We spent 3 days on Great Barrier Island and had the best time! Like I said in my last post, the island doesn’t have electricity or a lot of services, so our idea was that it would be a relaxing start to the trip. We didn’t plan much in advance and ended up having a great time exploring around the island.
We stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast, Mulberry Grove Retreat, and our host Michelle was the nicest! She made us a big breakfast every morning and we enjoyed sitting on her deck and watching all the wildlife running around. Seth is in biologist heaven. There are birds everywhere and they’re not hard to spot or identify. Our B&B had a bunch of rabbits and even an eel who hangs out in the stream that runs through.
We did a mix of hiking and beaches on the island. There’s literally nowhere you can go that isnt incredibly scenic. We set my gopro up on the dash thr first day and were constantly filming because every stretch of road is interesting. Theres a lot of diversity on the island, from rolling hills, to forested mountains, to green meadows, and miles of golden sand beaches. It was sunny when we arrived, so we did a quick jaunt down to one of the nearby beaches and then had a seafood dinner along the waterfront.
It was overcast and a little chilly on our first day, so we decided to start with a hike up Mount Hobson, the highest mountain on the island and part of the Aotea Track, which takes about 3 days to complete from hut to hut. We didn’t overnight it, but instead hiked 3km along Palmers Track, past Windy Canyon. The Canyon was pretty interesting because it has a lot of really neat geological formations, but the highlight of the track was definitely hiking along the ridge on the way to Mount Hobson. You’re surrounded by miles of mountain wilderness and you can see all the way down to the beaches and ocean on two sides. It ended up being cloudy at the too of the mountain and we didnt actually get the view from the summit, but it didnt bother us at all because the rest of the hike had been so scenic anyways.
Despite its beauty, every place has it’s own challenges and on Great Barrier Island its Kauri Dieback Disease. It’s a soil borne disease that is killing a lot of their native Kauri trees. It’s obvious that conservation is very important to New Zealand, so the department of conservation was out education about the disease at the entrance to Mount Hobson and every track we did have a scrub brush and water hose to clean off your boots before and after ever hike to try and avoid transporting the disease around.
We saw about 8 other people on the Mount Hobson hike, so it was the busiest attraction we visited. The thing that amazes me most about the island is just how unpopulated it is. Theres not very many people living there and there were limited tourists when we visited. I think it gets busier after Christmas when New Zealanders are on summer holiday, but most of the time it felt like we had the island to ourselves. At every other beach or hike we went on, we were almost always the only ones there. It made for a very relaxing a memorable start to the trip. Everything about the island was idyllic, except maybe the cost of living. Meals were expensive and petrol was a whopping $3.32 a litre!
It ended up being super humid on the hike, so we were anxious to hit the beach when we finally finished. We decided on Whangapoua Beach, which is located about 10km down a gravel road. It was probably my favourite drive on the island because it’s all rolling green hills and farmland and it just reminded me so much of the shire and exactly what I thought New Zealand would look like. Plus theres something so peaceful about driving through the countryside with your windows down and the wind on your face.
But if it was my favourite drive, it was definitely also my favourite beach. Its about a 3km long beach with golden sands and sand dunes and hills at the back. The tide was out, so it felt like the beach went on forever. And we were the only ones there. Theres tons of shorebirds living on the beach, so Seth was in his glee watching the oystercatchers hunt for clams and I had a great time playing around in the water. It is pretty wavy at a lot of the beaches, so it wasnt great for swimming, but the water was still warm and I had fun in the smaller waves and just chilling in the shallows.
We finished the day off with some stargazing in the field behind our B&B. The entire island is a dark sky reserve, so the stargazing is supposed to be incredible. We had gotten up in the middle of the night on our first night to search for stars, but it was just after the full moon and the moonlight was so bright it was hard to actually see the stars. So on our second night we went out as soon as it got dark and got about an hour of stargazing in before it started to peak out. We couldn’t find the milky way, but we had a great view of Orion and caught a few shooting stars.
Our second day was another mix of activities. We went beach hopping in the morning to several more gorgeous, deserted beaches, and then did some more hiking in the afternoon. We started with Kaitoke hot springs, which is a hot river with several pools built along it. For a hot spring, it’s quite large, but of course, we had it all to ourselves. It definitely was a different experience from all the hot springs I’ve visited in BC. There you have the opposite experience, with 50 people all trying to share 1 tiny hot spring.
We also did a short hike into Kauri Falls. The waterfall itself was a little underwhelming (although we still went for a quick swim), but I actually really liked the hike there, which was a long this grassy only tramline track from back during the islands short-lived Kauri logging operation. We finished the day with supper in Whangaparapara with a gorgeous view of the little harbour.
On our last day we did one more walk to the Whaler’s Lookout at the far southern point of the island, which had great ocean views. We liked that almost every hike we did seemed to have different flora and a different view. So we ended up loving our time on Great Barrier Island and I’m so thrilled we went. I almost scrapped it from my crowded itinerary, but I’m so glad I decided it was worth visiting. Now were off to Queenstown on the South Island for the next part of our adventure!