By Marina Darling
Of all the places I’ve explored in New Zealand, my trip to Great Barrier Island is one adventure that I will treasure forever. Great Barrier is located off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, roughly 90 kilometres from Auckland. Great Barrier has a wildness to it that you have to experience first hand. The roads are narrow and unsealed. There are no traffic lights and shops are few and far between. As far as resources go, most people rely on rainwater and solar-power. There are many places on the island that can only be reached by walking or by boat. The island is quiet and in some places, there’s no cell coverage. It’s the ideal place to go to escape.
As far as geography goes, Great Barrier is as diverse as the rest of New Zealand. The east coast is characterized by soft, white sand beaches and wetlands while the west coast is covered in ranges that provide some fantastic bush walks and hiking trails. It’s also home to rare and endangered species of birds, native plants, and abundant sea life. It’s a nature-lover’s dream come true.
I recently had the pleasure of making a spontaneous trip to Great Barrier and would encourage you to place it at the top of your priority list if you choose to visit New Zealand. While it may seem like a bit of an endeavour if you’re short on time, you’ll thank yourself afterwards for making the effort. It’s one of New Zealand’s finest gems. In the following article, I’ll share a few tips I learned from traveling there myself, in addition to sharing some of the highlights of my trip.
First off, to get to Great Barrier, you can take a ferry from Auckland or Waiheke or a plane from a number of areas. The ferry takes approximately three hours and the flight is roughly thirty minutes. I flew directly from Whitianga to Claris and booked the flight with Fly Stark, a great little company that does short flights and charters. Other airlines such as Barrier Air and Air New Zealand also fly to Great Barrier from airports on the mainland. While I’m sure that the ferry ride is beautiful, I truly enjoyed seeing Great Barrier from above.
The lovely part about Great Barrier is that you can pretty much explore the whole island, or at least some prime spots, in a few days. Renting a car is a must, unless you happen to have friends who live on the island and are willing to give you a lift. There’s no public transport, and it’s much easier to have a vehicle than to worry about it once you get there.
I spent my first day on the island on Medlands Beach, which is just moments away from the Claris Airport. Medlands is a idyllic, white sand beach that is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and surfing. It’s a phenomenal place to unwind and watch the sun sink down. Since it’s right between Claris and Tryphena, it’s a must-do if you’re on the island. However, it’s not the only perfect beach, and I strongly advise that you do a bit of exploring to figure out which beach is your favourite.
One of my other favourites was Whangapoua, which is on the north-east coast of the island. Although it’s similar to Medlands, it’s surrounded by a more dramatic landscape. Getting to Whangapoua involves a drive through stunning farmland and rolling hills before reaching a forest at the end of the farmland. A short walk through the trees brings you to the beach, which is a glorious stretch of white, soft sand. Looking out at the ocean, there are mountain ranges on the right and grassy, rolling farmland to the left.
Following my relaxing time at the beach, I headed down to Tryphena, which is on the opposite side of the island from Medlands. Tryphena is home to the main ferry terminal as well as some lovely shops and a few eateries. I certainly recommend grabbing a coffee or a pint and meeting some locals. You never know who you’ll meet or what stories they might share!
Although I have many highlights from the trip, there are a couple in particular that stand out.
Firstly, on my second day on the island, I went fishing for the first time in my life. I went with a local company that does fishing charters, called Epic Adventures. I was thrilled at the opportunity to get out on the water and was excited and nervous to have my first fishing experience. We headed off the coast and the skipper set me up with a fishing rod and some bait. To my great surprise and excitement, I caught a kingfish that day, and not a small one either! Shortly after catching the ‘kingy’ (as they’re nicknamed), I also caught two John Dories and a couple of decent Snapper. Not a bad first time fishing if you ask me!
While I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fishing enthusiast, it was an exhilarating experience that I would recommend to anyone looking to have an authentic and unique experience in New Zealand...and if you are a fishing enthusiast, you need to put Great Barrier Island on your list. It’s well known for being a sweet-spot to catch all kinds of amazing fish like Kingfish and John Dories.
My second highlight was a hike to the summit of Mt. Hobson, or Hirakimata, which is the highest point on Great Barrier Island. The summit is 621 metres high, and provides a stunning, panoramic view of the island. There are a number of ways to reach the top, but I took the path through Windy Canyon and Palmer’s Track. The Department of Conservation estimates that it can take roughly 2-3 hours each way and I won’t lie, there are a lot of stairs involved. That said, it was worth every step. The greenery and natural beauty of the hike was overwhelming.
It was a bit of a windy day the day that I did the walk up to the summit, and the clouds made it difficult to get a good photo of the landscape, however, it’s an amazing hike. There’s also the option to turn that particular walk into a multi-day endeavour, since that path to Mt. Hobson links up with other trails. If you’re into hiking, and particularly interested in doing multi-day excursions, The Department of Conservation website has a pretty thorough outline of the trails and the available resources.
I could write for days about my adventures on Great Barrier Island as well as tips for traveling there, but hopefully the tidbits I’ve shared in this article have grabbed your attention. There’s no doubt that Great Barrier Island is a slice of paradise, and one well worth the visit.
Marina is a freelance writer and adventure enthusiast from Kingston, Ontario. After graduating from Queen's University in June of 2016 (BA Hons., Philosophy) Marina decided that travel was calling her name. She set off to New Zealand in September and has been traveling and living all over the country since then. Following her time in New Zealand, Marina plans to continue exploring the world while pursuing her passions in photography and writing. She loves meeting new people wherever she goes and is eager to share her adventures via her blog, The Darling Adventure (marinajdarling.com).