill
  • Kaitoke Hot Pools. 30-45min one-way easy walk. One of my favourites, that can even be done with a push chair and is nice in the middle of winter, too.
  • Check out if the Old Ladies track in Port FitzRoy is really for old ladies…
  • Get into the spirit at the sacred waterfalls in Port Fitzroy or Whangaparapara (Kauri Falls)
  • Shrin Yogu nature walks with Vicky Kyan of Waiora.

Or do the five summits while you are here:

  • Mt. Hobson (Hirakimata) via Windy Canyon, approx. 2hrs each way. Amazing vistas when clear and 360 degrees views at the top.
  • White Cliffs (Te Ahumata), approx. 1.5hrs each way, nice aerobic walk (gradual descent/ascent). 360 degree view at the top
  • Mount Whanagaparapara, 1h15m, one way, aerobic walk, great views from the top
  • Station Rock Lookout , 20 min each way, from the top of Medlands Road, great views for a relatively short climb.
  • Ruahine Lookout Track, 3hrs return, start at the end of Cape Barrier Road

Go Great Barrier offer access to all the tramping trails on the Island (09) 4290 474, should you want a drop-off or a pick up. Startreks offer guided walks.

Fishing and Diving

Great Barrier Island is a haven for casual divers and snorkelers and offers some of the most varied scuba diving in New Zealand. Visibility is usually excellent and the abundant sea life offers rewarding dives in both shallow and deeper waters. And whether you are catching or not, fishing is a blast.

Five fishy experiences

  • Fishing off the wharf: Easy peasy: borrow a rod, bring your own or buy a handline at Mulberry Grove Shop or Hooked on Barrier and head down to one of the islands wharfs, Tryphena and Okupu are perfect. Watch the sting rays circle down below and the gulls up above while you throw out a line.
  • Fishing off the rocks, clamber over rocks to a remote spot and try your luck. Schooner Bay and Lighthouse point are good options. If you want a guide, Ben may be able to help.
  • Fishing or a scenic and informative coastal cruise, the choice is yours with Captain Chris on the Sundancer, who will also provide lunch on request, launches from Whangaparapara, Hooked on Barrier (09) 429 0740
  • Go to the pub and tell your fisherman’s tales! Or head to Bob and Tipi’s and check if they will cook your fish if you can’t be bothered. :-D

Stargazing

Great Barrier Island is one of four Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world. Away from the lights of the big city and as an off-the-grid island, our light pollution is minimal. Our dark skies are superb. If you have always wanted to go stargazing, Great Barrier Island is the place to do it.

If you want guidance, the Good Heavens team of Dark Sky Ambassadors have the gear and the enthusiasm to guide you through the starry southern night skies and share their knowledge on astronomy.

  • They will come to the XSPOT for a private and personal Dark Sky Experience for up to 4 people, so you could invite your friends that are staying elsewhere.
  • Group experiences usually take place on Medlands Beach when the night is clear nights and you can book in to join the group. XSPOT guests are eligible for a discount from June-September. Check with Hilde.

Mountain biking / e-biking

Great Barrier Island offers impressive mountain bike riding for all levels. An adventurous way to see much of the island. Bring your own or rent an e-scooter from Seagar at Motu bikes in Claris for a day. These solar charged machines are a zippy, quiet and clean way to get around.

5 beautiful bike rides:

  • Forest Road, 12km each way, steep hills, dirt track through beautiful native bush. Experienced riders
  • White Cliffs, approx. 10kms, from Cross Roads via Whangaparapara Rd, white cliffs and back to start via Okupu Rd, tar seal, metal and dirt track, gradual inclines, all riders with reasonable level of fitness
  • Mabey Road, 10km each way, park around Te Kura o Okiwi, ride on metal road, farm track to Whangapoua beach, all riders, reasonable level of fitness
  • Bike from Shoal Bay Wharf to Puriri Bay boat ramp in Tryphena, an approx. 10 km return ride, all the while hugging the coast. Try to do this outside of the busy times (i.e. don’t attempt this in January and when the ferry is (due) in).
  • Kowhai Track, 14kms round trip, from the top of Rosalie Bay Rd, ascend to Medlands Beach, ride up Medlands Hill back to Tryphena and around to your starting point.
  • And oops, number 6, ride the Harataonga track

Kayaking

Great Barrier Island is a wonderful place to kayak either independently or with a guide. Choose your location depending on the wind direction. There's always some calm water somewhere.

