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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > Pacific Islands > New Zealand > Auckland Region > Hauraki Gulf > Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island is just 90 km from Auckland, but it feels like much, much further away. The island, known as Aotea in Maori, is the largest and most remote in the Harauki Gulf, and acts as a breakwater from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a lush and rugged place, sparsely populated, with a frontier feel and a leisurely island pace. Great Barrier was the setting for the BBC reality series Castaway in 2007, which should give you some idea of how wild parts of the island are; yet it’s only 4½hrs by ferry from downtown Auckland, or a half-hour flight.


Great Barrier Island is a great place for bush walks and bird-watching. There’s a lack of predatory species on the island, particularly possums, allowing flora to flourish and many otherwise endangered bird species, like the kaka, to thrive. In guidebook-speak, there’s a truly unspoiled beauty here.


Plan and pack accordingly if you’re going to visit. For one thing, bring cash – there are no ATMs on Great Barrier Island, although an increasing number of places accept credit or debit cards. All electricity is self-generated on the island as well, so a torch is a good idea, as generators generally shut down at night and there aren’t exactly any streetlights around. Mobile phone coverage is limited as well.


This is definitely one of the more interesting and unique destinations in New Zealand, with a real worlds-away feel.

Coming & going

Most travellers visit Great Barrier Island by ferry from Auckland, but there are also frequent reasonably priced flights that are ideal if you want to save time.


Sealink (tel (09) 373 4036) ferries sail from Wynyard Wharf in Auckland to Tryphena on Great Barrier Island. The four-hour trip costs $120 return.


The island’s main airport is at Claris, which is about a half hour drive north of Tryphena. Great Barrier Airlines (tel (09) 275 9120) and Fly My Sky (tel (09) 256 7025) have frequent flights to Auckland International Airport and Great Barrier Airlines also flies to Auckland North Shore. The one-way fare is $99-109 ($89 if booked online) for the 30-minute flight from Auckland.


If you’re not sure whether you’d rather take the ferry or fly, it is also possible to buy a ticket for $169 that includes ferry transport to the island and a flight back to Auckland.

Local transport

Great Barrier is a big island and most travellers find they need to rent a car to really explore the island; however there is also a local bus service that is a handy alternative if your time on the island isn’t limited.


Great Barrier Travel (tel 0800 426 832) run “People & Post” buses that go between Tryphena and Port Fitzroy. Great Barrier Island Shuttle Services have up to five daily services between Tryphena and Claris and schedules are timed to meet ferry and plane arrivals. You can buy an unlimited day pass for $50, a weekend pass for $75 or a five-day pass for $99.


A car rental is the most flexible option and there are several companies on the island to choose from including Aotea Car Rentals (tel (09) 429 0474 or 0800 426 832), GBI Rent-A-Car (tel (09) 429 0062) and Medlands Rentals (tel (09) 4290 861). Allow plenty of time to drive around the island, as it is bigger than most people realise and the 35km/h speed limit and narrow winding roads means that it can take a long time to get anywhere.

Hostel accommodation

Crossroads Backpackers Lodge

1 Blind Bay Road (2km north of Claris)
Tel (09) 4290 889

Medlands Beach Backpackers

9 Mason Road, Medlands Beach
Tel (09) 429 0320

Orama

Orama, Great Barrier Island

Tel (09) 429 0063

Pohutukawa Lodge

Blackwell Drive, Pah Beach, Tryphena
Tel (09) 429 0211

Stray Possum Lodge

64 Cape Barrier Road, Tryphena
Tel 09 429 0109 or 0800 767 786 (0800 POSSUM)

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Eating & drinking

Great Barrier Island doesn’t have a wealth of cheap eating options for backpackers. Many of the restaurants on Great Barrier Island are connected to the nicer resorts.


The Currach Pub (Blackwell Drive, Pah Beach, Tryphena) has typical pub grub, and this is probably the best place for local drinking action as well.


A few doors down is Cruisy Café, serving up coffee and baked items, including pies. There’s also a small market next door.


Claris Texas Café (129 Hector Sanderson Road, Claris) has decent Tex-Mex food plus public internet access.


Higher up the ladder, the restaurant at Great Barrier Lodge (Whangaparapara Harbour, Whangaparapara) is one of the better on the island, as is Tipi and Bob’s (38 Puriri Bay, Tryphena). The Stray Possum Lodge (64 Cape Barrier Road, Tryphena) serves good food as well, particularly its pizzas.


Seafood is fresh across the island, and you’ll find most restaurants offering the same specials on the same day depending on a catch.


Be warned, though, eating out here is generally much more expensive than on the mainland. You may want to heed the advice of one hostel manager: “I tell people to bring their own food”.


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