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Aotea – Great Barrier Island

Tryphena Beach at Aotea Great Barrier Island

We recently posted a daily photo of the Aotea / Great Barrier Island ferry prompting a reader to ask more about the island and we are (sort of) glad to share! And I say sort of as a sneaky part of us wants to continue to keep this local paradise a secret, as it is truly a magical and peaceful place. For the impatient readers, click here to scroll to photo gallery.


The island can be accessed via ferry, plane (from 10th Sept also the North Shore) or if you’re feeling fancy, helicopter. It’s up to you really, we decided to travel via ferry. Plane is obviously much quicker however we found ourselves start to transfer to holiday mode on the 4 hour sailing across the Hauraki Gulf. You can also bring your vehicle on the ferry – we saw people with their utes packed with kayaks, mattresses, enjoying a nap or card games on the way over. Costs vary depending on the time of year and of course remember to book early.

Great Barrier Island Car Rental

We hired a car, which was waiting for us upon arrival. Don’t expect a brand new vehicle (we had a banged up Camry, it was perfect) but do expect great service. Our booking consisted of a phone call, getting the last car on the island (we travelled at Easter) and meeting the team upon arrival. We didn’t book online, get an email confirmation etc. It was all very old school don’t worry we’ll meet you there kind of vibe.

I would however recommend bringing your own car if you are travelling on the ferry, as petrol was around $3.20 per litre on the island when we visited. And of course remember to fill up before travelling! Again, if you book a car – book early.

If your budget does not extend to hiring or transporting a car, hitchhiking is also a common way to get around the island; we gave a few people a ride. Cycling is possible although it can be quite hilly around the centre of the island a good level of fitness and probably a passion for cycling is required.


There are a small number of cafés, bars and stores on the island. Tryphena and the Claris airport area are your two main spots. Also Port FitzRoy (which you may stay at if you bring your own boat). There is delicious wood fire pizza at My Fat Puku near the airport (you will smell it as you drive through) but we mainly ate at Tryphena at the Pa Beach Café where the food is delicious and it feels like you’re sitting outside your Mums house.

If you’re in a social mood and want to stay up late, head to Currach Irish Pub where you can get a meal, drink and accommodation to lay your weary traveller head.

There are also a number of public bathrooms (long drops) around the island that are serviced daily and very clean. Always an appreciated facility!


We decided to book a private house in Tryphena through bookabach however there are also numerous lodges, bed and breakfasts and motels. We briefly visited Tipi and Bobs waterfront lodge when we were on the island as there were Dolphins Swimming 50m away from the Motel! Camping and campervan sites are also available so something for all budgets.

Great Barrier Island things to do & Must See’s

The whole island is a must see however we had 2 favourites. The Kaitoke Hot Springs that are a short walk off Whangaparapara Road. This is an easy flat walk that would be suitable for a mountain buggy or wheelchair and there is a bathroom (long drop) at the springs too.

Our second must see is Windy Canon. The short walk requires a higher level of fitness and good balance / coordination as there are steep stairs with handrails. The effort is worth it when enjoying a short 20 minute return picturesque walk.

If you’re lucky, you will also see dolphins!

We saw 3 pods of dolphins during our 4 days on the island. One in Tryphena Bay and the others with us on the ferry ride back to the city. The pod had a little baby and were with the boat for over an hour meaning everyone on the boat got a good look (everyone shared and had a turn, nice!)

Top Ten Tips for Great Barrier Island

  • Make sure to book early.
  • We recommend some sort of vehicle / transport on the island.
  • Although we do suggest you bring some food supplies with you, do remember to support local businesses too.
  • Tryphena is good for little ones; Medlands has a surf break so better for the older ones.
  • Phone reception isn’t great (but also who cares…). We had access on Spark in a lot of places, not as much on Vodafone
  • There are recycling stations around the island but where possible, take your rubbish with you minimise your impact on the islands resources. There are many recycling drop off points.
  • Bring walking shoes and your swimsuit, plenty of occasions to use both.
  • Kauri dieback is present on the island so always clean shoes and boots.
  • Drive carefully – roads are narrow and windy.
  • Remember to relax and don’t tell too many people about this special place…

Aotea | Great Barrier Island Facts

  • The Maori word for Great Barrier Island is Aotea derived from the Aotea canoe which visited the island.
  • In 2013 the population was 939
  • The area is 285km2
  • In 2017 Great Barrier Island became the first island in the world to receive the honour of becoming an International Dark Sky Sanctuary
  • GBI is the 6th largest island of New Zealand
  • Almost 60% of the island is under the management of DOC so it really is a nature lover’s paradise
  • With no reticulated power or water permanent residents are incredibly self sufficient with tanks and solar power.
  • Your chances of seeing some rare native birdlife are high including the brown teal duck, black petrel and kaka
  • The island has its own community radio station Aotea FM.
  • The local authority for Great Barrier Island is Auckland Council.

We truly love this beautiful and remote island. If you haven’t visited yet, you must add it to your to do list. Pack a book and a camera and get ready to relax.

Have you visited Aotea – Great Barrier Island? Let us know your visitor tips!

Great Barrier Island Photo Gallery

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