With a population that has swollen to well over a million residents, the city of Auckland is easily the largest metropolitan center in all of New Zealand. To most New Zealand travelers, Auckland conjures images of the iconic Sky Tower, the timeless Harbor Bridge, and the thousands of sailboats which rest dockside in Waitemata Harbor. There is shopping along Karangahape Road, trendy cafes in the Parnell district, and the beaches of Piha are only a short drive away. In short, it is South Pacific urban living at its finest.
Not many people, however, equate Auckland with rural pursuits such as hiking, mountain biking, or even back country camping. In a city where shoreline pedestrians can swarm by the hundreds, few, if any, would believe that there are white sand beaches in Auckland where you can go for a stroll and leave behind the only set of footprints. Granted, it’s going to take a little bit of effort to get there, but there is one Auckland suburb that is miles away–both geographically as well as metaphorically–from anywhere else found back in the city. This suburb, of course, is the sparsely-populated and rarely-visited Great Barrier Island.
Though Great Barrier Island might be 55 miles away from downtown Auckland, it’s technically considered to be a city suburb. The population of only 800 residents pales when compared to the the throbbing streets of downtown, but it’s this emptiness and remoteness that draws visitors to the tranquil shores and walking paths. Accessible via either a ferry or a short flight from Auckland, over 60% of Great Barrier Island is administered by the Department of Conservation as protected parkland. There are over 60 miles of walking tracks on the island, six campsites, and two back country huts. Since there aren’t many formal accommodations many visitors choose to travel to Great Barrier Island as a day trip from the city, although even with the short visit there is time to walk on a hot springs track and view the empty beaches.
The few residents who do live on Great Barrier Island liken it to “the New Zealand of old”, and if you’d like to step back a few decades and decompress from the city for a while, then Great Barrier Island is where you’re going to find it.