Aotea – Great Barrier Island

aoteaGreat Barrier Island – Aotea (Māori) – is a large island of New Zealand with an area of 285 square kilometers, located 90 km north-east of central Auckland on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf. Arguably an island paradise, a pest-free haven for rare, native wildlife with secluded, pristine white sandy beaches and hot springs, dramatic landscapes and sheltered harbours. Rich in cultural and natural heritage, remote and rugged, and yet easily accessible by air and sea.

Captain James Cook named the island Great Barrier in 1769 for the shelter and protection it provides to the Gulf from storms and ocean surface waves that sweep off the Pacific. The exposed east coast boasts long, beautiful sandy beaches backed by tidal creeks and wetlands, while the west coast is all Pohutukawa-lined deep coves and bays. At its centre stands Mount Hobson (Hirakimata), about 621 meters above sea level.  0.1% of Auckland Region’s population or about 850 900 people live permanently in Great Barrier Island, giving a population density of 3 per square kilometre. More than 60 per cent of the island is public land, under the stewardship of the Department of Conservation; DOC maintains a large network of hiking tracks through the island, some of those are open to mountain biking. The biggest settlements are Tryphena and Claris to the south and Port FitzRoy and Okiwi to the north.

Aotea feels like a different world, it is one of the most unspoilt places in New Zealand and the type of international, eco-wilderness destination tourists and local residents dream of. Once you set foot on Aotea, you will not only find tranquillity and serenity, but the slower pace over here gives you ample time and distance to contemplate about the things in life that are important. You will escape the pressures of your ‘seemingly’ busy life. There are endless ways to explore this stunning adventurer’s paradise, like surfing, tramping, diving, fishing, kayaking and mountain biking to name a few.

Although we might not have everything you are used to, like reticulated power, street lighting or ATMs, the Island and its local people will most certainly make up for such urban short-comings.

How to get here:

Aotea is a 30 minute flight from Auckland. Two airlines provide multiple daily flights to and from the island all year round. For fares, timetables and bookings visit Great Barrier Airlines – they depart Auckland domestic airport and the North Shore airfield – and Fly My Sky.

Sealink provides all year round service from Auckland to Great Barrier Island for passengers and vehicles. Visit their website for fares, timetables and bookings.

Fullers ferries operate only during the peak seasons.

The best way to plan your return trip to Great Barrier Island is to combine air and sea travel.  This gives you the opportunity to truly enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Hauraki Gulf. Both airlines and Sealink offer such combination packages.


The Department of Conservation provides six public campsites and two huts.  Medlands, Awana, Harataonga and Whangapou campgrounds are located close to the east coast beaches. Akapoua campsite is in Port FitzRoy and The Green camp-site (foot access only) is near Whangaparapara. In addition, there is a vast amount of private accommodation, ranging from luxury lodges to backpackers. The following web sites have an extensive list of places to stay.

What you need to know

You must take into account that there is no reticulated water or electricity supply on the island. Every one lives off grid! There are no banks, no ATMs, no street lights, no public transport. You can buy all sorts of groceries, beverages, diesel, petrol, LPG, bait, fishing tackle and souvenirs on the island. EFTPOS and Credit Cards are accepted in most shops, but it is advisable to bring cash with you. You never know when you might need it. There is no mobile phone reception or Internet in many areas. Public toilets and phones are available throughout the island. Dogs are prohibited on all DOC administered public land. All open air fires are prohibited unless you have a permit from DOC. Permits are not required for gas-fuelled barbecues. There are rubbish and recycling pick-up points along the roads and wharfs. You cannot leave any rubbish at camp-sites.

Parts of the roads on the island are not sealed and all roads are narrow, steep and winding. Keep your holiday accident free by driving carefully and slowly, be considerate to pedestrians. Bring a torch, warm clothes, cash, patience, a good attitude and a bit of a plan of what you want to do here. Think green, do not litter, separate your rubbish and be considerate to the local people. GBI is very likely the most expensive place to live in New Zealand and it pays to bring a few supplies from town. It is essential to book your transport, accommodation and activities in advance as it can get very busy here during peak season. Take home lasting and beautiful memories, learn more about the simple things of life and leave only your footprints! Finally, tune in into Aotea FM 94.6 and 104.0 in the north, the best radio station in New Zealand. I retract that comment, they are starting to talk way too much on air…

Best time to visit

For most people the best time for holidays are during the warmer months of summer, during school holidays and long weekends like Easter for instance. Personally, I recommend you try not to visit GBI during these peak times because many tourists and holiday home owners in Auckland will be here as well; around Easter, Labour Weekend, Queen’s Birthday and Christmas.

This means that you will be paying a premium for all your activities over here and although you will always find seclusion on the island, you most certainly won’t find any at the ‘hot-spots’. Around New Years all DOC camp-sites will be fully packed (300+ people), whereas if you go camping in the middle of January you will be sharing the site with less than a handful of people. February, March and April are great times to be in New Zealand and on GBI for that matter, because the weather is usually quite stable, the water temperature is at its highest, the fishing is great and kids are back at school.

Around autumn and winter, the pace on the island slows down even more and when there is a high, day-time temperatures are still between 20-25 degrees Celsius, and you will feel like the only tourist on the island.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Wikipedia (Great Barrier Island)
  • Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf Marine Park brochure Department of Conservation, PO BOX 10420, The Terrace, Wellington, New Zealand – Download this brochure

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