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Great Barrier Island New Zealand


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Our overseas trip this year was "over the seas" from Auckland to Great Barrier Island. 


 We flew from our home in New Plymouth to Auckland and then from Auckland to Great Barrier in the Hauraki Gulf on a Cessna Caravan 12 seater plane. The flight took about half an hour, flying over Waiheke Island and the tip of Coromandel peninsula on the way.

Waiheke Island




Coromandel Peninsula 



First sight of Great Barrier



Coming into land at Claris



 We picked up our rental car and went to the cottage we had booked which is close to Kaitoke Beach. We were early and it wasn’t quite ready for us so we drove to Okupu Bay to go for a walk on the beach.


One of our coastal trees is the Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) and I have never seen such huge old specimens as those by the carpark. I found this quote about them - A local told us that the biggest tree was at least 800yrs old as they had found evidence of ash from the Rongitoto eruptions in samples taken from the tree.

And as we walked onto the beach there were more Pohutukawa growing on the rocks, such artistic root systems!






Okupu is a beautiful beach with golden sand and clear calm water.




The first bird I saw was one of the endangered species on the island, the NZ Dotterel. It was on the sand near the high water mark and really hard to see as their colouring gives them great camouflage. They are great to watch as they run about, stopping and starting, looking for food.


NZ Dotterel



Other birds spotted were red billed seagulls, white fronted terns and white faced heron.




At the end of the beach we found a track which took us up over a headland to another beautiful beach. Huge numbers of paper wasps in places which is sad to see.

As we descended to the second beach I spotted some birds at the waters edge and as we got closer I was excited to realise that they were Brown Teal or Pateke (the Maori name). Again on the endangered list with only small populations on the mainland. Great Barrier is home to the largest population, about 700 birds. Once on the beach we quietly got a bit closer so that I could get some photos. I was fascinated with the way they were feeding – they are described as dabbling ducks and that is exactly what they were doing. They feed on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and occasionally small fish.






Also on this beach we saw the Variable Oystercatchers




Another sighting of NZ Dotterel on the way back, this time we saw the pair. So a great start to our trip.




Edited by KiwiGran
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Day 2.

Packed lunch and set off just before 9am. Our goal was to drive to Port Fitzroy to the north of the island. It is only 23kms and the road is sealed but is an extremely steep, narrow and winding road so we took it slowly and stopped for lots of great views.


Port Fitzroy is very scenic with boats and yachts in the harbour, blue water and rocky cliffs. As we arrived a gannet took off from the water and circled around, absolutely stunning and I wished I had the camera (mine is just a small point and shoot) and the skills to capture the picture.



We got a few supplies from the store and then drove a short way to Glenfern Sanctuary. This Sanctuary was established in 1994 by Tony Bouzaid. He predator fenced the peninsula and set about restoring the environment which had been decimated by the logging of Kauri trees, by the presence of predators such as rats and feral cats and he was saddened by the absence of birds. He planted thousands of native trees and began a trapping programme. He died in 2011 and in 2016 the property was bought by a trust and the Auckland Council and is managed as a regional park. Trapping is continuing (mainly feral cats and rats) and birds such as the NZ Robin have been reintroduced. It is also home to the critically endangered Chevron skink, one of New Zealand’s rarest lizards.


As we were entering the Sanctuary, North Island Kaka were flying overhead and grey warblers and fantails flying around us. We walked the loop track which took us nearly 2 hours. Lots of steps – as with everywhere on Great Barrier it is very steep. Sadly very few birds – it takes a very long time to restore an environment like this but we enjoyed the walk.


Looking up at the tree ferns



At the top there is a swing bridge out to an old kauri tree (one of the few to survive the logging). There are ladders you can climb to get a great view but while I may have been able to go up, coming back down would have been a challenge so I gave it a miss!

An amazing feeling though to be half way up a huge Kauri tree that is hundreds of years old.


Kauri swing bridge



An old Puriri tree was listed as having cave weta in some of the holes but they were hiding that day. Towards the end of the walk we found a small dam with a pair of Pateke (Brown Teal) and I was able to get some photos which pleasingly show the green tinge on the head of the male





After the walk we drove to a lookout to have lunch, so peaceful and a great view over Harataonga Bay where there is a coastal walk which gets good reviews. 2 Kakariki flew over but too fast for a photo.


