I was on a reduced schedule this week while Michael worked his normal schedule through Thursday. On Friday morning we left our house bright and early to make the journey to Great Barrier Island, the biggest island in the Haruaki Golf. Along with Gabi and Nick, we caught our ferry in Auckland and thoroughly enjoyed the 4.5-hour boat ride to GBI. We saw at least four pods of dolphins (common and bottlenose) and some little penguins bobbing around in the water. When we arrived at the wharf the rental car was waiting for us so we were able to quickly gather our things and hit the road. The island is surprisingly large and the roads are winding and narrow so it took nearly an hour to get to our campsite on the northeast side of the island near Whangapoua Beach. The campsite was just off of the ocean and full of rabbits! Unfortunately, our part of the beach wasn’t great for swimming, but the next day Gabi, Michael, and I drove around the estuary to the main beach, which was stunning and totally deserted. That afternoon all four of us drove across the island to Port Fitzroy where we ate lunch and played in the water a bit more. Saturday was New Years Eve so we had to stay up until midnight, a task made more difficult by the total fire ban, but we were able to entertain ourselves with the help of Nick’s friends until the official start of 2017. Even though 2016 certainly had some trials, personally it was a fantastic year that gave me loads of amazing memories. From celebrating last New Years in NZ with my family, to Australia, to Europe, to my first trip back to the States, 2016 contained so many wonderful adventures I can hardly keep track.
Sunday was the first official day of the New Year and we started it off right. After a big breakfast a group of us drove to the middle of the island to a hike that lead to Kaitoke Hot Springs. The natural pools were the perfect temperature to lounge in for a bit before walking back to the cars and continuing our adventure. We had heard/read about “the most beautiful campsite in NZ” that was just around the corner from us. Ignoring the 4-wheel drive recommendation, we drove to Harataonga Bay. While it certainly was a beautiful place for our picnic lunch (and some impromptu climbing around on rocks), it wasn’t the most beautiful campsite I’ve seen here and it was a pain to get to. The only road going in and out is one lane, gravel, winding, and with a steep drop on one side (and of course there were no guardrails). When we made it back to the campsite in one piece, all of us felt we deserved a beer and a bit of downtime (mostly consisting of hacky sack) before dinner. That night we played cards, then hit the hay relatively early. On my way to bed I got distracted by the night sky. NZ isn’t a very crowded place outside of Auckland, but GBI is a whole different ballgame. There’s no treated water, no power (outside of the solar panels and generators the locals have), and very few people (the population there is less than 1000). Even though this was the height of tourist season, the campsite was empty except for our group. I can only assume that it’s the total lack of light pollution that made me say with no hyperbole, “I’ve never seen this many stars in my life.”