New Zealand Walk: Get into hot water on Great Barrier Island
I’m a walker, not a tramper. So the 100kms of tracks that serious trampers tackle on Great Barrier Island, are not for me. But the island has magical walks as well, I discovered last summer.
Our group of Tranzit Tours – seniors all, a few in their 80s -- enjoyed two particular walks, both taking nearly an hour, at a relaxed pace. One leads to some natural hot thermal pools in the bush, another is in Glenfern Sanctuary, a predator-controlled regenerating native forest. And, of course, we walked along some of the island’s long curving beaches – Medlands Beach, my favorite.
It was pure magic to walk through bush on an easy, flattish walk to the natural hot springs. Steve Billingham,
from Go Great Barrier Island, drops us off at the start of the Kaitoke Hot Springs Walk, about halfway along Whangaparapara Road which joins the eastern and western sides of the island. Les Cockeram of Tranzit Tours leads us along an easy gravelled track which soon crosses a bridge over the Kaitoke Stream. Here we’re surrounded by magnificent nikau palms with great arching fronds.
The nikau give way to regenerating forest, mainly ponga, manuka and kanuka. The giant kauri that were once prolific on the island were felled en masse in early pioneering days and exported around the world. Only in the north of the island remnants of intact kauri forest remain. An enormous amount of kauri planting has gone on in Great Barrier and it is encouraging to pick out a few of these young kauri as we walk along.
Still on an easy level track, we are soon walking through the extensive Kaitoke swamp. This is a large unmodified freshwater wetland of manuka and fern. We keep an eye out for the pateke brown teal, banded rail and fern bird. I don’t manage to spot them on this walk but we see the teal and rail later, in other parts of the island.
More regenerating bush, a welcome long-drop loo beside the track, another corner and we reach the greenish-grey waters of the pools in their natural surroundings. And natural means natural – the hot pools have nothing artificial about them. No concrete steps or sides. We change into togs in the bush – females to the right, males to the left. Then I step over some rocks and slowly sink into hot water. Bliss.
The pool is just deep enough to sit or recline. The hot springs provide evidence of the geothermal activity that began to produce minerals like copper and silver on Great Barrier Island five million years ago. The spring water is from a deep groundwater reservoir and contains leached chemicals from volcanic rocks. It’s doing you good – you can feel it.
We walk back on the same track in two’s and three’s. I’m lucky to be walking with Steve who is a mine of information on – well, everything islandrelated. He shows me how a friend of his makes the bowl of fallen nikau into
Left: We cross the Kaitoke Stream.
Above: A tribute to Tony Bouzaid, founder of Glenfern Sanctuary. The hotwater springs walk starts halfway along the Whangaparapara Road while the Glenfern Sanctuary walk is on the northern side of Port Fitzroy Harbour.