It’s slightly ironic that I would travel to the other side of the world to end up on another island not much bigger than Jersey … But this island isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced before. Great Barrier Island, which is just a four and a half hour boat journey from Auckland, is paradise.
After arriving in Auckland with my boyfriend at the beginning of the year I was ready for my travelling adventure and had plenty of sights in New Zealand which were on my bucket list – and I have to admit none of them were Great Barrier Island. At this point I had not even heard of the island let alone think I would stay there for two weeks. But this is what I did and not one part of me wanted to leave although I had a visa to explore the mainland for the next year.
The boat journey over was incredible, passing other small islands and searching for dolphins. There are no official taxis on the island so it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, but it’s easy enough to get a ride from the port to your final destination.
We were heading to Medlands Beach Backpackers and villas were we would be wwoofing for the next two weeks. Wwoofing is a fantastic way to travel around the world on a budget. In our case we paid a small fee to sign up to Helpx which meant we had access to email addresses of people all over the world who want your help in exchange for a bed and some food.
In our case our bed at the backpackers was situated in a shed on the edge of Malcolm and Robyn’s seven-acre plot and it overlooked Medlands Beach at the bottom of the hill.
Great Barrier Island is roughly twice the size of Jersey but only 1,000 people live there. It has few main roads and there are a handful of shops and places to grab some food and a drink.
The locals will tell you that millionaires from Auckland are buying properties and ruining the landscape but as a tourist you will think the island is unspoilt and almost perfect. It’s extremely rare to find any rubbish on the beaches and you won’t see hoards and hoards of people with plastic chairs and windbreaks on the beaches.
Hitchhiking is the best way of getting around and as long as you’re willing to put in a little effort and hike some of the way then you will definitely get picked up.
Chores at the backpackers involved changing the beds, picking fruit, cleaning the communal kitchen area and toilets and doing some gardening. However no work is hard work when the rooms you’re cleaning are surrounded by trees in paradise, ducks come and say hello as you tidy and you’re overlooking the beach. On average we worked three hours a day and had the afternoon off.
At this point in to our trip we didn’t have a vehicle so we hitchhiked our way around the island. Harbours such as Port Fitzroy and Trypehna stood out for me. The crystal clear waters and perfect sea temperatures made me want to keep going back.
A highlight while staying there was taking a trip down to Okupu and swimming with dolphins.
And if you are feeling extra adventurous then take a hike up to the top of Mount Hobson, which is the island’s highest mountain at 627 metres above sea level. The hike is about a three-hour round trip and from the top there are views across almost the whole island. If you want to take a longer route back then you can stay in the Kaiaraara Hut, which has a number of bunk beds and is situated in the bush.
Most people who live on the island are self-sustainable as there is no mains electricity and whilst staying at Medlands we enjoyed plums, peaches, lemons, nectarines and tomatoes which were all grown on site.
Water at most homes is heated via solar panels or a generator and at Medlands you need to be wary about what electrical items you use because you can cut out all the power.
If you’re lucky enough to meet some local fisherman then you’ll most probably be treated to some scallops which, believe me, will be the best you have ever tasted.
Great Barrier Island isn’t for the city lover, or the person who loves a bar crawl but it is somewhere I guarantee you will fall in love with and if nothing else you will learn to live as basically as possible.
For those backpacking or wanting to experience New Zealand as it was 50 years ago then this is the destination for you. It’s also a perfect place to get over jetlag just be wary that your estimations for the rest of New Zealand will be extra high after spending time in this idyllic place.