Our next walk was to Windy Canyon. A beautiful walk in with nikau palms (the southern most palm in the world) tree ferns and lots of native trees.


Nikau palm trunk



and the top



The walk in





Windy Canyon is amazing – a narrow canyon with over a two hundred steps to climb to the top where there are stunning views. For the fit this walk carries on to the summit of Mt Hirakimata (Mt Hobson) and is part of the 3 day 2 night Aotea Track.


Windy Canyon



Looking through



And up



A rata flower beside the track



The view from the top was stunning








The Pinnacle



This young kauri fascinated us. It had grown up to the rock face, then out and up again.



Going back down



It was a great day and lots to see.

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What a beautiful place!

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Thanks @TonyQYes  the scenery is stunning. 

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Day 3

Today our goal was to walk the Kaitoke Hot Springs track, a 2 hour return walk. We set off quite early as it is a popular track.  The start of the walk was through beautiful bush with lots of mature trees including Puriri, Rimu, Kauri and Nikau Palms. The track skirts the side of a huge wetland area. It was just magic and we had it all to ourselves. Lots of fantails, grey warblers, silver eyes, tuis and we heard Kaka.


The track crossed the wetland (on boardwalks) and climbed gently with the vegetation changing to Manuka and kanuka and more dryland shrubs. After about 45 minutes we reached the hot pools. These are thermal pools, completely undeveloped and natural. The streams that flow into the pools vary in temperature, some almost too hot to get into.

I had worn my togs under my clothes so without ado I stripped off and waded into the pool – it was bliss! Sitting in the pool the water came up just over my shoulders – you are warned not to put your head under. Soaking in the really warm water, looking up at the surrounding bush, the mosses on the bank, birds flitting around it was a magical experience. In places you could feel hotter water bubbling up. The water is high in minerals including silver and sulphur.


Views of the pools



Mossy bank







Walking back we stopped at a lookout over the wetlands – fernbirds and bittern are relatively common here.

Information board



View of the wetland



This kanuka astounded us – what ever made it grow like this??




In the afternoon we went back to Okupu Beach and did the walk again. Spotted NZ Dotterel again, the pair this time and Variable Oystercatchers both these species nest on the beach above the high water mark. On the way back I walked a little way up beside a small stream and there on a log were 2 of the Pateke (Brown Teal) again.







View of Okupu Beach 



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Looks like very serene walks in a beautiful part of NZ. 


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Thanks @Kitsafari Yes we love our quiet and peaceful walks in the NZ bush.

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Day 4

Today was a bit windy but we drove to Awana Bay and walked on the beach. Quite different on this coast to Okupu Bay, here there is good surf and apparently a popular spot for surfing.



 Then off to Whangaparpara on the other coast.  Another lovely calm harbour.






I spotted some shags up a pohutukawa tree, 2 species the white fronted and the little black. They were preening the whole time I watched them.









We drove to the Tramline track which is one of the entrances to the Aotea track, a 3 day, 2 nights in huts track. It includes the highest point on the island Mt Hobson (Mt Hirakimata). This is where a colony of Black Petrels breed at the summit, around 900-1000 pairs on 35 hectares. Along with the smaller colony of 500 pair on Little Barrier Island these are the only places in the world where this bird breeds.

During the non breeding months (June to September) black petrel fly as far as the north-western coast of South America and have been reported off the coast of Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands.

Black Petrel photo from the DOC fact sheet





We walked part of the Tramline Track and it was great to see lots of young Kauri trees re-establishing themselves.

We met up with 2 conservation workers who were setting traps to catch feral cats, a big problem for our native birds on the island.


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Days 5 to 7

Today we moved from the cottage at Kaitoke Beach to go to Tryphena (16 km south) which is the most populated area of Great Barrier Island. The permanent population numbers approx. 900 to 1000 but this is swelled by lots of visitors to the island.


On the way we stopped at Medlands beach and went for a walk.



Oystercatcher Medlands




Over more hills and winding Road and into Tryphena. We spotted the letterbox we had been given instructions to find, then the driveway to drive up to the cottage – goodness it was steep and the rental car we had didn’t really appreciate it! Found the area to park and then another steep path – by this time I was wondering what I had booked! But at the top of the path the cottage, we opened the door (no keys here) and it was just lovely. A big bay window with a fabulous view of Tryphena Harbour,  completely private and surrounded by bush, lots of birds around including Kaka flying overhead, a lovely deck to sit out on and so peaceful.


