Explore our subtropical paradise
GREAT Barrier Island is referred to as 'the Barrier' by locals, but could have easily been called 'the Great'. Not only is it stunning, but what makes it great, is that it is so different from most other places in New Zealand.
The 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 950 inhabitants, mostly living from farming, tourism and conservation, pest management and recreation.
A large part of the island (around 60%) is a nature reserve, administered by the Department of Conservation (DoC), and there are many fab walks in the DoC-reserve, including the 3 day Aotea Track, and many shorter walks to waterfalls and the highest points, both on DoC and Auckland Council Land and there are many largely deserted beaches to explore.
Endangered species are a common sight on the island. Keep an eye out for 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). Not only these endangered species are interesting, though, some 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, 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.
FlyMySky and Barrier Air are 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.
The other option, to sail across the Hauraki Gulf from Wynyard Wharf in Central Auckland on the Sealink car ferry, lands you either in Tryphena or in PortFitzroy (once a week). The sailing takes approximately 4.5 hours, but on a good day, it's a wonderful cruise.
But beware, sometimes planes or the ferry cannot go, due to adverse weather. So make sure you leave at least one day between an international flight and your journey back from Great Barrier to the 'mainland' and take out travel insurance, just in case.
Should your flight or ferry not leave on the planned day, 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. No devices with heating elements please, such as hair dryers and straighteners, rice cookers, toasters, or little electric heaters. If you cannot cope without those comforts, then maybe Great Barrier is not the place for you. Oh, and no street lights. So bring a torch (and perhaps binoculars or a telescope).
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, it's that special! This status will solidify and preserve Great Barrier's night skyscape forever.To get the most out of this stunning dark sky, why not book a tour with Good Heavens: The team will guide you through the dark sky, and perhaps provide a stepping stone for future stargazing, or just a one of experience.
The XSPOT is equipped for self-catering. There is a gas stove and a wood stove, and a large fridge freezer. There are a few small shops on the island. The closest shop, Stonewall Store in Tryphena has a relatively large selection of organic and gluten free food also. Should you prefer to go out for dinner or lunch, then the island has a few options. See here for a dine out guide.
The island community is varied and many people are involved with organisations and events on the island. Many of the events are very iconic and I would encourage you to time your visit for one of them. In the growing season, there is a small market on Saturday mornings in Tryphena, and in general, there is a market day in Claris on the main holiday weekends, Easter, Queen's birthday and Labour Day. For more events, check out this Event Calendar.
And for some itinerary suggestions, try this page on the Sealink website.
Choose dark skies
Choose quirky and arty
Choose beautiful beaches
Choose great walking tracks
Choose friendly locals
Choose XSPOT on Great Barrier Island ;-)
-- recharge your batteries in paradise --
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.
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.
- Try your luck with the exuberant Tryphena based Captain Chaos, Chaos Charters (027) 297 3141
- 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
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 check with Nathan at paradise cycles for rentals. For bookings or enquiries e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or ring on 021 1802865
A recent addition to the island activities is Paddles and Saddles in Puriri Bay, Tryphena. Pete and Lucy offer ebikes, so that you can zoom from Tryphena to Okiwi in a day, powered by the sun. The also have scooters, paddlesboards and kayaks and you’ll find them in Puriri Bay, conveniently along your route to the XSPOT.
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
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: email@example.com Whangaparapara Lodge kayak hire 09 4290488. The lovely Aggie will also do tours.
- Discover Karaka Bay, where the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre is situated, just north of Pt Fitzroy, guided kayaking tours and surf kayaking tours also available (09) 429 0762 to book.
- 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 or Paddles and Saddles in Tryphena. Aggie will either give you guided tour of the Whangaparapara harbour, which is well worth it, give you a lesson, or you can just rent a board. A fun trip from Paddles and Saddles in Puriri Bay (Tryphena) is an exploration around Bird Rock, which can be done in 1.5 hours.
- Watch the world go by at the Pah Beach Cafe, Tryphena and take a closer look at our main island shopping mall, around Stonewall Store ;-)
- The Convenient Chef for gourmet takeaway meals if you want to enjoy the sunset at the XSPOT without the hassle of having to cook a meal or enjoy Mt St Paul Lodge for a gourmet dining experience with Chris and Teara
- Claris Central is the home of My Fat Puku Café, 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, meals and movies on Monday 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, there is inside restaurant dining, bar meals and outside dining with a view over Tryphena Harbour, bring a jersey or a jacket (bar or restaurant meals, fish, recommended)
- The Currach Irish Pub, Tryphena, for 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.
- Mulberry Grove Shop and Bar, Tryphena, take-aways, inside dining, coffee’s and outside bar. Have a drink under the eaves with the locals?
- Claris Sports Club, good pub food, 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, Pt Fitzroy, Amazing chips. Check if it is open when the boat arrives and leaves, check with Sealink for current sailings.
- Golf Club, Claris, open on club nights. Visitors very welcome for a game and/or a meal and/or a yarn.
- Port Fitzroy Boat Club. Check the Dine out guide on www.greatbarrier.co.nz for opening times.
- The Black Cow Gallery, Schooner Bay (on your way to/from Tryphena) Quirky gallery, with honesty box, woodwork from local pohutukawa, pine, tawa, etc and paintings by Pete and Fenella.
- The Elephant in Puriri Bay, also on your way to the XSPOT, open weekends in the summer and sells arts and crafts, lots of quality sewed items and island made beeswax kitchen covers.
- Shoal Bay Gallery, Tryphena (close to, and on your way to/from Tryphena wharf) extensive collection of pottery by local artist Sarah Harrison, paintings, weaving. This gallery is chocka with treasures. Also check out the rat shed while you are there.
- Aotea Art Gallery (central Claris), the largest gallery with paintings, weaving, pottery and many other crafts. This local community art gallery takes pride of place next to the medical centre, and within 3 min. walk from the airport. Great place to shop while you are waiting for your plane, or any other time, really.
- But wait there's more.... There is a gallery trail, ask for an info sheet at the visitor information at the airport in Claris.
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. We are happy to check the surf forecast for you.
- 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 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 at the southern end of Medlands that 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 from October to March outside of the school holidays is the kids surf class, usually on Tuesdays between 4 and 5 at Memory Rock, Medlands.
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, or from Sugarloaf, a bit further south and walk through the creek. Both Kaitoke and Palmers have a truly Pacific feel. Hammerheads can sometimes be spotted, usually 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, 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).
- North of Medlands, on the other side of the Sugarloaf (and Blackwell’s Quarry) turn right to 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 beach that is generally no good for surfing is Okupu. There’s often dolphins here and a public BBQ. (BYO meat J and drinks for an epic sunset).
- Two more favourites are Harataonga, where you can walk down from the campground (where the locals camp) either left, crossing the creek twice, or right, over the bridge and through the paddock, without getting your feet wet, and 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.
Whatever you end up doing, we invite you to enjoy our beautiful island.
Please be sensitive to its fragile nature. Leave only footprints.