Whangaparapara Harbour, Great Barrier
In New Zealand we may not be able to provide the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, or the vast wilderness you’d find in Yosemite. We have no bears, coyotes, bison, or alligators, no rattle-snakes, or cobras; in fact no snakes at all. We can hike through our native reserves unworried by strange rustlings or rattles, knowing that the only thing that’ll eat us is a sandfly (and they’re not deadly). Most tourists head south to the ski-fields and fiords, and it is terrific down there, don’t get me wrong, but it is wise not to forget the north, as here you’ll find hundreds of splendid beaches and islands you may never have heard of before.
Great Barrier Island is a little off the beaten track. From Auckland, you can take a freight ferry (five hours), or spend thirty minutes in a (very) small plane. Just four of us (counting the pilot) in the seats, and behind us stacks of freight. We might have been albatross surfing the cirrus, checking out the best islands in the Hauraki Gulf, oohing and aahing as we swooped and hovered over – Rangitoto, Waiheke, Kawau and Little Barrier, which sits close to its larger namesake, and landed safely on the Great Barrier runway. A short wait, to collect all the family members who arrived by ferry, and on the next flight. We jumped aboard our people-movers, keen to reach Whangaparapara in time to sort out our rooms and relax at Great Barrier Lodge.
What a good choice the lodge turned out to be for our loud and boisterous bunch. Most of the rooms opened to wide decks and sea views. A great place to slurp our coffees in the morning and sup a wine (or three) at night, in calling range of the family ‘chefs’, who cooked on the barbecues on the decking at the rear. We didn’t imbibe too much that first night, as most of the group were walking the Aotea track the next day. The weather was forecast to close in, so the vote was, that they’d just do one overnight stay, making the trek a little shorter.
Because of my knees, I opted to hang around the lodge drawing, and to take shorter walks nearby. Seventy percent of Great Barrier is a protected Conservation Park. The nikau, rimu and kauri are thriving, since the milling stopped and re-planting of natives began. I passed through stands of native trees and happened upon massive crumbling stone walls, remains of the ore-crushing battery. The island may be rugged and mountainous, but it not just a haven for trampers and bikers; it truly is a place for anyone wanting an experience of an uncrowded natural slice of New Zealand. People can explore the reserves, discover history, kayak, fish, or – just hang out.
However, I did walk into the end of the trail to meet the wanderers next morning, and found the group munching sandwiches, and soaking in the warm pools at Kaitoke Springs, jackets hung out to dry. They were jubilant, apart from aching muscles and the odd blister. They’d trekked up steep grades and along ridge lines, where they viewed the coast through curtains of mist, and rain. It added to the ambience, they said, and gave their photos a different dynamic.
The sun spiked through the clouds at breakfast the next morning and a decision was made. We would drive to the northern beaches that day. From the valley floor we wound higher, with tantalising peeks of water between the hills as we neared the coast. “Wow” was the consensus of opinion when we pulled over to take photos. While some of the group went charter fishing, three of us chose a trip to Okupu Beach the next day. The sun was out, and people were swimming. And what did we spot, but dolphins just beyond the breakers? My niece, a strong swimmer, plunged in like a professional. As she neared the dolphins, she treaded water. I waded in the warm shallows watching the dolphins move further up the bay. A sunbathe, a bite to eat, and a dawdle up the road at the appointed hour for pick up. We all agreed it was a tough job whiling away a day.
We ended the evening with fine food and (perhaps) too much wine. It was the perfect finish to a wonderful holiday. Thank you Great Barrier. Until next time – haere rā.