When it comes to unadulterated outdoors and authentic wildlife experiences, New Zealand over delivers: here is No. 42 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
If you like beaches, bush, birdlife and the idea of being stranded in paradise, then Great Barrier Island/Āotea, off the Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau coast, will float your boat. The largest of 50 or so islands dotted throughout the Hauraki Gulf, a marine park covering 1.2 million hectares, it is also the furthest one from the city, with the 90-kilometre journey there taking 4.5 hours by ferry or 30 minutes by air. Once you arrive you’re literally off the grid with the island running almost entirely on solar power and sustaining itself on collected freshwater.
Great Barrier Island is a nature-lover’s paradise, with more than half its land area designated as conservation reserve. On the eastern shore, the Pacific Ocean rolls in to meet long, white surf beaches backed by high cliffs, while the western side is fringed with deep, sheltered harbours and calm, sandy bays. As for activities, the pristine natural playground offers up hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, diving, fishing and surfing. Its designation as a Dark Sky Sanctuary means spectacular stargazing is also on the cards.
A series of walking tracks highlights the island’s beauty, biodiversity, and fascinating human history. The Department of Conservation’s Great Barrier Island/ Āotea walking booklet details the options. The popular Kaitoke Hot Springs Track is a must-do for its gorgeous natural spring (be sure to pack your swimsuit), while Windy Canyon and the track onward to the summit of Hirakimatā/ Mt Hobson (627 metres), where you can gaze out to 360-degree views across the Hauraki Gulf, is another popular option.
Great Barrier Island is home to about 1000 people, many of whom live in the small settlement of Tryphena. There are shops and cafes here, with more visitor amenities dotted across the island. Accommodation options on island range from simple nature campsites and a couple of Department of Conservation huts to holiday rentals, motels and upmarket lodges.