By Rob McFarland.
Despite being the largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier, about 100 kilometres from Auckland, has a lower profile than some of its more glamorous neighbours (we’re looking at you, Waiheke). Much of that is due to its remoteness but it’s also a conscious decision on the part of its 940-odd residents. Many have relocated to Aotea (the Māori name for the island) to enjoy a simpler, slower way of life and savour its natural beauty.
More than 60 per cent of the island’s
285 square kilometres is protected, making it ideal for birdwatchers and bushwalkers (there are more than 100 kilometres of trails).
But the real drawcard is the beaches. Along the west coast are family-friendly sheltered bays such as Pa Beach, while on the east coast there are stunning surf beaches, including Medlands, Awana and Whangapoua. Even in summer, you’ll often have them to yourself.
Last year the island was designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary because of its low light pollution and clear skies. Good Heavens Dark Sky Tours takes you to the best vantage points for stargazing and provides equipment and guidance.
Despite Great Barrier’s pioneering spirit (there’s no mains electricity or town water), it does have some upscale accommodation. EarthSong Lodge, a three-suite property with an excellent restaurant, is the pick of the bunch. Trillium Lodge, with its unparalleled water views from a pocket of grassland among five hectares of bush, is also worth checking out.
Most of the island’s cafés and restaurants are clustered around Tryphena and Claris. Pa Beach Cafe (87 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena; +64 9 429 0905) is a good bet for lunch, while The Currach Irish Pub serves decent pub grub. But don’t come here expecting gourmet cuisine; visit instead for a slice of yesteryear in this unspoilt wilderness with rustic charm.
SEE ALSO: The Food Lover’s Guide to Waiheke Island