Wild, unspoilt and stunningly beautiful - Great Barrier Island lies just 62 miles off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city - yet is a world away.
With a permanent population of around 940 people, visiting Great Barrier Island feels like you have stepped back in time. It offers off-the-beaten-track bays and coves, stunning deserted beaches, beautiful rare birdlife, illuminating sunsets, peace and tranquility and a completely unique New Zealand experience.
Seeking a truly special off-the-beaten-track travel adventure, myself and my husband took a trip to Great Barrier Island during a year we spent living in New Zealand and we were blown away by how different it felt from not just the rest of New Zealand, but from anywhere else in the world we had ever been.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and take the 30 minute flight from Auckland. Immediately on landing you are aware you have landed somewhere special. You feel an imminent sense that you want to explore, and your best choice is hiring a car and exploring the island yourself. In fitting with the laid-back style of the island, the cars tend be a little 'historic', which only adds to the experience.
The stepped-back-in-time-feel extends to everyday basics one might usually take for granted - including electricity! There is no mains power on the island so they rely on generators and solar power. Arriving at a cafe at lunchtime one day we were offered 'only coffee' but we could have food after 4.30pm when they switched the generator on! The locals (many of them barefoot) were incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Whilst being quaint and unusual Great Barrier Island also has much to offer the off-the-beaten-track traveller. Most of the beaches were completely deserted - shining with desolation and untouched beauty. The least accessible beach but perhaps the most stunning, was Kaitoke beach - down a steep gravel track and really worth the trip.
There are many panoramic lookout spots (Windy Canyon was our favourite) on the island that can be reached by a number of hikes. You can also take a hike to the fantastic Kaitoke Hot Springs and bathe in your own natural hot springs amongst the shade of the trees, listening to the birds sing.
The wildlife on Great Barrier Island is also very special - we spotted many smaller native birds (tui, brown teal) and were very lucky to see a few of the rare and beautiful North-island kaka. We also heard the little blue penguins on the beach at night.
The serenity and peacefulness, as well the stunningly beautiful scenery and very different way of life make Great Barrier Island a truly special and unique timeless paradise, and an escape from nearby city-life.
Make sure you include it on your New Zealand itinerary - you won't be disappointed.
All photos are copyright of Blue Penguin Travel.
Nicola is the founder and owner of independent travel company Blue Penguin Travel.
Blue Penguin Travel offer a bespoke itinerary planning service, to help you create an amazing off-the-beaten-track travel adventure in New Zealand.