Great Barrier Island – the largest populated island off New Zealand’s North Island – is a slice of island paradise with its rugged beauty and untouched wilderness.
While it’s only a short scenic flight or a four-hour ferry ride north from Auckland, the island is a world away from city lights – indeed, it’s also the world’s only island with International Dark Sky Sanctuary status. With a small population mostly living off the grid, the island benefits from minimal light pollution that allows for perfect stargazing.
Great Barrier Island or Aotea, as it is known to local Māori, lies in the blue waters of the Hauraki Gulf which is famed for prolific wildlife and recreational fishing, The island's tranquil and unspoiled landscape is characterised by unpeopled golden beaches, crystal-clear waters and ancient native forests.
Aside from the natural environment, the other great holiday attraction is the gentle pace of life. Great Barrier is somewhere to escape the stress and pressure of daily life, to step back and enjoy a carefree environment where welcoming locals still have time to stop and chat. Couple this legendary ‘island-time’ with narrow roads – designed, as they say, for slower speeds so you can wave to passing cars – and the range of adventures to choose from, and you’ll find no need to race.
Visitors arriving by plane touchdown in Claris which is a short drive to the beautiful Kaitoke and Medland beaches. Claris is also home to the Great Barrier Island Golf Club, completely maintained by volunteer members.
The island has a rich history and there are still families living there who trace their roots back to the earliest settlements. These people built and survived on industries based around mining, kauri milling and whaling, leading to the development of several settlements on the island.
These days, the island is a ‘treasure Island’—a haven for an incredible variety of native flora and fauna. On the land and in the sea around the island, all wildlife and marine mammals are fully protected.
More than half of Great Barrier Island is public land managed by the Department of Conservation (DoC) which exists to conserve New Zealand's natural and historic heritage for all to enjoy, now and in the future. All plants, animals and historic features on conservation lands are protected. People may camp only where permitted, and no dogs or other animals are allowed in conservation areas.
From walking through native forest to sea kayaking around the coves and inlets of the island’s coast, there are multiple ways to explore this adventurer’s paradise.
Great Barrier has numerous trails for all levels of fitness from walks through pristine lowland bush and regenerating coastal forest to hiking the multi-day Aotea Track or mountain biking the hills. Forest trails lead to swimming holes, waterfalls, old kauri dams and secluded hot springs - soak your cares away at the end of the one-hour walk to Kaitoke Hot Springs.
Mt Hobson (Hirakimata) rises 621m in the centre of the island, and there are many other natural and historic features to explore.
The clear waters surrounding Great Barrier Island are ideal for swimming, diving and snorkelling, while the eastern beaches deliver some of the best surf in the country. Charter a fishing boat, join a heli-fishing tour to find the best fishing spots around the island or explore the beautiful bays by kayak.