Great Barrier Island is just 90 km from Auckland, but it feels like much, much further away. The island, known as Aotea in Maori, is the largest and most remote in the Harauki Gulf, and acts as a breakwater from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a lush and rugged place, sparsely populated, with a frontier feel and a leisurely island pace. Great Barrier was the setting for the BBC reality series Castaway in 2007, which should give you some idea of how wild parts of the island are; yet it’s only 4½hrs by ferry from downtown Auckland, or a half-hour flight.
Great Barrier Island is a great place for bush walks and bird-watching. There’s a lack of predatory species on the island, particularly possums, allowing flora to flourish and many otherwise endangered bird species, like the kaka, to thrive. In guidebook-speak, there’s a truly unspoiled beauty here.
Plan and pack accordingly if you’re going to visit. For one thing, bring cash – there are no ATMs on Great Barrier Island, although an increasing number of places accept credit or debit cards. All electricity is self-generated on the island as well, so a torch is a good idea, as generators generally shut down at night and there aren’t exactly any streetlights around. Mobile phone coverage is limited as well.
This is definitely one of the more interesting and unique destinations in New Zealand, with a real worlds-away feel.
Coming and going
Most travellers visit Great Barrier Island by ferry from Auckland, but there are also frequent reasonably priced flights that are ideal if you want to save time.
Great Barrier is a big island and most travellers find they need to rent a car to really explore the island.
Go Great Barrier Island operate a bus service that meets ferries at Tryphena Wharf and flights at Claris; although this is run like a taxi where you pay more if you're the only passenger on board.
Allow plenty of time to drive around the island, as it is bigger than most people realise and the 35km/h speed limit and narrow winding roads mean that it can take a long time to get anywhere.
If you're not sure whether you'd rather fly or take the ferry, it is possible to buy a ticket for $180 that includes ferry transport to the island and a flight (on Fly My Sky) back to Auckland (or vice-versa).
Eating and drinking
Great Barrier Island doesn't have a wealth of cheap eating options for backpackers. Many of the restaurants on the island are connected to the nicer resorts.
Seafood is fresh across the island, and you'll find most restaurants offering the same specials on the same day depending on the day's catch.
Be warned, though, eating out is generally much more expensive than on the mainland. You may want to heed the advice of one hostel manager: “I tell people to bring their own food”.