Stardome’s Marketing Assistant, Nashi Janlar, took a few days off last month to explore every avid stargazers’ dream destination; Aotea Great Barrier Island! Whether you’re off for to see some stellar sights, or are just looking for an island getaway, she’s penned a recount of her adventure, giving you all the ‘need-to-knows’ before you venture out to this paradise.

Great Barrier Island lies in the outer Hauraki Gulf, 100 kilometres north-east of central Auckland, making it the perfect place to escape from the bustling lights of the city. Over 70% of the land is protected Conservation Park and the whole island is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The minimal light pollution is great news for any stargazers, and you will have awe-inspiring views of the night sky no matter where you are on the island.

And so it was, that a few weekends ago we found ourselves on a 13-seater Turboprop Cessna Grand Caravan flight from Auckland Domestic Airport bound for Great Barrier Island. We decided to take a three-day getaway over the Hauraki Gulf to explore this piece of New Zealand paradise. Arriving in the late afternoon to some beautiful clear skies, we took a short walk to Kaitoke Beach which gave us a feeling of an authentic kiwi summer despite being in the middle of September.

Getting there

For our journey to and from the island we took flights with Great Barrier Air. It was a gorgeous scenic flight over the waters and islands of the Hauraki Gulf, and we got an awesome deal on their website with one way flights ranging from $65-$99. TIP: If you are an aviation fanatic, make sure to call ahead and request the jump seat. Most of the time if there is no co-pilot in training this seat is available for anyone.There are two airlines that travel to Great Barrier from Auckland, the other being Flymysky, both roughly a 30 minute flight that departs from Auckland Domestic Airport or the North Shore. An alternative way to travel is via Sealink ferry leaving at 8am from Wynyard, Auckland City. The travel time is approximately 4.5hrs to Tryphena and 5hrs to Port Fitzroy.

Getting around

As we were staying within walking distance from Great Barrier Aerodome, we didn’t need to pre book transportation. We were able to walk in the next morning and get a car with no hassle. I guess there was not a high demand for rentals being it was the middle of winter and we were perhaps two out of the ten tourists on the island. That said, depending on the time of year you go I would suggest making prior reservations to prevent any disappointments on the day. We found that having a car for one day was more than enough time to see the whole island. We drove to Port Fitzroy to see ferry’s coming in and explored the west coast in Puriri Bay.

If you prefer to be a bit more adventurous, you can also opt to rent push bikes from most rental companies. We were lucky enough that our Airbnb provided us with a couple, so ask around first!

Good Heavens Dark Sky Experiences

Being part of the International Dark Sky Association, an off-the-grid island, and one of only a handful of certified ‘International Dark Sky Sanctuaries’, Great Barrier Island has one exceptional night sky. Think Milky Way, Magellanic clouds and Matariki! Unfortunately for us, our trip was a last minute one and we were unable to book in a tour with the team at Good Heavens.

For astronomy enthusiasts, or anyone looking to learn about the night sky, be sure to join a guided star gazing evening with a trained Dark Sky Ambassador. You will be guided through the starry southern night skies and take away new knowledge on the basics of astronomy.

All residents on the island are responsible for supplying their own power through solar, wind or gas. There’s not a billboard or street light in sight. The complete lack of light pollution makes for a view you will never forget. We still managed to see an array of celestial sights (my inner-city apartment view of handful of faint stars seems a little sad now!), but for the ultimate viewing experience, I would highly recommend getting in with the knowledgeable experts at Good Heavens.

Kaitoke Hot Springs

For the last day on the island, we decided to ride our push bikes to the famous Kaitoke Hot Springs. From Claris, it was roughly a 20-minute ride and even for an unfit person like me, the journey was surprisingly bearable. A few hilly bits but nothing too crazy! The locals are incredibly kind in sharing the roads and at no point did we feel we were annoying bike riders in their way. 

Do make sure to take a large drink bottle and nibbles, they will come in handy once you arrive at the hot springs. The walk itself is a flat 40 minutes with beautiful native New Zealand plants and wildlife surrounding you. Make sure to keep an eye out for all the rare birds!

This track is very popular and easy for all ages. For more walks on Great Barrier Island, check this list out.

Small things to be mindful of:

  • We were blessed with good weather however many roads can be narrow and rocky, so make sure to take caution while driving and follow all road signs provided. 
  • Groceries are quite expensive. We didn’t eat out much apart from the daily coffee run or a burger but as you would expect, there is not much options for dining out. If your baggage allows you to, try to bring some essentials for cooking a simple dinner such as pasta, pasta sauce and some veges or meat. If you are staying for a bit longer, I would also recommend to bring essentials such as toiletries too because the prices of these can definitely add up!
  • Bring warm clothes but also togs and jandals! The weather was absolutely beautiful during our stay but the west coast was VERY windy. Make sure to prepare clothes for any occasion, sun, rain or storm. 
  • Nothing is wrong with your car – the locals are just saying hi! At first, we thought there was something wrong with our vehicle but after the fifth car waved, we realized that everyone was just saying hi. Such a friendly gesture that made us feel very welcomed! From then on we started getting excited every time we saw a car just so we could start waving with our big cheesy grins.

We had such an amazing time at Great Barrier Island, it’s hard to believe that this paradise is only a short flight away from our hectic lives in Auckland. From gazing at the beauty of the stars at night to experiencing all the beautiful nature New Zealand has to offer during the day, we will sure be back sooner rather than later!

For more information on Great Barrier Island, check out this guide!

Front title image credit: Carol Comer