Mini-break Magic

Look­ing for un­touched wilder­ness and rugged beauty? For the ul­ti­mate get­away move off the grid and head to Great Bar­rier Is­land

Good - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy Melissa Gardi

Es­cape to your is­land par­adise

A bout 90 kilo­me­tres north­east of down­town Auck­land lies an un­touched par­adise – a place where you’re bound to find a beach to call your own. A place that em­bod­ies good ol’ Kiwi hos­pi­tal­ity in its truest form, where peo­ple take time to say hello to one an­other. A place where cell­phone cov­er­age is limited and where much of the is­land runs on so­lar power or gen­er­a­tors. It doesn’t mat­ter – you don’t come to Great Bar­rier Is­land to watch TV or hit the clubs. Here, fast food and malls aren’t part of the itin­er­ary, in­stead it’s about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a nat­u­ral won­der­land in all its glory.

Pack your walk­ing shoes as Bar­rier is a play­ground ripe for ex­plor­ing. With more than 20 trails cov­er­ing 100 kilo­me­tres of na­tive for­est there’s a track for ev­ery fit­ness level, and even the most ba­sic af­fords in­cred­i­ble scenic views. One must-visit? The Kaitoke ther­mal pools that take an hour to reach on foot. An­other to ex­plore is the 30-minute War­ren Track. Af­ter a gen­tle climb through a kauri plan­ta­tion near Port Fitzroy, head to­wards War­rens Wa­ter­fall, cool­ing off at the swimming holes along the way. If you’re up for the ul­ti­mate eco-ad­ven­ture, take the three-hour as­cent to Mt Hob­son on the South Fork Track, where the panoramic views of the Hau­raki Gulf are breath­tak­ing.

Once you work up an ap­petite head to one of the lo­cal eater­ies, but be­ware of the var­ied open­ing hours. Af­ter a big day of be­ing a beach bum, treat your­self to one of the mouth­wa­ter­ing cre­ations at the Burger Shack in Claris or head to Cur­rach Ir­ish Pub in Tryphena for some live mu­sic and a pint.

Be­sides the best cof­fee and car­rot cake on the is­land, Hooked on Bar­rier (hooke­donbar­rier.co.nz) boasts some of the best wa­ter ac­tiv­i­ties around: if catch­ing a king­fish is at the top of your bucket list, book a half- or full-day fish­ing char­ter. The West Coast Sight­see­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is an all-rounder, cater­ing both to the keen fish­er­man and those who pre­fer to sit back and watch. De­part­ing in the morn­ing, the four-hour boat tour in­cludes a bar­be­cue lunch while you voy­age past sub­lime bush-clad moun­tains, and through Bro­ken

Is­lands and Man O’War pas­sage. You’ll see nest­ing gan­net colonies and glide through dol­phin and whale ter­ri­tory – be ready to jump off the deck and join a pod for a swim.

One of the best things about Bar­rier is the va­ri­ety of ac­com­mo­da­tion, par­tic­u­larly the baches, which you can rent year-round through book­abach.co.nz or is­landac­com­mo­da­tion.co.nz. There are more than a dozen camp­grounds, from the sea­side splen­dour of Haro­taonga Bay DOC Camp­ground to the pri­vate, shel­tered camp­sites and chalet at Kaitoke’s Su­gar­loaf. As Bar­rier is pos­sum-free, you’ll find species that are rare on the main­land, such as brown teal ducks, Kaka par­rots and lit­tle blue pen­guins.

If per­sonal ser­vice, in­clud­ing meals and house­keep­ing, sounds more like you, book a room at Great Bar­rier Lodge (great­bar­ri­er­lodge.co.nz). Set on the pris­tine Whanga­para­para Har­bour, each of the 11 rooms are decked out in na­tive tim­ber. At the front of the lodge sits a ve­ran­dah where guests min­gle as they re­lax into hol­i­day mode: read­ing books, sip­ping a glass of wine, of­ten trans­fixed by the idyl­lic views and abun­dant bird life. Suss out the en­chant­ing coves and in­lets on a kayak or pad­dle­board, or rent a moun­tain bike and zig-zag along the rugged coast­lines.

You re­ally can’t ex­pe­ri­ence any­thing bet­ter than the di­ver­sity of beaches on Bar­rier – there’s no rea­son to stick to just one. From the wild north­ern tip of Whangapoua and Palmers Beach to the calm bays of Tryphena, you’re bound to find your very own stretch of coast­line – ev­ery day of­fers a new dis­cov­ery, from snorkelling for paua off the in­trepid rocky sur­rounds of Cape Bar­rier to play­ing a game of hide-and-seek in the tus­sock-cov­ered dunes at Kaitoke.

Bar­rier’s a siren call for surfers, with plenty of hotspots that beckon. Only a short walk over sand­banks from Okiwi Air­field, you’ll reach world-class surf­ing mecca Okiwi Bar, iconic for its waves, big and small. If you’re just find­ing your bal­ance, sign up for a les­son at Aotea Surf School (aotea­surf­school.com) in Med­lands. Neigh­bour­ing com­mu­nity Claris is worth a visit as it’s one of the Bar­rier’s hubs. And if you want to get up to scruff with lo­cal knowl­edge, a gold coin do­na­tion gains you ac­cess to the Milk, Honey and Grain Mu­seum.

Cre­ativ­ity thrives on the is­land, as you’ll dis­cover at the GBI Com­mu­nity Art Gallery. Paint­ings that de­pict the lo­cal rugged beauty are sold along­side sculp­tures, jewellery and lo­cally pro­duced good­ies, from or­ganic soap and beauty creams to chut­ney and honey. Great Bar­rier was the first place in New Zealand to cul­ti­vate honey, so it’s safe to say lo­cals have got it down to a fine art.

Carry on the arty vibe by fol­low­ing the Art Dis­cov­ery Trail to Schooner Bay’s Black Cow Gallery for wood­works, and Tryphena’s Top of the Rock gallery to view pho­tog­ra­phy. At Shoal Bay Pot­tery you’ll be tempted to find space in your suit­case for a beloved trea­sure or two – your mind and heart will al­ready be jammed full.

"As Bar­rier is pos­sum-free, you'll find species that are rare on the main­land, such as brown teal ducks"

The best way to get to Great Bar­rier is via SeaLink, which of­fers a two-hour fast ferry, or four-and-a-half-hour car ferry; the lat­ter be­ing the bet­ter choice if you’re plan­ning on bring­ing plenty of gear. Both ar­rive at Tryphena, a charm­ing en­clave at the is­land’s south­ern end.

Great Bar­rier Is­land Four-and-a-half-hour car ferry, or two-hour foot pas­sen­ger ferry from down­town Auck­land

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