GREAT BARRIER ISLAND
Whether you choose to take a flight from Auckland, a helicopter, a fast ferry or a seaplane, Great Barrier Island is definitely a ‘must do’ travel experience while you are in the area.
Lying on the outer Hauraki Gulf, it is 100 kilometres north-east of central Auckland and at 285 square metres, in area, it is the sixthlargest island in the country. The eastern coast of the island includes long, beautiful shorelines with windswept sand-dunes and azure blue water lapping at the beaches. The west coast, however includes hundreds of tiny bays with some of the best diving spots in the country. The mainland includes a variety of wetlands and rugged hill country. It is named the “great barrier” because it protects the gulf from the currents of the South Pacific Gyre.
Renowned for being similar to how New Zealand was over thirty years ago, the light pollution that you might find in a big city is not an issue, so many star gazers enjoy the starry night sky, in fact the island was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2017 - joining only two other locations in the world at the time.
LITTLE BARRIER ISLAND
Little Barrier Island, or Te Hauturu o Toi, which is translated in English to mean the resting place of the wind is only a hop, skip and a jump from the Great Barrier Island, unlike the bigger island, however, it is not as easy to access, with entry only available via permit and the island is only open to the public on weekdays. The only part of the island that is open is the area around The Maraeroa and up to five tracks and only 20 visitors are allowed on the island per day. The reason for the strict regulations is because the island can be classified in the gold standard for predator free islands, with approximately 40 species of rare or endangered birds, 14 reptile and two bat species, as well as over 400 native plants. The hihi or stitchbird can also be found on the island - a huge success story as it would have been extinct if it wasn’t for the conservation efforts that have taken place here. In the ocean a variety of mammals can be found including the Bryde’s whale, Orca, Bottlenose dolphin and Blue Whale and Southern Right Whale, which both rest in the area around the island during migration. In fact, there has even been reports that a Southern Right Whale may have calved near the island. While the island was inhabited from between 1350 and 1650 by descendents of Toi te Huatahi, followed by Tainui who were then conquered by the Ngāti Wai, the British Crown attempted to by the island in 1881, in order to turn it into a nature reserve. Although the sale fell through, the island was purchased through an Act of Parliament in 1894, leaving those who were left on the island to be evicted by force. In 2011, the crown settled treaty claims with local iwi, Hauturu, who in turn, gifted the island back to New Zealand.
GREAT MERCURY ISLAND
Travel further down the coast and you will find a group of seven islands off the northeast coast, eight kilometres from the Coromandel Peninsula and 35 kilometres northeast of Whitianga. The largest and only inhabited island is Great Mercury Island (or Ahuahu). Red Mercury Island (Whakau) is situated in the east and then there are five smaller islands between the two bigger ones; Korapuki, Green, Middle (Atiu), Stanley (Kawhitu) and Double (Moturehu). Great Mercury Island is what remains of a Pliocene rhyolitic volcano, which means the explosion would have taken place 5.333 million to 2.58 million years ago. The island is owned by Michael Fay and David Richwhite and features two luxury homes, that can be hired out for over $20,000 per day. Celebrities including Bono, from Irish band U2 and guitarist The Edge, have stayed on the island, but the environment is still pristine, with the island owners spending $750,000, to make the island pest free (the same amount that the Department of Conservation spends). As of 2016, it was announced that the group of islands were now pest free. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to stay at the pricey villas on the main island, you can choose to sleep in one of the 16 different sleeping areas as well as enjoy food prepared by your own chef.
A bit further down south from ‘Shoe Island’, it looks like there is a bit of a theme when it comes to island naming in this region. The island, which is known as Whakahau, in Maori, is located three kilometres east of the Coromandel Peninsula and was home to eight pa sites, when it was inhabited by New Zealand’s first Maori colonisers around 1300 AD. By the late 1800s, the land was used for farming and by the 1970s, the island was utilised as a resort by the owners at the time, the Needham family. Since the island was purchased by a developer, it has been subdivided and the show Grand Designs New Zealand featured the building of a new house on the land. 95 percent of the island is now a resort, with a variety of accommodation options including glamping tents and chalets.
For those in need of a diving adventure, Mayor Island is the place to go. The dormant shield volcano (a volcano which sends out fluid lava flows that resemble a warrior's shield laying on the ground).
The island lies approximately 35 kilometres out from Tauranga and is believed to have risen from the sea around 7,000 years ago. Thanks to its volcanic nature, it has a variety of hot springs and two small crater lakes - Green and Black lake. Another bi-product of its volcanic history is the presence of black obsidian, a glass which has been created by the rapid cooling of lava during volcanic activity. The island was named Tuhua after the beautiful treasure. Captain James Cook called it Mayor Island when he sighted it on 3 November 1769, in recognition of the Lord Mayor's Day to be held in London a few days later. This island is privately owned by the Tuhua Trust Board, which allow visitors to land at South East Bay when the caretaker is in residence. Cabins and camp sites can be booked during the summer but there are not many creature comforts available - this is a typical New Zealand camping spot, where wi fi services and electricity is not available.
One of the more inhabited islands in the country, with 18 homes distributed on the 10 kilometre area, Motiti Island was first visited by Captain Cook on November 2nd, 1769, where he would report on the most extensive fortified villages he had yet seen.
Only a ten minute flight from neighbouring Tauranga, the island is home to 30 permanent residents and includes a variety of accommodation options for those interested in taking in the stunning views and interesting Maori heritage, which includes pa sites and food pits. If you’re into diving, the Taioma, a tug boat which is wrecked a few metres offshore is accessible and a wide variety of fish make this area their home, so this is a real fishing hot spot as well. For surfers, Motiti offers several strong breaks. Motiti is also famous for being the area where a more recent shipwreck occurred, in the form of the MV Rena container ship, which struck the Astrolabe reef in 2011 and caused huge environmental damage. Whatever you choose to do over the summer, New Zealand is home to a huge range of stunning islands with a variety of experiences just waiting for you to check out. Whether it's hobnobbing with the rich and famous on Great Mercury Island or taking a day trip to Little Barrier Island, you are spoiled for choice in this slice of paradise we call home. In the next edition, we travel further south to visit the colder and grandiose islands of the southern North and South Island.