Five fun kayak trips:

  • Shopping: Tryphena Bay: rent a kayak at Paddles and Saddles and paddle to Shoal Bay pottery, go for an ice cream at Mulberry Grove Shop or Stonewall Store, or go on, dinner at Bob and Tipi’s, a browse at The Elephant gallery in Puriri Bay, alternative rentals from Mulberry Grove Shop or Shoal Bay Estate
  • History: Discover Whangaparapara history in a kayak or rent a paddle board from Aggie: shinypaua@xtra.co.nz Whangaparapara Lodge kayak hire 09 4290488. The lovely Aggie will also do tours.
  • Discover the magic of Port FitzRoy Harbour. This harbour has been a favourite hang out for yachties for many years, as it’s calm in most winds. Port Fitzroy kayak hire (09) 4290 091
  • Kayak around Arid Island/Rakitu: launch from Harataonga for a challenging but stunning trip. Only recommended on flat calm days for peeps who know what they are doing. Bring your own kayak.
  • Stand up paddleboarding is also an option, with Aggie in Whangaparapara. Aggie offers guided tours of the Whangaparapara harbour, which is well worth it, give you a lesson, or you can just rent a board.

Lunching/dining:

  • Watch the world go by at the Pa Beach Cafe, Tryphena with Rochelle and Alex and take a closer look at our main island shopping mall, around Stonewall Store ;-)
  • Claris Central is the home of My Fat Puku Café, with hosts Mike and Erica. It's the favourite haunt of many central islanders, and maybe yours too? Great choice of lunch time food. Open at night some nights in summer. Please check.
  • Great Barrier Social Club, Tryphena offers meals and movies on Monday and these are recommended, but they also offer yummy food on Wed/Fri/Sat nights.
  • Bob ‘n Tipi’s in Tryphena is on the way to the XSPOT, along Puriri Bay Road. They may offer bar meals on Fridays, check in advance (bar or restaurant meals, fish, recommended)
  • Visit the Currach Irish Pub, Tryphena, run by our great friend Orla. a pint of Guinness or a choice of other brews and wines, and pub fare from the kitchen, this pub cannot be beaten for atmosphere. On Thursday nights, there is often a spontaneous jam. All welcome to join in. On the Lonely Planet list of 100 things to do in NZ.
  • At Mulberry Grove Shop and Bar, Tryphena, Steve offers take-aways, inside lunch/dining with a view, coffee’s and an outside bar. Will you risk having a drink under the eaves with the locals?
  • Lou at the Claris Sports Club offers Pacific fustion food. It's especially good on a Wednesday, when the touch rugby is on from 5-ish onwards and the rugby-inclined from 5 to 65 come together to have a game.
  • The Hub in Port Fitzroy is amazing for chips. Check when it's open.
  • The Golf Club in Claris is open on club nights. Visitors are very welcome for a game and/or a meal and/or a yarn. Clubs can be rented and a green fee can be paid at The Rocks Bottlestore in Claris.
  • Port Fitzroy Boat Club. Check the Dine out guide on www.greatbarrier.co.nz for opening times.

Galleries

  • The Black Cow Gallery in Schooner Bay is on your way to/from Tryphena when you are staying at the XSPOT. This quirky gallery, with honesty box, has beautiful woodwork from local pohutukawa, pine, tawa, etc. so that you can actually take a piece of the Barrier with you, and paintings of local scenes by Pete and Fenella.
  • The Elephant in Puriri Bay, is also on your way to the XSPOT. You'll find it open weekends  and some weekdays in the summer and it's a great place to by local arts and crafts, lots of quality knitted baby items and island made beeswax kitchen covers. If it's closed, give Marion a ring. If she's around, she will open up for you.
  • Shoal Bay Gallery, Tryphena (close to, and on your way to/from Tryphena wharf) has an extensive collection of pottery and upcycled driftwood artwork by local artist Sarah Harrison and some paintings and flax weaving. This gallery is chocka with treasures.
  • The Aotea Community Art Gallery is central in Claris, and is the island's largest gallery with paintings, weaving, pottery and many other crafts. This gallery takes pride of place next to the medical centre, and within 3 min. walk from the airport. If, on departure, you check in early for your flight at the airfield next door, it's a great place to pick up a few last minute souvenirs for yourself and others, while you are waiting for your plane.
  • But wait there's more.... Check out this page for inspiration, and/or pick up a visitor info guide from the airport in Claris.

