Sunset at Medlands beach, Great Barrier Island. © Monica Tischler

Great Barrier Island: a rugged road trip


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Port Fitzroy is only 25 kilometres from Tryphena but it took us nearly three hours to drive there.

This was partly due to the rugged road, and partly because we were constantly distracted by glorious views.

Great Barrier Island is a wonderful place to explore, so we were very pleased to have a rental car. We spent the long weekend poking around little bays, finding empty beaches in remote corners and taking spontaneous bush walks to brilliant views. 

It’s as if a chunk of Coromandel Peninsula floated off to the north. There’s the surf beach side and the quieter bay side, like Coromandel, with the steep choppy spine in between.

But Great Barrier is more intense, at only about 40 kilometres long by 15 wide, and the roads are mostly unsealed and narrow.    

From our base in Tryphena Harbour we meandered up to Port Fitzroy, stopping at the top of the hill to appreciate the view before going down toward deep green fingers of harbour and steep bush-fringed farmland, edged in lacy tidal movements. 

We ventured down every road we could. Past Whangapoua estuary, we wound through the rugged land. The road ended on private property, with a sandy path leading through pine forest and then Whangapoua beach – a stretch of absolute beauty. Lazy deep waves rolled into a long white line of sand. Beyond the breaks, a turquoise expanse and the flat side of Rakitu Island hung near the horizon.

At Whangaparapara, a sheltered tucked-in harbour, we had a cuppa at the lodge. Down past Ōkupu to a little wharf at Blind Bay we found old boats swinging on their moorings and ate our lunch on the wharf, enjoying the sun. 

 At Awana, a few boys surfed. Down at the split ends of Motairehe and Kawa there were a few houses with windows open but no other sign of life. Same with the other way – down the far end of Cape Barrier Road, where we drove specifically to see Coromandel Peninsula from that angle – there was no-one there.  At the end of Rosalie Bay Rd, from where you can walk down to Medlands, only a couple of cars passed us. 

Surf's up at Great Barrier Island. Photo by @appslog #VisitAuckland

A post shared by Auckland, New Zealand (@visitauckland) on Sep 1, 2017 at 2:10pm PDT

We’d lucked in, timing-wise. There are only a few hundred permanent residents on Great Barrier but over the Christmas holidays, the island’s population swells to many thousands. I’m sure it’s fun, over summer, but we appreciated the empty beaches, walking tracks and roads and it suited our romantic notion of time on an island.  

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