Above: Native Rata and Awana Bay.
How many folk who live in Auckland have never been to Great Barrier Island? Yes; I thought as much…dozens of you. You’ve been to Paris, London, Istanbul, New York and Queenstown though haven’t you??? It’s OK…”it will still be there when I’m old” I hear you say… well it will be but trust me it will have changed by then. Currently Great Barrier Island is a hidden gem 35 minutes away by small plane or 4-5 hours away by boat. Great Barrier Air are an excellent airline. Last time I visited, about 15 years ago, the roads were all gravel, windy and dusty, the rental cars were scarce, the shops could be counted on one hand and the population was maybe 400. Today it has 852 laid back residents. The population decreased when the property market hiked its prices. It has had as many as 1000 residents over the years. Tourist numbers reached 5000 a couple of years ago but exact numbers are hard to obtain. The main road is tar-sealed and they even have a very good local Art Gallery run by enthusiastic volunteers.
Shoal Bay Pottery above is the gallery of Sarah Harrison
Roadside stall – Tryphena
Medlands Beach Sunrise
Anyway the people on the island are extremely friendly. The Irish Pub really welcomes visitors as do the numerous cafes dotted about the Island between Port Fitzroy to the north and Tryphena Harbour on the south end. Tryphena is served by Claris Airport. 3-4 airlines fly into Claris daily and the views in good weather are stunning. Sailing to the Island is my favourite way to see the grandeur. Steep mountain peaks, white sandy beaches, a gannet colony, mussel farms and hot springs are all waiting to be discovered. Not everyone can cruise to the Barrier but one of my lasting memories is sailing past Wellington Heads into the calm waters behind Kaikoura Island. For the energetic there are over 100 km of walking tracks with 8 walks of less than one hour and 15 tramps of up to five hours, some through very steep countryside. Cycling is popular but one needs to take extreme care on the narrow windy roads and the terrain is rather hilly. Tourism on Great Barrier Island is based almost completely on the outdoors, fishing, kayaking, tramping and of course massage and therapy. There are many isolated and beautiful beaches where you can put up your tent and the chances of seeing anyone else for days is quite limited. On one such road we discovered an old bus where Ken habitats. A friendly bearded soul he looked like he needed a good meal but he assured us he had plenty of everything! He loved the camera!! Authorities on Barrier tell me Ken is well looked after by them all and has fresh water readily available.
There are numerous artists on the island and they have produced a brochure to help you discover them all. One little gem was high on a hill in a shed with delightful works by a talented photographer John Kjargaard. Another had a stunning rimu coffin!
Recently a new school was re- opened and they have a police station and chemist shop amongst other services. Exploring the island is fun and around every corner is a surprise or a stunning view.
The Kaka parrot with red under its wings is often heard calling out but photographing them is a real challenge! I heard Tui and Bell bird every day and we saw many, Black Oyster Catchers, Pateka or brown teal duck and Banded Rails.
So don’t wait until you are old – book a weekend escape. Call Cindy at I-Site in Claris The beaches are stunning with white sand, the days are peaceful and if you want action there is always something going on somewhere. Book a rental car 09 4290 915, some have air con. some are 4 x 4.The locally grown produce is delicious, and yes the coffee is $5.00 but I don’t begrudge them that at all – everything has to be shipped or flown in! If you forget your sunhat etc they sell the essentials. Get there before it becomes sophisticated…it is still uniquely Barrier.
Below gives a great idea of life on the Island.
Great Barrier Island Events Calendar
Updated 20th February 2016