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.
Good Heavens: Milky Way over Medlands Beach - photo: Mark Russell
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 email@example.com
The island does get busy. If you are keen to do certain activities, or go out for dinner, plan ahead and book.
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.
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.
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...).
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.
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.
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:
Or do the five summits while you are here:
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.
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
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.
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:
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:
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.
Top 5 beaches
They are all beautiful, but some even more so than others.
Whatever you end up doing, we invite you to enjoy our beautiful island.
Please be sensitive to its fragile nature. Leave only footprints.