1. A little piece of Ireland
An Irish pub might be the last thing you would expect to find on Great Barrier Island, but that’s exactly what you’ll walk into at The Currach at Tryphena. It’s the only pub on the island and is popular with locals and visitors alike.
One of my best memories of the Barrier is sitting outside here on a warm early summer evening, eating deep-fried battered onion rings, drinking beer and watching the noisy kākā fly over, knowing the city was only a half-hour plane ride away.
2. A sobering experience
The architecturally designed carefully curated visitor centre at Rotoroa Island is another unexpected find. As an addiction-treatment centre for nearly 100 years, for many Rotoroa was a place of sanctuary, though not all its inhabitants survived to beat their demons.
The visitor centre tells the story of the island’s fascinating and moving history through photographs, informative displays and sound recordings.
A lot of thought and money has gone into creating this facility, which is both beautiful and appropriate.
3. Special sanctuary
Glenfern Sanctuary at Port Fitzroy on Great Barrier Island was the dream of late yachtsman Tony Bouzaid. This little piece of paradise is surrounded by a predator-proof fence to give the island’s wildlife a safe place to thrive and has recently become part of Auckland’s regional parks network.
You can see species such as the endangered brown teal (pāteke), native pigeons and kākā and climb into the crown of a 600-year-old kauri tree. The walk up the hill is a bit steep, but the views from Sunset Rock are spectacular.
4. Historic island
Southeast of Rangitoto and Motutapu, Motuihe Island has had a long and varied history. It’s been a quarantine station, a prisoner-of-war camp and a naval training base, and is now an open sanctuary, populated by saddleback, kākāriki, kiwi, shore skinks, bellbirds and even tuatara.
Wander up onto the headland to see historic graves dating back to World War One, learn about the dashing exploits of German POW Count Felix von Luckner or spot the wildlife.
Or, just enjoy the shore: because of the island’s orientation, whichever way the wind is blowing there’s a sheltered, sandy beach to lounge on.
5. Tiri explained
Take the guided walk at Tiritiri Matangi to get the inside oil on the island’s conservation history and the plants and animals which can be seen here today – then you’ll know your hihi from your korimako.
If you can stomach an early start, book onto a special trip to the island to hear the dawn chorus – you’ll have to be on the ferry by 4.30am, but it’s a unique chance to hear the forest wake up as it would have done hundreds of years ago.