View from the cottage




After settling in we drove to Tryphena itself (just a couple of stores, a cafe and an Irish Pub) and sat beside the beach, then found where the ferry comes in once a day and generally explored.


We saw several banded rail – another bird rarely seen on the mainland but quite common on the island.



We spent a lot of time just relaxing at the cottage. I tried to get photos of the birds but the bush was so thick and the birds so quick I didn’t have much success. I saw tui, kereru (NZ pigeon), silver eyes, grey warblers, fantails and Kaka flying overhead.






One day we walked part of a track down to Rabbit Island.


Rabbit Island through the trees



A big group of North Island Kaka flew over. They are very vocal birds. We have seen the South Island Kaka on Stewart Island and they are very entertaining and comical birds. This photo is a North Island Kaka we saw at Maungatautiri Mountain Sanctuary.




The last day we did the Station Rock track to the lookout – up over 150 steps but a fabulous view at the top





And so it was time to fly back to our home in New Plymouth.

We really enjoyed our stay, perhaps not as many birds we had hoped for but it takes a long time to restore an area such as Great Barrier that has been logged, mined and farmed. We can see with all the conservation efforts being made that while progress will be slow the signs are there that success will come.

There are many tracks for all abilities, the scenery is great and we enjoyed the natural environment very much.











101 (2).JPG

Edited by KiwiGran
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I have tried to edit out the last 2 photos as they are duplicates but cant seem to remove them.

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On 4/11/2021 at 1:44 PM, KiwiGran said:

I have tried to edit out the last 2 photos as they are duplicates but cant seem to remove them.


you'll see 3 dots at the top right corner of every post - clicking it, you'll see edit. click that and you'll be able to edit your post or remove he photos. 

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Thanks for sharing a part of NZ with us  with your very enjoyable TR.  NZ is beautiful and we hope to visit it again one day. 

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Thanks @KitsafariI have been using the three dots edit function. I can edit text without any problems but when I try to remove the photos it seems to work and the photos disappear but when I save they are still there.

Glad you enjoyed hearing about Great Barrier.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@KiwiGranThanks so much for bringing this post to my attention! Krista and I have just enjoyed reviewing it and wishing we could've been there, too. Lovely photos all around, and we're just so thrilled with how empty everything is. You couldn't ask for a nicer island getaway.  A couple of questions spring to mind:


Are paper wasps invasive?

How does the island compare to Stewart Island? We haven't been to either yet.


PS Glad you were able to see the kaka. We were fortunate enough to see them in the botanical gardens in Wellington near Zealandia...I think that was the day after leaving New Plymouth! As you can imagine, we are basically just waiting for the ability to visit NZ again before immediately booking another trip. :)

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Thanks @Marks

There isnt a lot of information about the paper wasps (there are 3 species of them that have been introduced). My dislike of them stems from the fact that I encourage the Monarch butterflies in my garden (introduced but a welcome addition) and the paper wasps are killers of the caterpillars. I also wondered with the numbers on Great Barrier if they were having an effect on native insects but have not been able to find any information on that. We noticed they were more abundant in open areas and areas that had been cleared and farmed at some time, in the heavier bush areas we saw mainly German wasps which were not as numerous. I can testify to the fact that the sting is very painful but they dont seem to be aggressive unless you actually touch them inadvertently when they definitely will sting. 

Comparisons to Stewart Island. More areas that have been logged and farmed on Barrier, the populated areas are widespread on Barrier whereas on Stewart Island only a small area is populated - only about 12 km of roads on Stewart lots more on Barrier. For myself Stewart Island is more unspoilt and more wildlife. Ulva Island which is close to Stewart and very accessible by water taxi , is fabulous, lots of birds and totally unspoilt. Stewart Island kiwi are quite frequently seen, no kiwi on Great Barrier.  Great Barrier is probably more accessible being so close to Auckland but visitor numbers to Stewart Island have been increasing rapidly lately. Our experience on Stewart Island is part of my 50th Wedding Anniversary trip report. We have been twice and loved both trips. The longer tracks on Stewart Island are more challenging, Barrier Island steeper but very well formed tracks and great views. The hot pools on Barrier are unique. Both islands are well worth visiting.


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@KiwiGranThanks for the info! My natural aversion to wasps means I also would've been displeased to see them. We'll check out your 50th anniversary post...expect some comments soon. :)

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