Great Barrier Island – Kayaking section Saturday 14 Feb to Sunday 22 Feb
If you think that Great Barrier Island is another playground for Aucklanders, think again. It is an amazingly unspoilt bush-clad island with a few small settlements joined by narrow windy roads.
Our party of eleven arrived there late Saturday morning after a 30 minute flight from Auckland. We proceeded to the local shop to stock up with gear and food which couldn’t be taken on our flight. Then it was into a rental van and we drove over to Port Fitzroy on the west coast, stopping en route to tramp up into Windy Canyon.
At Port Fitzroy we were into the shops again mainly to load up on beverages, then over the hill to our accommodation at Karaka Bay. Good swimming there too. Next morning we were introduced to our kayaks, and a couple of hours was spent learning how to pack in all requirements for the next few days, including drinking water (which is notoriously unreliable on the Island). Then we were away paddling, not too bad in the bays, but out to sea a bit of swell, and then a headwind slowed us up, so we were greatly relieved to reach our campsite at Miners Bay.
Next morning we paddled north, rounding the northern tip and then out to small islands called the Needles, then we turned round and headed south again, stopping at the occasional beach or inlet for a rest and refreshment. A short sharp squall got us nicely wet en route, but generally conditions weren’t too bad as we headed towards our campsite on Kaikoura Island. A long day that was, over 30 km. Kaikoura Island is a pest-free island, and the next morning we tramped up to a summit track which gave us a good layout of the surrounding coastline. Remains of bunkhouses near the campsite are relics of WW II coast-watching stations. After lunch it was back paddling, this time following the coastline round to the south of the island then crossing over to a very sheltered bay full of yachts (13 that night). There was a campsite of sorts here – Smokehouse Bay – of which we were the only occupants, but the best thing was a shower with hot water which we made good use of. Keeping our camp intact for the next night, off we went for another day of paddling. On the way, one of our yachtie companions of the night before stopped us and asked if we wanted to go snorkelling as he had all the gear. So several of us took up the offer. Also on offer was some snapper. Could he deliver it to our camp? Which he duly did. Around more inlets and islands, one of which was a gannet rookery, more swim stops and wonderful paddling conditions.
An early morning start next morning to catch the high tide, and we paddled up a nearby inlet, through mangroves and up a tidal river until we could go no further. Lovely still quiet conditions as the dawn was emerging. Back to our camp, which we dismantled, and then by ways and means back to Karaka Bay at lunchtime where we returned the kayaks after 5 very enjoyable days of paddling. Then off to do some serious tramping.
The flight from Auckland to Great Barrier Island on Saturday was clear and calm, providing an overview of the coastline and forested interior that would be our focus for exploration over the week ahead.
The interesting rental vehicle and trailer were soon loaded with all our luggage and we set off for Port Fitzroy via Aotea Road. A brief burst down the Tramline Track was followed by a longer walk to view Windy Canyon, a stunning natural landscape of rocky outcrops and bush covered ranges. A very comfortable night at the Christian Camp in Karaka Bay prepared us for the next few days on and close to the waves.
At the completion of five days kayaking the group returned to Karaka Bay and after unloading all our gear from the kayaks began the rather steep climb up out of the Bay following a very impressive predator fence line over to Fitzroy – both the climb and the sections of descent with a rope to cling on to were quite challenging in the heat of the afternoon but the incentive of ice creams at the Fitzroy Store spurred everyone upwards and onwards. From there a hot trudge along the road followed by a short burst on the Kaiaraara Track brought us to the Kaiaraara Hut enclosed by bush and a cooling wash in the nearby stream. At intervals along the track piles of washout debris remain as a tangible reminder of the 2014 storms that destroyed the historic kauri dams and closed a section of the Aotea Track.
Next morning we followed the river initially then climbed up on to the ridge via the South Fork Track now the main route up to Mt Heale Hut with its expansive views of the Huaraki Gulf. A further 45 minute climb brought us up to the top of Mount Hobson the highest point on the Island at 621 metres. The many steps have been constructed to protect the Black Petrel’s breeding habitat and give relatively easy access to the top. After watching the sunset from the Hut Deck some of the group ventured out back along the Mt Hobson Track in search of the Black Petrels returning to their burrows on the Island for the night, and were very fortunate to come across one on the track. Cat Traps have been constructed at various points along the track in an attempt to reduce predator risk to the Petrels vulnerable burrows.
Leaving the heights we descended via a section of the Peach Tree and Tramline Tracks to the Kaitoke Springs for a well-deserved soak in the hot pools before walking through the Wetland formed by the Kaitoke Creek to our rental vehicles at the end of the track. Over much of this area there are few remnants of the large kauri trees that were once so prolific and only small kauri seedlings are now growing as a reminder of the extensive logging operations that took place from the 1880’s to the 1970’s. Rimu trees alongside Nikau Palms and Tree Ferns predominate.
We continued to explore the Island where road access allowed – albeit narrow and winding, sealed or unsealed – spending time on Medlands Beach on the way to Tryphena and the Stray Possum Backpackers for our final night on the Island. An early departure on Sunday Morning allowed time to complete the Coastal Track from Harataonga Bay to Okiwi, providing further views of the East Coast with its combination of sandy beaches and rugged cliffs and endorsing the decision to kayak the opposite coast and leave this one to the Surfers and Fishermen. Another perfect flight back to Auckland from Claris Airport ended a wonderful Trip.
Well Done Judy – A recent Wilderness Article suggested the ‘Nine Must Does’ on Great Barrier Island and all nine musts were covered in the nine days we spent on and around this special piece of New Zealand.
Harataonga Coastal Walkway
Harataonga Campsite, Overtons Beach
Kaiaaraara Track (although no longer via the Kauri Dams)
Kaitoke Hot Springs