TREA­SURED IS­LAND

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - Annabel Wil­son

“E! Ka nukunuku; E! Ka nekeneke,” chants Ari, my two-year-old charge. We’re nav­i­gat­ing na­tive bush to­wards the peak be­hind his house in Windy Canyon, Great Bar­rier Is­land. Hik­ing through the rugged and re­mote land­scape the first in­hab­i­tants named Aotea, makes you want to burst into song. The lines from the lo­cal school haka mean­ing ‘ it is mov­ing, it is shift­ing’ are par­tic­u­larly apt.

BREAK­ING AWAY FROM the main­land at the end of the last ice age when vol­canic ac­tiv­ity caused sea lev­els to rise, Aotea sep­a­rated from what is now the Coro­man­del Penin­sula and be­came an is­land. To­day, the is­land's mana con­tin­ues to lie in its unique­ness and iso­la­tion. To stay on Great Bar­rier Is­land is to break away from con­ven­tion; a great es­cape from the rat-race into a slower way of life. On Aotea, there are no su­per­mar­kets, no banks, no ATMs, no street or traf­fic lights, no foot­paths, no main drainage, no retic­u­lated power, and lim­ited cell phone re­cep­tion. One of New Zealand's last great wilder­ness ar­eas, the place, known to res­i­dents as ‘GBI', pro­vides the ul­ti­mate back­drop for a sum­mer ad­ven­ture.

The op­por­tu­nity to stay on ‘ The Bar­rier' arose dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion over a beer. My mates Sam Rod­ney-Hud­son and Nick Walker have been liv­ing there six months a year for the past cou­ple of years with their two chil­dren, Ze­phyr and Ari. As Sam works on­line 20 hours a week, she men­tioned she could use a hand with the boys in ex­change for board and lodg­ing at Hi­witahi. Mean­ing ‘One Peak', their shared prop­erty is nes­tled in the coastal for­est near Okiwi to the north of the is­land. You could also say it's a con­ser­va­tion pro­ject, eco-re­treat, bak­ery and mi­cro­brew­ery. Liv­ing off the grid like the rest of the Bar­rier com­mu­nity, Sam and Nick work hard at a sus­tain­able life­style on their slice of par­adise

– DIY renovations, as­sist­ing for­est re­gen­er­a­tion, grow­ing and catch­ing their food, bak­ing their bread, mak­ing home­brew and manag­ing pest con­trol. A week with their fam­ily pro­vides an in­sight into the GBI ex­is­tence. As I soon dis­cov­ered, the home truths of life on The Bar­rier are linked to liv­ing in tune with na­ture while nur­tur­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly fu­ture.

Ninety kilo­me­tres north­east of down­town Auck­land, Aotea is ac­ces­si­ble by plane or boat. A 30-minute scenic flight to the is­land sets the tone for a fas­ci­nat­ing and in­spir­ing break. We fly quite low over the Hau­raki Gulf Marine Park, green vel­veteen islands and mar­bled blue wa­ter map­ping our way to­wards Great Bar­rier at its outer edge. Pro­tected for its nat­u­ral and cul­tural her­itage, the Marine Park ex­tends over an area of 1.2 mil­lion hectares of coast, ocean and islands. Named by Cap­tain Cook in 1769 for the shel­ter and pro­tec­tion it pro­vides, Great Bar­rier Is­land is the emer­ald amongst the

Gulf's trea­sure trove.

Aotea is the renowned, rich and re­source-laden an­ces­tral land of the Ngati Re­hua hapu of Ngati­wai, who live on the is­land to­day and can trace their undis­puted oc­cu­pa­tion back to the 17th cen­tury when chief Re­hua claimed mana whenua and mana moana over its land and sur­round­ing wa­ters. Its sig­nif­i­cance to Māori is cap­tured in the pepeha which dates to the early ar­rival of the Aotea ca­noe – Aotea whakahi­rahira, Aotea taonga maha, Aotea utan­ganui (Aotea the

is­land of renown, Aotea the is­land of many trea­sures, Aotea of the boun­ti­ful cargo). Said to be an im­por­tant stopoff point be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Poly­ne­sia, the ear­li­est set­tlers would have been at­tracted by its mild cli­mate and abun­dant food sup­ply. Ev­i­dence of early life on Aotea can be seen at sev­eral ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in­clud­ing pa, ter­raced farms, umu, mid­dens and stonework­ing sites, mostly found on the coast.

