Monday 22nd to Friday 26th October: Great Barrier Island
What a different and completely amazing experience! We spent 5 wonderful days on the remote Great Barrier Island off the coast of Auckland. It is only accessible by boat or air from Auckland, and is similar to the Coromandel Coast – after once being joined together. There are many differences between the way of life on the island and usual life in New Zealand. It was a privilege to experience this and to explore the beautiful remote and rugged island – which seems like it is a whole world of its own!
For anyone interested in going there or just for those reading generally I will be my usual honest self in explaining life on the Barrier – as I am sure you will want to know what it is really like! We took the 8.00am ferry from Auckland and arrived on the island at about 12.45pm. As previously arranged a lady from Aotea car rentals met us with our Toyota Starlett (16 years young) and we set off on the short drive towards our accommodation at Shoal Bay Lodge. Having driven on many a crazy NZ road, the roads on the Barrier still surprised us! Almost completely single track, and many partly rough gravel our little car (named Dug because his number plate is DUG142) found his way to our accommodation where the owner Geraldine met us and showed us around our house – Shoal Bay Lodge – for the week.
Over the course of the week we spent time exploring the island and here are some of our highlights:
- Remote and deserted stunningly beautiful beaches. We were completely alone on all of the beaches we visited and spent time on. They really are such beautiful beaches and amongst the best we have ever been to. We think Awana Beach was probably our favourite – where we spent lunch on Wednesday in the gorgeous hot sunshine. Medlands beach was a very close second, and the most accessible and our most visited – another wonderful beach. The least accessible beach was Kaitoke beach – down a steep gravel track- but again such a beauty and really worth the trip. It is just so different to the UK where you always see other people on the beach. Here you feel like you are alone on a remote tropical island and like the only people in the world!
- Walks – the island is famous for its numerous walking tracks and we only did just a few of these in our time here. Our favourite was the walk to the Kaitoke Hot Springs. We walked through native forest and spent time dangling our feet in the relaxing natural hot springs which was lovely. We also walked to Windy Canyon lookout (up about 188 steps – we counted!), for gorgeous views around the island.
- Serenity – the peace is very welcome. When we watched our first sunset on our second night we just looked out at the sky and water and everything was still and peaceful and it was lovely.
- Experiencing the beautiful scenery from roadside lookouts and general driving around the island with very little traffic.
- The fun/different roads – windy, steep and single track (and partly rough gravel) but adventurous!
- The birdlife – we have seen many smaller native birds (tui, brown teal) and were also very lucky to see a few of the rare North-island kaka. We also heard the little blue penguins on the beach at night.
- The pace of life has meant for the first time on our holiday really we have been able to properly relax and enjoy going at a slower pace or just taking a few hours to read and relax.
- Sunsets – most nights we were here we watched the sunset from our bedroom balcony and it was absolutely stunning. We also saw a few North island kaka flying around which made it even more special 🙂
- The friendly locals – everyone we came across and spoke to was really friendly and helpful.
To ensure I provide a balanced view of the Barrier I must include some other things of note:
- I would definitely recommend to fly rather than take the ferry to the island. We took the ferry with Sealink there but the crossing was rough (due more to the rough water – although apparently this is the second roughest stretch of water in NZ – rather than bad weather), and ended up flying back as were quite worried about being ill on the ferry back. Flying only takes 30 minutes (the ferry takes 4 hours 30!!) and it goes very often (quite a few times a day) – plus the views of the island are amazing. We flew with Great Barrier Airlines who were great. The main reason we didn’t fly in the first place was due too luggage allowance (they say there is a 15kg limit including cabin baggage, but we just paid excess for ours). If you do end up taking the ferry and get sea sick then the best place is right down the bottom of the boat at the back – this was the only place we could go to stop from being ill!
- It is a pretty backward place! Although this can clearly be a positive as it is a little like NZ many years ago there are also a few drawbacks to this that affect everyday life.
- Food and shops and eating out are the main one. My advice to anyone coming to the island would be to bring your own food for the duration of your time here. Many of the food places are not open for very long or at suitable hours, or are incredibly expensive, often with bookings required. The option of cooking your own food is also not great because the general stores are VERY limited with this stock and and what they do have is VERY expensive (I think we paid £5 for 2 pints of milk!). In fact, one store (Mulberry Grove store) was selling food dated 6 months out of date – scary!
- Power – there is no mains power on the island, so everywhere relies on gas/solar and generators. We arrived at one cafe at lunchtime asking for a menu and were told that there wasn’t any food until after 4.30pm when the generator came back on, but they had coffee if we wanted it!
- I know I put very few cars as a positive but we were still a bit surprised at the reliance on cars to get from a to b. We expected it to be suitable to walk all around to get from place to place but there are no real footpaths so you have to walk along the roads (which are dangerous enough!) so despite us trying it, walking is not a safe or viable option really!
- Reliability of cars! Our lovely little ‘Dug’ broke down on us on a penultimate day on the island. We had parked at a remote bay South of Claris and he just wouldn’t start! We very luckily had phone signal (one of the only parts on the island) so was able to call people to come and help. They came out after about 35 mins of waiting – explaining we were also very lucky that the mechanic was on the island today! He checked the car over and the battery was completely flat (not due to anything we had done!) so he replaced it and we were ready to go again!