Great Barrier Island … A World of Its Own

| February 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

Nothing but the wild outdoors, a tent, a long drop and cold showers for 5 days.

Does it sound like your idea of hell?

Not me, this was the Summer holiday I had been looking forward to… minimal mobile phone and no internet to boot.

Our destination?

Great Barrier Island.


The largest island off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island and the outermost island of the Hauraki Gulf. It is located 90 km North East of Auckland and is relatively undeveloped and is free from many of the animal pests that have damaged native flora and fauna elsewhere in New Zealand.

It was here that my family and I decided to spend our annual camping trip. This was my fourth trip to “the Barrier” and my husband has lost count of his visits as he goes there often with many students in tow to teach them about wetland and forest ecology. You could say we love it here. We certainly needed the break away from the modern world.

Quality family time. No distractions. (Unless you count the usual sibling dynamics at play in our fiesty offspring!)

To get there we took the slower of the two options. The car ferry from downtown Auckland. It is essentially a barge but if you are lucky enough to have calm waters it is quite pleasant and you might even be rewarded with a display of frivolity by the local marine life once you get out into the Gulf.

Note: it can be a little hairy reversing down a ramp with open sides to the water when you have a car laden with camping gear and no view out the back window and an audience.

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Once you arrive at Great Barrier Island it really does feel like a “world of its own”, maybe not a step back in time but certainly a step back from the rush of modern life. Once you are on dry land you are on “Barrier time”.

We were headed north to a little DOC (department of Conservation) hideaway called Harataonga Bay. The campsite is situated 300 metres from the beach, which is accessed by wading through two streams, and the only facilities are cold showers, long drops (toilet) and a small kitchen shelter with a single sink.

But it is well worth it…


There is no camping shoulder to shoulder here and when we arrived we had the pick of the whole site. We chose a spot situated in the bend of a little stream, which soon served as chiller for our beverages and chilly bin.


Once our little makeshift home was erected we were off to explore the camp and headed to the beach for a much needed dip. It was here we spent the majority of time over the following days… swimming, reading, playing, building dams, kayaking… it was glorious!

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When we weren’t at the beach we were hanging around the camp…

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And making friends with the rare Pateke. These little guys are noctural feeders and visited us once the sun went down every night. A real treat for bird lovers.


On our third day, for a change in the monotony of lazing around on the mostly deserted beach, we headed to the west coast of the island and Port FitzRoy, via the stunning Windy Canyon.

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At Port FitzRoy we met up with some friends who manage the Glenfern Sanctuary. Setup by the now deceased Tony Bouzaid, who was a champion yachtsman, the sanctuary is protected by a predator proof fence and is intensely managed and monitored. It provides a safe habitat for many endangered native species including the black petrel, brown teal, chevron skink and the recently re-introduced North Island Robin. Not currently open to the public we were lucky to get a guided tour by two of New Zealand’s leading ecologists… one of whom happens to be my husband and the other a local Barrier resident.

The boys got to climb to the top of the forest canapy via a large Kauri tree (Mum couldn’t watch!), hunt for cave Weta and eels and scare off all the local bird life!

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We finished off the day with a pub meal at the Port Fitzroy Boat Club and watched the sun go down over the harbour.

The next day was a little drizzly but still quite warm which was perfect for an easy walk through the bush to the Kaitoke Hot Springs… a little oasis in the wilderness.

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After five days of tent living we were running low on fresh food and supplies so we packed up and spent two nights with our friends who have retired to Awana on the east coast of the island. This beach was big surf and a little more excitement in the form of rock pools at low tide to explore.

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We had a marvelous 7 days on Great Barrier Island and I always marvel at the many varied environments there… from safe sheltered family friendly beaches to big wave action, boulder filled beaches over looked by ancient Pahs that are just around the corner from beautiful white sandy lagoons…


Not to mention the hot springs and amazing forests and then this on the way back to the ferry… beautiful Medlands Beach that stretches on and on!


You really must go. I am certainly planning on returning soon.

What idyllic places did you spend your Summer holidays at?
Are you happy with a long drop or do you demand a fully functioning toilet system while on holiday?

Accommodation on Great Barrier Island

There are lots of accommodation options available from luxury lodges, self-contained houses, hideaway cottages, bed and breakfast, cabins, budget backpackers AND camping. Plenty for all budgets.


One special property is Fitzroy House, and its little sister Glenfern Cottage, which are available for holiday rental accommodation, weddings and corporate functions. Built in 1901, Fitzroy House is the original homestead and is set within 230 ha pest fenced Glenfern Sanctuary. The historic buildings are positioned overlooking Pt FitzRoy and are set among mature gardens and lawns. They are located within Glenfern Sanctuary which is a fenced, pest controlled restoration project. Access is via the main road or by boat.

Fitzroy House and Glenfern Cottage are ideal holiday homes for those with a boat for fishing and exploring the harbour and coastline, as a base from which to explore the island on foot or by vehicle, or simply as a place to get away from it all and experience life at a slower pace.

Read some reviews, see their seasonal rates or contact them to make an enquiry or booking.


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