Top 5 things to do on Aotea, Great Barrier Island

I live off the coast of Auckland on an Island that few have heard of, but it’s arguably one of New Zealand’s most pristine, beautiful spots: Aotea, known as Great Barrier Island. With a year-round population of about 1000 people, it’s seldom crowded here. What better place to come to escape the crowds and enjoy unplugging for a week. With limited mobile phone and internet coverage, you can be assured that coming here is truly a chance to disconnect from the world and enjoy the amazing adventures which await you on this Island paradise. Here are my top 5 picks of things to do when visiting Aotea.

Guest Blog by Phil Knowles

1. Surf

Known to hardcore surfers as one of the best surfing spots in the country, Great Barrier Island is truly an unspoiled paradise for those who like to go to the breaks with the fewest people. Whangapoua is known to few surfers, and the ones that do know about it, keep it a secret. Approximately 20 minutes from Orama lies one of the best right hand breaks in the country. Further afield is Awana. A short, steep breaking beach, it can be tumultuous, but a lot of fun, too! Grab your board, head to the Barrier and enjoy. Transport can be arranged daily from Orama.

2. Walk

Great Barrier Island is two thirds owned by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). As a result there are many well maintained and easily accessible walks throughout the Island.

The best for first time visitors in my opinion is the Mt Hobson (Hirakimata) walk. Accessible via the Kaiaraara walking track which runs from Port Fitzroy up and over the summit, and down to an exit via Windy Canyon or to the hot pools, exiting near Claris. There is a DOC hut located near the summit, the Mount Heel Hut. The hut is equipped with a kitchen, pots and pans, and a composting toilet. The views from the hut especially around sunset are stunning! This is a great overnight walk, but is achievable in one day depending on your fitness level. Bear in mind that there in a steep climb on a lot of stairs (over 1000!) and you will need to have a good degree of fitness to complete this. My advice would be to start from Windy Canyon and finish in Port Fitzroy, leaving the hot pools walk for another day.

My favourite walk, however, is the Harataonga. This is a gentle coastal walkway, is easily accessible for most people, and the views are stunning. There are many photo opportunities and if you’re really fit, you could even try running it! The DOC recommendation says that this will take between four and five hours to complete one way – it’s about 11.5 kms one way excluding the loop track. At about the 6km mark there’s a beautiful spot to have lunch. So strap on your day pack, take lots of water and some sandwiches, and head out to see the beautiful east coast of the island.

The hot pools are not to be missed on the island. The natural hot spring runs from it’s source to the Kaitoke Wetlands. The track is an easy walk and accessible for visitors of all fitness levels – you can even wheel a push chair to the hot pools. The walk will take approximately 45 minutes. Once at the hot pools there is a picnic table and a composting toilet nearby. The pools can be very hot depending on the last rainfall so do be careful! Never put your head under the water.

From Orama you can walk to Nimaru (Onewherō) Bay. A 40-50min walk to a beautiful sandy bay. The track from Orama starts off quite steep until you get to the top gate above the paddocks. Once at the top heading into the regenerating manuka forest the track evens out. Nimaru is signposted off to the left. If you continue up to the top of the track you’ll reach the lookout – unmissable if you’re staying with us! Beautiful views from the top. My advice: head to the lookout to catch the setting sun after spending the day at Nimaru Bay. You wont regret the extra effort on your way back to Orama.

3. Star Gaze

Great Barrier Island has been declared a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association. There are only 5 of these locations throughout the world – two in New Zealand: Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island. These sites are selected for their geographical remoteness and they are also generally protected by their nature reserves or cultural heritage, so they can’t be built out.

Orama runs Dark Sky Tours (weather and moon dependent) throughout the year, although arguably the best time year is the autumn and winter months. There are several other groups on the Island running tours as well should you be staying closer to Claris or Tryphena.

The night sky here is unparalleled, and given how accessible the Island is from Auckland this is a must do for anyone coming to New Zealand. The other Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world are in the USA and Chile – and far more challenging to get to, and have far less infrastructure. So pack your bags and bring your curiosity.

4. Kayaking

The Island is well known for it’s kayaking, and there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this awesome form of transportation. There are several spots inaccessible by any other form of transport but water. So kayaking is a great way to see these spots without having to try to find a boat!

Smokehouse bay, for example is near Port Fitzroy and is a beautiful spot to spend a day and a night. There is even a bath under which you can light a fire – and enjoy a warm soak with a cold beverage under the stars.

Another great spot is Kaikoura Island, approximately an hours kayak from Orama’s Karaka Bay. This is a fantastic spot and even more remote than the Barrier itself. Also the beautiful Rakitu Island is worth a visit if you fancy a more advance paddle.

5. Fishing

It’s well known to the locals, and to Aucklanders just how good the fishing is out here! With so few people living on the Island, the best spots are seldom crowed! You can buy all your gear through Scoff and Tackle, near the airport, in Claris. That includes all your bait, tackle, and ice requirements. You can also organise a charter through Scoff and Tackle, Hooked on Barrier, who will tailor an event just for you and your mates. If you’re more into just throwing a line off the rocks, there’s plenty of fish to catch that way, too. Grab your fishing rod and head on over.