From the 1840s, Pakeha set­tlers also recog­nised the wealth of re­sources on Great Bar­rier, ex­ploit­ing the is­land's forests, min­er­als and mi­grat­ing whales off­shore. Thank­fully the days of plun­der are over and to­day two-thirds of the is­land are pub­licly owned and man­aged by the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. This means that the birds are com­ing back, the for­est is re­cov­er­ing and now lo­cals like Nick and Sam are fo­cused on pro­tect­ing Aotea's nat­u­ral riches. Ar­riv­ing at Claris air­port in his trusty ute, Nick col­lects me and my com­pan­ion, Sally. We stop at the shop for sup­plies and drop in on an­other Bar­rier lo­cal, Johnny, the ex-man­ager of Queen­stown's World bar, who is busy or­gan­is­ing a com­mu­nity event for New Year's Day. His part­ner in­forms us of the first of sev­eral is­land lessons we learn over the week; “Bar­rier peo­ple are re­luc­tant to throw any­thing away”. Their gar­den fea­tures some old farm ma­chin­ery the land­lord doesn't want to be re­moved, so they have in­stead in­cor­po­rated them into their sanc­tu­ary. Hun­dreds of na­tive seedlings are lined up in the nurs­ery, the veg­gie patch is flour­ish­ing, and a clus­ter of wheelie bins hooded with cor­ru­gated plas­tic col­lect rain­wa­ter in ad­di­tion to the large wa­ter tank be­side the house.

Here lies a glimpse into an­other Bar­ri­erism – wa­ter is pre­cious. The is­land's bio­di­ver­sity and hu­man ac­tiv­ity are all in­ter­con­nected with wa­ter. The nat­u­ral re­source of the sur­round­ing Pa­cific Ocean fos­ters a rich ecosys­tem and a play­ground for boat­ing, fish­ing, kayak­ing, div­ing, swim­ming and surf­ing. Aotea's golden beaches are backed with tidal creeks and wet­lands which host an ar­ray of en­demic seabirds. Dur­ing our es­cape, we spied the rare black pe­trel, New Zealand dotterel, North Is­land kaka, brown teal, banded rail, oys­ter­catcher, shin­ing cuckoo, wax­eye and were greeted morn­ing and night by Hi­witahi's res­i­dent tui.

Step­ping onto the cot­tage deck, the view in­stantly be­witched us. From its 300-me­tre perch, the prop­erty over­looks ver­dant val­leys tum­bling to­wards the sea with Rak­itu Is­land fram­ing the hori­zon. Path­ways into pri­mor­dial bush around the house have been carved by their neigh­bour Stu, en­tic­ing ex­plo­ration. Nick leads the way as we tra­verse his back­yard – a tan­gle of re­gen­er­at­ing coastal for­est. We weave be­low tow­er­ing punga, an­kles and faces brushed by soft ferns. Paus­ing to ad­mire a lush nikau grove, we bush­bash through dense sup­ple­jack and flow­er­ing kanuka un­til a small stand of 100-year-old kauri trees comes into view. It's sad­den­ing to learn that the is­land's thick kauri forests were logged with in­creas­ing in­ten­sity be­tween the 1880s and early 1930s. These days, many walk­ing tracks on Aotea fol­low old log­ging and milling tramway routes,

where logs es­ti­mated to con­tain over seven mil­lion feet of tim­ber were felled, slid into rivers, pro­cessed then rafted to the main­land. A few acres of orig­i­nal for­est sur­vive, and much is re­gen­er­at­ing like this lit­tle patch.

Un­for­tu­nately, now kauri face a new threat. The mys­te­ri­ous and in­cur­able dieback dis­ease can in­fect kauri roots and dam­age the tis­sues that carry nu­tri­ents to the trees, rot­ting the plant from the in­side out. There is no known treat­ment, and nearly all in­fected kauri die. For this rea­son, for­est users must be vig­i­lant about clean­ing all equip­ment that en­coun­ters soil be­fore and after leav­ing kauri forests. Many of the sites we visit over the week have clean­ing sta­tions at their en­trances where we du­ti­fully scrub and spray our gear. Writer Ger­maine Greer has con­tro­ver­sial views about the best way to com­bat dieback dis­ease, say­ing that the ‘check and clean' mea­sures are not enough and urg­ing New Zealand to close its last re­main­ing an­cient kauri stands to the pub­lic.