Surfing

All Barrier surf beaches will provide you with an enjoyable surfing experience when surf's up, but care is needed when waves peak over 2 meters. A rarity. Roger is happy to check the surf forecast for you and give you some local recommendations, depending on swell direction. Some say late summer is best for surf. We say, the longer you stay, the better your chances.

  • Whangapoua Beach is only a short walk from Okiwi Airfield. Excellent surf breaks over sandbanks (that appear and disappear) across the mouth of the Whangapoua Estuary producing word class barrels in a north-easterly swell.
  • The other three excellent beach breaks are down the coast near Claris Airfield. Awana Beach is noted for its excellent all year-round surfing conditions and a choice of waves resulting from rapidly shifting sandbanks.
  • The largest beach on the east coast is Kaitoke, south of Claris, boasting several excellent beach breaks all the way down to the island at the south end. The sweetest sand bars are normally at Palmer’s Beach at the north end and in front of the Kaitoke Creek mouth.
  • Medlands is the nearest surf beach to Tryphena and sometimes has excellent sand bars along its entire length, particularly on a low and incoming tide. (On low tide, it’s also fun to pick mussels of the rocks for dinner, so yummy fresh). Shark Alley is a popular right hand break if you are game and when it's big, at the southern end of Medlands. It moves over rocky reefs and sand bars.
  • The quality of the surf is very much dependent on weather conditions, and we’ll often have weeks without anything amazing. When it good, it’s good. Fun to watch, even if you are not a surfy yourself, is the kids surf class, usually on Tuesdays between 4 and 5 at Memory Rock, Medlands, from October to March outside of the school holidays

Top 5 beaches

They are all beautiful, but some even more so than others.

  • Palmers Beach: To get to Palmers Beach, walk to the north of Kaitoke Beach, which can be accessed from the end of Ocean View Rd, just south of Claris, and walk through the creek. Both Kaitoke and Palmers have a truly Pacific feel. Hammerheads can sometimes be spotted in front of this beach from the plane.
  • If you like solitude, a walk along Medlands could be just the ticket. It is one of the busier beaches, but many visitors are lucky enough not to see another soul during the good hour it takes to walk from one end of the beach to the other. If you want a shorter walk, drive to the northern end of Sandhills Road, cut through the dunes and walk north to the creek. Spot the blowhole in the rocks. Even shorter is a hop over the dunes in the middle, taking a look at Memory Rock or climbing up if you are nimble footed, and having a look at the mermaid pool on the seaward side (low tide). The estuary on the southern end of the beach, toward Shark Alley is very scenic and a great spot for some reflective photos.
  • North of Medlands visit Kaitoke beach. Will you looove the combo of dark mountains looming in the back ground of this sparkly white beach? Walk to the rocks on the southern end of this beach to spot more mermaid pools.
  • Another lovely swimming beach is the main beach in Okupu. You may find dolphins here as well as a public BBQ. (BYO meat and drinks for an epic sunset).
  • Two more favourites are Harataonga, where you can walk down from the campground, a favourite spot with local families, either left, crossing the creek twice, or right, over the bridge and through the paddock, without getting your feet wet.
  • Let's also squeeze in Whangapoua (4 hrs), which can be accessed by turning right at Te Kura in Okiwi and following Mabey’s road all the way (about 10km one way). The Wairarapa graves are a 5 min walk north, and there are some interesting rock pits approx. 500m south of the dune crossing. If you walk south, you can walk for about an hour along the sandspit. Stunning.

Whatever you end up doing, we invite you to enjoy our beautiful island.

Please be sensitive to its fragile nature. Leave only footprints.