Great Barrier Island has over 20 tracks and trails making up more than 100 kilometres of bushwalking paradise. From the 10-minute scramble to the top of the Windy Canyon to the popular ‘Over The Top’ Mt. Hobson marathon of 6 hrs there really is something for everyone.
You’ll find incredible Kauri dams, natural hot springs, waterfalls and swimming holes all surrounded by beautiful regenerating forest.
If you intend exploring unguided be sure to let someone know of your intended route, destination and anticipated completion time before setting off.
A track drop-off and pick-up service is available and makes it possible to enjoy the walks without having to retrieve cars etc.
The Department of Conservation have put together a great trampers map/booklet that contains relevant information for each walk, it is a must for anyone about to hit the trails. The booklets are available at the Claris Airport I-site, at the Conservation Dept: office in Port Fitzroy, as a downloadable pdf. (click image at left)
Remember to take water and clothing suitable for the terrain and weather conditions and do stick to the tracks.
If you'd rather make your own arrangements and itinerary, here is a brief rundown on the most popular tracks on Great Barrier Island.
Kaitoke Hot Springs
If you're looking for a great activity that will only take a couple of hours out of your day, see you venturing through some incredible Nikau glades, over bridges and boardwalks with great wetland and mountain views... You won't do better than this. And to top it all off, you get to soak up the atmosphere in the beautifully undeveloped natural hot springs.
With a return walk time of around 80 minutes this beautifully maintained mainly level walking track is suitable for all age groups with reasonable fitness.
The Windy Canyon
At the top of the Okiwi Hill on Aotea Road you'll find the Windy Canyon car park. The canyon is a mere 10 minutes walk along the Palmers Track and the views are amazing. There's around 100 or so big steps and minimal hand rail with some tricky smaller steps and platforms as well so you do have to take care.
Of course if you're well enough equipped and want to keep going, you'll eventually find yourself at the summit of our highest mountain - Hirakimata (Mt Hobson) approximately 1.5 hours further along the Palmers Track.
Mount Hobson (Hirakimata)
There are three routes to get to Hirakimata, from the northeast, the west or the south.
Closer to the summit all three tracks lead into mature forest where logging was too difficult and fires on the lower slopes did not reach. Remnants of an ancient and precious conifer forest—Rimu, Kirk’s Pine, Pink Pine and Kauri can all be seen here.
The Summit via the Hot Springs & Peach Tree Track (3.5 to 4 hrs -7.9 kms)
Starting from Whangaparapara Road, the journey to the top begins flat and easy—very friendly for push-chairs. The path follows an ancient shoreline traversing the Kaitoke wetlands and regenerating kānuka forest. You may hear the call of a fernbird or spotless crake. Orchids and sundews flower close to the track. Forty-five minutes later at the hot pools, dammed at a fork in Kaitoke Creek and surrounded by the delicate umbrella fern, the track changes. After a brief, steep climb and descent to join Tramline Track, with reminders of loggers’ toil and journeys of 80 years ago, Peach Tree Track soon appears on the left and the climb begins through regenerating forest. Thirty minutes from the summit, the track passes Mt Heale and the new 20-bed hut. Wake up to wide views from the northwest through to the south.
Tip: Enjoy the hot pools but take care—they might be too hot in places. Do not put your head under the water.
The Summit via Kaiaraara (3 hrs - 5.6 kms)
Kaiaraara Track is currently closed due to damage sustained in Cyclone Gabrielle.
Aotea Track hikers are offered South Fork Track as an alternative route between Kaiaraara Hut and Mt Heale Hut.
From the Forest Road, the track rises steadily to Cooper’s Castle Track junction, crossing the stream in several places using a series of suspension and wooden bridges. A short distance from this junction is a side-track to the remains of the Lower Kauri Dam.
What remains of the Lower Kauri Dam (1 hr 30 min from Kaiaraara Hut) was built in the 1920s, along with six smaller dams higher up. Logs estimated to contain seven million feet of timber were slid into the dams. Once loaded, the dams were tripped one after the other so a full blast hit the lower dam, propelling the logs into Kaiaraara Bay. The Lower Dam was washed away in a storm in 2014 and only the base can be seen in the stream. The track above the dam area winds through semi-mature forest with good examples of tōwai and large kohekohe. From here, the track climbs steeply via wooden steps that protect black petrel nesting grounds and sensitive ecosystems to the summit.
The Summit via Windy Canyon and Palmers Track (2 to 2.5 hrs - 3.3kms)
This is the shortest and easiest of the three paths to the summit. The track begins at the top of Whangapoua Hill on Aotea Road and climbs numerous steps through the sheer rock faces of Windy Canyon (10 minutes from the road). There are splendid views of Okiwi Basin and Whangapoua Beach and estuary to the north, and Kaitoke and Medlands beaches to the east. The track follows the ridge offering constantly changing vistas in every direction before climbing steeply to the summit, traversing steep inclines via an impressive system of steps and stairways. Healthy examples of the endemic plant prostrate kanuka can be seen among regenerating forest.
The Summit via South Fork Track (3 hrs - 1 way)
The South Fork track begins approximately 1 km south of the Kaiaraara Hut on the Forest Road and leads to the Hirakimata summit via the Mt Heale Hut. After two stream crossings it follows an old bridle track that was used by gum diggers and forestry workers. After another stream crossing, there is a long steady climb up a central ridge where it levels out at Peach Tree Track junction. Mt Heale Hut is a little further along. From here the track to Hirakimata (Mt Hobson) is steep and a bit tricky - allow 35 minutes or so to reach the summit.
Okiwi -Harataonga Coastal walkway (4.5hrs)
This easy walk does not have the steep grades of many of the island’s other tracks. It winds through regenerating forest and was once the road linking the island’s south and north. From Okiwi (Aotea Road), the track heads up to a fantastic viewpoint above the Okiwi estuary outlet before following a coastline of magnificent views. The track ends at the Harataonga campground and spectacular beach.
Forest Road (5 hrs)
Thirteen kilometres in length and once criss-crossed with forestry tracks, Forest Road is a popular trek for both trampers and mountain bikers, providing a wide array of beautiful bush and mountain views. It begins near the Kaiaraara trampers hut and runs through some stunning regenerating Kauri and Rimu forest. Many trampers exit via the bottom of the Tramline Track to Whangaparapara, to access either 'The Green', a Dept of Conservation campsite or Great Barrier Lodge on the shores of the harbour.