Back at the bach for our first is­land meal, we are in­tro­duced to our next Bar­ri­erism – the lo­cal cui­sine, which is out­stand­ing. We dine on what Sam nick­names ‘In­dian take­aways', a meal reg­u­larly whipped up by Dave from down the road. His spe­cial­ity is Spicy Rab­bit Curry – the meat be­ing the by-prod­uct of re­cent pest con­trol. Ac­com­pa­nied with pop­pad­ums and a jam jar of Nick's home­brew, the food tastes bet­ter be­cause we know its story. Fur­ther freshly caught and for­aged fare dur­ing our es­cape in­cluded slith­ers of paua, fire-baked tamura, cockle and pipi pasta, kina risotto, Viet­namese sum­mer rolls filled with snap­per, mint and co­rian­der, Wai­heke Is­land cof­fee (made daily on the ma­chine that uses up a fair pro­por­tion of Hi­witahi's so­lar power) and Sam's home­made toasted muesli. Dave of­ten pops in. He's an in­ter­est­ing Is­land char­ac­ter with plenty of Bar­ri­erisms and in­sights to share. Long­time Okiwi res­i­dent, he owns and man­ages Is­land Stay Lodge next door. His two sons join Sally and me on our first ac­tiv­ity as pseudo-nan­nies: an ex­plo­ration of Okiwi school and Whangapoua beach. Seven-year-old Ze­phyr is our tour guide as we check out the school, Te Kura O Okiwi. For many New Zealand kids, a visit to their school's play­ground is a com­pul­sory hol­i­day ac­tiv­ity, and there is much to dis­cover at this one. The out­door fa­cil­i­ties are well set up for the coun­try school's 33 pupils, com­pris­ing an ad­ven­ture play­ground, na­tive plant nurs­ery, chicken run, com­mu­nity swim­ming pool, play­ing courts and bar­be­cue. The school­child­ren are kaiti­aki (guardians) of the ad­ja­cent Okiwi Park, where they par­tic­i­pate in plant­ing projects and have crafted beau­ti­ful plaques in­form­ing vis­i­tors about the area's un­usual flora and fauna. Free of many of the in­tro­duced preda­tors now present on the main­land, Aotea has be­come a haven for many na­tive an­i­mals and plants. The chevron skink is found only here and on Lit­tle Bar­rier, and three plant species are en­demic to the is­land – the Great Bar­rier tree daisy, hebe shrubs, and pros­trate kanuka tree.

Later in the week, we re­turn to the park for the com­mu­nity Christ­mas pic­nic. Santa comes to visit, there's a

lolly scram­ble be­neath a ma­ture puriri tree, a sausage siz­zle, slack lin­ing, and beats crank­ing as lo­cals get to­gether to wel­come the fes­tive sea­son.

Our stay also co­in­cided with the ar­rival of the Fly­ing Car­pet – the yacht Sam and Nick co-own with mates. This happy event teaches us our next is­land les­son – hav­ing ac­cess to a boat on the Bar­rier is a no-brainer. On a blue-sky af­ter­noon, we boarded the Car­pet for a cheeky cider then caught the ten­der around the point to Sandy Bay. We basked on the café au lait-coloured shore and en­joyed the best as­pects of a Kiwi sum­mer – pok­ing about in rock pools, mak­ing drift­wood sculp­tures, sand­cas­tles and dams, sun­bathing, fish­ing, swim­ming, div­ing and los­ing track of time.

By now we've be­come well-versed in per­haps the most im­por­tant Bar­ri­erism – islands are for exploring. Aotea is New Zealand's fourth-largest land­mass, yet re­mains undis­cov­ered by most Ki­wis. More than a buck­etlist des­ti­na­tion, those who make the trip soon re­alise one stint isn't enough. Seven days pro­vided scope to sam­ple some of the is­land's ex­ten­sive net­work of tracks through forested ranges and spec­tac­u­lar coast­lines, leav­ing us hun­gry for more.

On our last day, we took the pram­friendly walk to Kaitoke Hot Springs. Start­ing from Whanga­para­para Road in­land from Claris, the path fol­lows an an­cient shore­line through wet­lands and kanuka for­est. We hear the calls of fern­birds and a spot­less crake, and the youngest in our party breaks into his tramp­ing re­frain: “E! Ka nukunuku; E! Ka nekeneke…” Forty-five min­utes later we find the hot pools. Dammed at a fork in Kaitoke Creek, the se­ries of sul­phurous springs vary in depth and tem­per­a­ture. It's worth dip­ping a toe in each, Goldilocks style un­til you find the pool that is just right. Sur­rounded by del­i­cate um­brella fern, the deep­est pool a quick scram­ble up­river is our pre­ferred spot. We wal­low like the Swiss Fam­ily Robin­son in the warm wa­ters Māori war­riors used to re­ju­ve­nate in after bat­tle. Said to have heal­ing prop­er­ties, the wa­ter cer­tainly leaves the skin feel­ing soft and the mind re­set. After a taster of life on Aotea, my thoughts hover around how to man­i­fest my next stretch there. Now I've learnt the Bar­rier ways, I'm work­ing on a longer-term stay. As the words of

Ari's lyrics pro­pose, hope­fully, this will hap­pen soon. “Mov­ing grad­u­ally, mov­ing swiftly,” he sings in te reo.

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