My First Visit to Great Barrier Island

While awaiting the delivery of some tools and building equipment here in Auckland, I thought I share a story about my first visit to Great Barrier Island (Motu Aotea in Te Reo Maori). After all, it was this trip which I took around the Christmas time back in 2008 that made me think about what it would be like to live on Aotea and whether it would be a worthwhile option for me. It all started with me wanting to have some time off and wanting to ‘go away’ for a couple of weeks.  Since I only heard amazing comments about Aotea, I decided to pack up my car with food, a gas cooker, beer, wine, camping gear, a mountain bike, a kayak and lots of fishing gear, and to take the ferry from Auckland to Tryphena, Aotea.

The ferry was quite packed on that day, I believe it was the 20th of December 2008, and the conditions on sea started off mild but went on to become rough. The following picture shows my almost fully laden blue Jeep, which has been sold since, and you can observe that roof racks are obviously the way to go.

Seems like everyone utilizes roof racks.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any further pictures on the ferry, but the conditions changed on board half-way through the sail. The sky went gray, it started raining and the sea got choppy. Most passengers went inside the vessel not to get wet by the rain, and as a result some of them became sea sick. In my own experience, once you feel uneasy in your stomach on sea you should sit outside and watch the sea. It is definitely not a good idea to go inside and read a magazine… So yeah, the trip became quite amusing suddenly as quite a number of passengers hurried outside to throw up over the railing. Here’s another tip for you. When you see people throwing up on a vessel, always consider the intensity and direction of the wind and your whereabouts. Needless to say that a couple of young people on board could have used this piece of information…

I arrived in Tryphena, the weather had cleared by then, and I recall being very excited about where to go, what to do and how to do it. Before taking this trip, I queried on the best fishing forum in New Zealand  about good land-based fishing spots. This is probably the best advice I got: ‘Anywhere, just keep it that way.’

There I was, finally on this beautiful Island and I had no specific destination other than finding a camping site close to the beach. I ended up on the Department of Conservation (DOC) camping site in the Awana settlement which is about a 20 min drive from Tryphena. There was not a soul to be found on the DOC camp site on arrival and I set up camp next to a picnic table. Here are some impressions of the beach and the site.

My camp site in Awana
Awana beach on the east coast, a surfing beach which is usually not this calm.

I spent 9 nights in Awana, fished almost every day and explored Harataonga, Claris and the Forest Road via mountain bike and hiking. In simple terms, it was just wonderful to spend some time away from it all, to fish for sport and food and to do some physical exercise. Awana boasts a good sized river-mouth and I kayaked out onto the rock with the massive hole that you can see in the previous picture. Fishing off the rock proved very productive straight away, catching pan-sized snapper immediately. I repeated fishing this spot on successive days, as it was close by, the fish were biting and I was sure to catch me a feed.

I lost, what felt like a good sized snapper, off a rock in Harataonga which got me really excited. After all, catching a big fish off the rocks is what we are all interested in, aren’t we? I knew I lost a decent snapper, as I caught a couple of 5 pound fish on that trip and ‘the one that got away’ felt muuuch bigger. Back on the campsite, which gradually filled up with campers over the days, I was told by the people in charge that they are expecting 300 campers for the 31st of December. Camping on Great Barrier Island with your friends is a great way to start into the new year, but I had friends coming over from Germany on the 31st and wasn’t going to stick around for the party… On my last fishing trip, I walked through the river-mouth at Awana and walked North on the rock covered beach until I found a spot with around 4 meters of water with a lot of kelp. It just felt right to cast a bait out and to see what happens. Back then I was using my Shimano 3500b baitrunner reel with 15 pound of line, and had almost immediately a strong strike. This time I was onto it, better prepared than a couple of days ago when I lost a good fish, and managed to land a snapper of estimated 10 pound. I recall being very stoked.

It only got better when I was back at the camp site and got congratulated by fellow fishoes and spear-fishermen who were very keen on getting an update on where, when and how I landed the snapper. I ended up trading a fillet for a crayfish and enjoying a great meal with like-minded people. Let me add that there was some awesome single track on Forest Road for mountain biking and around Harataonga, and that if you love the outdoors, adventure and friendly, like-minded people, you can only be hooked on Great Barrier Island. The sail back to Auckland was very calm and I enjoyed superb views of the Hauraki Gulf and we got a visit from a school of dolphins.

Estimated 5 pound snapper. Caught around Harataonga
Estimated 10 lbs Snapper.
Playing dolphins.

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