Aotea is the Maori name for Great Barrier Island. Capt. Cook named it in 1769 for the shelter and protection it provides to the Hauraki Gulf. The island is only about 55 miles from Auckland but it could not be more different.
Rugged and remote it has an abundance of native forest, marine life and birds. It is part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine park system and protected because its natural and cultural heritage is rich, divers and unique.
Also, rich in history, from the 1840’s the island’s natural resource has attracted European settlement. A number of industries exploited the island’s forest, minerals and migrating whales. Copper was mined here along with gold and silver. The Kauri forests were logged, only a few original kauri forests survived. The Great Barrier Island was also the site of a number of shipwrecks and you can see two grave sites mark these terrible disasters.
Our first “port of call” on GBI is on the southern tip at Tryphena Harbor. This is the main ferry port for folks coming from the main land. There is a small village with a couple of restaurants, and bar, store and post office. It is also home to the GBI Social Club, with pool table, food and movies on Monday nights.
The next stop for us is Whangaparpara Harbour. ( here the wh makes the f sound so it is pronounced, faan-guh-para-para). It is here that you can see the remains of the old whaling station and timber mill. Also in this very lovely bay are a wharf and the Great Barrier Island Lodge. A great place for dinner and drinks. We have a wonderful meal here, the managers are very nice and have traveled to the states and knew my home town of Santa Cruz and knew much of the Northwest as they traveled from California to Alaska. We anchored in graveyard bay, and yes there is a small “pioneer” type grave yard with about a half dozen grave sites. The oldest we saw was from 1910. From here we can hear all the exotic birds, the kaka a large brown noisy parrot, the ever changing song of the tui bird and the wekas, the “chickens” of NZ as the Māori and settlers both used them for meat and eggs.
We then sail to the large much protected Port FitzRoy Harbour. This port is made up of many different bays and it is fun to explore. In Kiwiriki Bay we are befriended by a pair of Pateke (Brown Teal) ducks. The Pateke are among the rarest ducks in the world. GBI is home to almost two-thirds of the remaining world population. They swim (and beg for food) around us for two days.
I have a goal of catching a snapper while I am here. For snapper you have to jig for them and one of the places I am told where you will have success in near one of the many mussel farms here. Mel drives me out to one in the dingy; I jig and jig no luck… I have caught a couple of Kahawai which are good to eat but the snapper is illusive. We move to Rarohara Bay as we are going on a tour the next day. Tom and Kim from Exit Strategy will meet us here and go with us.
As part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park system much work is being done to restore the native vegetation and bird life on GBI. One project here Glenfern Sanctuary. A privately owned pest fenced sanctuary. Started by business man and adventurer, Tony Bouzaid, it is committed to creating a safe haven for native species. We take a guided tour of Glenfern and learn how this project is providing pest free (or nearly) environments in its efforts to preserve and restore native birds and forest. We walk through regenerating old growth forest of Kanuka, Manuka, Puriri and Kauri trees. We even get to cross over a suspension bridge into the canopy of a 600 year old Kauri tree. A very beautiful and informative tour.
After our tour at Glenfern we meet with our tour guide for the day, Steve of Go Great Barrier Tours is set to take us around the island. Steve has lived on GBI for 20 plus years. He is a great guide and gives us the history from Maori times through present. GBI residents (about 700 full time) are an independent and self-sustaining lot. While it has been offered many times, there is no cable power here. All residents produce their own power through solar, wind, and generators. We tour the magnificent east side of the island with its beautiful beaches and vistas. Surfers come from all over New Zealand to ride these waves. We are so glad we took this tour as it is difficult to sail around this side of the island and the seas and winds are rarely favorable.
Too soon our time at GBI is up. We are leaving on the April 8th we leave to start our trip to Opua and make final preparations for our May departure for Tonga.
Another trip to GBI is on our must do list when we return as we have just scratch the surface of this unique island.