So recently I went ‘off the grid’ to a beautiful island called Great Barrier (Aotea). 100 km north east of Auckland, the two main ways to get there are either flying or going for a 4.5 hour boat ride through a stretch of water that is often treacherous. We took the second option since it was cheaper, although I may pick the flying option next time. We went at the tail end of a storm, and going through 2-3 metre swells isn’t the nicest.
What’s on Great Barrier Island?
So what is Great Barrier Island? Not to be confused with the Great Barrier reef, it is a self-sustaining paradise island which also functions as a large conservation area containing many rare New Zealand birds that would be endangered elsewhere. It is popular for beaching and water related activities such as fishing, surfing, swimming etc, but there are also some beautiful hikes which you can do.
When you arrive on the island, you feel like you’ve taken a time machine a few decades back. What’s most striking is that no one is connected to a power grid; instead they either have personal power generators or they use solar panels and windmills to get their power. I am fortunate enough to share a holiday house with extended family there, but the house wasn’t in the greatest condition when we arrived. Let’s just say it was like camping but with a roof on our heads… lol. We had tank water but had to boil it before drinking. Because the water pump wasn’t working, it meant we had to fill lots of containers up with water before using it. Despite all this, my experience at The Barrier more than made up for it.
So what did I actually do there?
We stayed near a beach which I swam at every day. It was great to wind down and relax, which meant I did plenty of reading. Cell phone coverage was quite minimal so I stayed away from my phone. There was one day where we rented a car and did an intense walk up Mount Hobson, the views we got there were unlike anything else. My step dad doesn’t like hiking though, so he went fishing instead and caught some snapper. After the hike and a much needed swim, we had some of the fish for dinner and went to an Irish pub. Yum!
The hike up Mount Hobson – my highlight of the trip!
Mount Hobson is the highest point on the island, at 624 m. There are at least three different tracks to get to the summit, the one I did was the Palmer’s track. This involves taking some steep steps through Windy Canyon, then walking on an exposed undulating ridge. Near the top, you walk through native New Zealand forest, supposedly some of it is virgin forest in that it hasn’t ever been cut down. What a relief to finally get some shade. It took us about 2 hours to get to the summit, and probably 1.5 hours to walk back; the summer heat made things somewhat harder though. If you are into hiking and visit this island, you won’t regret doing this hike!
All in all I would say Great Barrier is an awesome place to ‘get away from it all’ for a while, especially if you love the outdoors. Living there would certainly not be for everyone though. I think the locals would prefer it that way too. After all, the self-sustaining lifestyle there also ensures the island remains what it is – a paradise.