Travel Tales: A Spontaneous Day On Great Barrier Island

With Auckland back in an alert level 3 slash lockdown 2.0, I have been reminiscing on simpler, more spontaneous, less stressful times of my life. Which made me remember this story…



Before we begin here's a super quick disclosure... Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will make a small commission if you decide to make a purchase. Alright enough of that, let's get in to the Travel Tale!



I still to this day have no idea why I was awake. It was early. Way too early for my brain to properly function yet. It was probably in the 7’s, which is very early for me. I had spent the past two days in bed sick, so I would have been awake feeling sorry for myself. I was mindlessly scrolling my Facebook feed when a status popped up:


“Flying to Barrier soon! And I have a spare seat. Who wants it?"


It was by a guy I know from a weekly fire jam meet up here in Auckland. Someone had commented above my exclamation mark filled comment (“omg this is exactly the sort of thing I would do!!!!!!!!!!! I didn’t know you flew planes!!!!!!!!!!” etc you get the drift) saying they wanted the seat. There wasn’t any part of me that considered I would get to go, especially seeing as it was the 1st of April, 2018. Commonly known as April Fool’s Day. It was probably just a stupid, not funny joke.

Next minute my Facebook messenger app pings. It’s my friend:


“Do you drive?”


“Yeah but I don’t have a car in Auckland.” Classic Jess.


The following messages come through instantly, without any more information.


“Where do you live?”

“What do you weigh?”


I answer the questions and get a message straight back.


“Cool I don’t need to change my fuel plan. Good to leave now?”


“Omg!!!!!!!! Am I coming!!!!!!!!!!!!”


The exclamation marks are back at it.


“I’ll be outside in 10 minutes.”


So… It’s not a joke then?!





Now, I love planes. Even the scary small planes. There’s something about sitting on a seat, flying high up in the sky that is weird and extremely exhilarating. I have absolutely no idea how planes work, but what I do know is that I friken love them. It has always been a dream of mine to one day take a 30 minute intro lesson just to say that I had flown a plane. It would have only been for, like, three minutes… But still! That’s the stuff dreams are made of.


We arrived at Ardmore Airport. Established in 1943, Ardmore Airport is a small airport about 33kms from the Auckland CBD that is home to many major flight schools and various businesses that need planes. I was very excited.


And there our plane was. Parked on the runway. A ZK-DJN 4 seater plane.





My friend learnt about how excited planes made me (the exclamation marks were translating well into my real life speech) so he had me assist him with the pre-flight checks. It was eye opening realising how many things go into flying a plane and that I had just been blindly putting all my faith in people and airplanes without thinking too much about it.


Eventually, with all of the checks and paperwork done, we climbed in and took off down the runway.

And then, just as we were flying over Auckland CBD and Waiheke Island I heard the seven magical words. “Do you want to have a go?”


Immediately, I turned my brain to the frightened-deer-in-headlights mode. I persisted with saying “no, no, definitely not,” until I was convinced. To be honest, that didn’t take very long. Thinking back to that moment I really have no idea what happened. It’s a wonderful blur of childlike excitement and memories of, “oh my god am I going to kill us all??!!”


It was the best feeling.






In case you have no idea where Great Barrier Island is and you're feeling a bit confused about the reef by a similar name in Australia, here's a Google map


Great Barrier Island is a large island with a small population. When I was there I was told there were around 800 people living on the island, and the official website states that the permanent population is always less than 1,000. What makes Great Barrier Island unique is that it may only be 100km north-east of central Auckland but it’s entirely off grid. Which means every household and business generates their power by using solar panels, diesel generators, wind or water turbines. Conserving water is also important. Most Aucklanders are used to being on some form of water restrictions, but on Great Barrier Island, all water is collected from rainwater or taken from the creek. Being mindful of your water use on the island is vital. “We cannot turn the rain on and off, unfortunately,” the website says.





GETTING THERE


You don’t have to spontaneously make a friend with a pilot’s licence to get yourself to the island either. There are numerous commercial flights and the Sealink Ferry that can take you there. It's about 30 minutes by plane and 4 hours & 30 minutes by ferry.

Sealink Ferry


Fly My Sky - departs Auckland Domestic Terminal


Barrier Air - departs Auckland Domestic Terminal & Northshore Airport


Air Auckland - departs Ardmore Airport (Auckland)


Sun Air - departs from Hamilton, Tauranga, Whangarei & Whitianga






WHERE TO STAY


I was only on the island for the day and can understand why people want to stay overnight.



Here is a handy list of accommodation I found on my googling

And also found a few listings over on booking.com


HOT TIP: There is cell phone reception and internet access on some of the island, but definitely not all. If you’re staying on the island, make sure you screenshot all information you might need before arriving - just in case!





WHAT TO DO



There is an information centre, a few food places and lots to see, shop and do.

Check out the link here! As I was only there for the day and haven’t been back since I don’t feel overly confident telling you the best places to go. There’s also a handy “tips for travellers” brochure from greatbarrier.co.nz.


Click on the picture to load the brochure!


While I didn’t check out any food or activities on the island, I did spend a lot of time relaxing on the beaches talking to the very few people that were there. One memorable encounter was meeting a lady, probably a little bit younger than me, who had just landed not only on the island and in Auckland but in New Zealand and was all the way from Sweden. She seemed a bit flustered and way too hot. A few hours ago she had been in Sweden during the end of their winter and was now on a deserted feeling island in high 20 degree C temperatures. Interestingly, this lady had discovered a sailing boat full of rad strong independent females who were sailing around the world, and they were due to arrive at Great Barrier Island in the next couple of days. She had lost contact with them recently but was hoping they would arrive soon. She was going to join them and sail her way to wherever she ended up next. I love that!


… Yet here I am thinking that taking a spare seat on a Facebook friend’s plane with ten minutes' notice was next level spontaneous! I had nothing on her!



What an amazing day. The pilot also doubles as a photographer, so we played around with cool juggling photos and videos!





There’s no denying though, this was up there with one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done. There are a couple more stories left to tell though… so I’m going to make these Travel Tales a regular occurrence!

While I have just sung the praises of Great Barrier Island, one of Auckland’s hidden gems, the last lockdown saw an influx of boaties heading to the island as a bit of respite from the virus. We’re all itching to get back out there and explore the backyard. I don’t think anyone wants to actually be bound to their four walls for any longer than we need to.


For now, let’s just stay put.


If there’s one thing that lockdowns and viruses and brain dramas have taught me though, is that spontaneous adventures are a must. If something presents itself to you and you feel safe to give it a go… Do it. You never know when something might just pop up.


Stay safe out there,


Jess x





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© 2017 by Jess Brien

Illustration: Molly's Pink Creative

Photos: Charlie Rose Creative