Great Barrier Island
By Stu Waddel
Chill founder, Stu Waddel heads to Great Barrier Island for a weekend of cycle touring around the island.
Bound for Great Barrier Island, the SeaLink Ferry was scheduled to depart Wynyard Wharf at 8am. I had arrived from Christchurch the day prior, and was meeting Andrew Judd who was flying in from Melbourne. Andrew arrived at 2am and stumbled into our shared room. Noise from the night was still roaring from the street below. We’d opted to stay in the central city. A good idea, except for the constant late night antics.
We were also further from the SeaLink Ferry than first thought, mistaking the Auckland passenger terminal as the place of departure. We had time on our side, though, and a three-day riding adventure planned on Great Barrier Island.
The ferry was reasonably full, and the space left was taken up with bikes and a pop-up assembly area. It was a beautiful morning, the harbour calm, and the sun rising, and making for an even better journey was catching up with friends, a sausage roll for breakfast, coffee and a long run on the bow with playful dolphins.
‘Do dolphins ride the wave of the boat’s bow, projecting themselves forward?’ A banter ensued and continued over the next few days. A couple of guys with bikes were on a five-day tour around the island. Disembarking the ferry, it was a hearty moment as they pedalled into Tryphena with panniers loaded.
Archie from Great Barrier Lodge met us off the ferry. He had a van for all our gear and shuttled it to the Lodge, where we were booked for two nights. Archie is a keen biker and knew the trails and riding well. A quick heads-up and sharing our plans for the day ended with a toast to the adventure and a forecast of good weather. We were on island time.
This was my third trip to the Barrier on a bike. There were six of us, and from the research we’d done there was more trail riding than previous times, plus plenty of trail maintenance. Travelling light with gear for the day was key to enjoying the riding and making the most of the unfamiliar tracks. We were to rendezvous at the Great Barrier Lodge for dinner.
After stopping at Tryphena’s local store and café for a few supplies, we climbed up to Top of the Rock Gallery where we joined onto a single track all the way down to Medlands Beach. It felt good to be on the bike, and Medlands was an absolute treat, a must! Straight into the ocean, diving through the waves, a beautiful white sand beach with no one in close sight. Togs not essential on the Barrier.
It was hard to get back on the bike, but riding through Claris (on the road) my muscles were feeling relaxed. We cycled up Blind Bay Road then joined Te Ahumata Track, a dual use track which although initially a steep pitch levelled out and dropped gradually all the way through to Wharepapa Road. It was a fast downhill road ride to Great Barrier Lodge.
What a day! Archie joined us on the grass out the front of the Lodge; we settled on a dinner time and lazed about. Hunger and talk of what was being served for dinner (in the restaurant) kept us on the go. The Lodge was catering for dinner and breakfast over our stay plus a special lunch for tomorrow’s ride.
Day Two, and we were on the saddle around 9am, cycling back up Wharepapa Road and onto Forest Road, a dual carriageway that was in great condition. There was good riding (up and down) through regenerating forest and a big view through to Fitzroy. Fitzroy is another harbour bay on the west coast of the island. There are services including a burger takeout, a local store where Carol will sell you the local paper for $1, and just up the road is the pub with views across the bay.
We cycled on to Okiwi, which included a climb and a fast-paced ride on the sealed road. The road continues onto Harataonga. With more time, from Okiwi one could ride through the Whangapoua Beach, heading up to the north end of the island.
We opted for a round trip back to Great Barrier Lodge, and the Harataonga Coastal (dual use) Track. The start of the track is signposted on Aotea Road, at the south end of Okiwi. The track is approximately 22km, with an easy ride from the start (3–4km) to a lookout point that is spectacular — it was a highlight of the views on offer. From here it is very technical, and be aware there are lots of steep cliffs and drop-offs. If you are unsure, it’s easier to push or carry your bike. We were rewarded with lush native kanuka forest, spring gullies and many more impressive views.
We finished up at Harataonga Bay with a swim on a gorgeous east coast beach, then back on the bikes and a climb out of the Bay. We opted for a left turn near the top and a technical downhill that finished at Korotiti Bay with a beach walk and a stream crossing, then back onto sealed road through to the Great Barrier Island Sports and Social Club. After signing in as a guest to the Club, a Lion Red and hot chips swelled our spirits. The sun was setting, we’d had a big day and there was a small ride with a climb up Whangaparaoa Road back to the Lodge. Dinner was served around 8pm and we ventured outside under the starlit night sky.
On Day Three, after a big breakfast and packing our bags, we made plans to meet the shuttle at Tryphena Bay in time for the afternoon ferry. There were plenty of appreciative thanks to Archie, Erica and the team. The Lodge had catered for all our needs with fantastic food, good wine and beer, an easy relaxed atmosphere and an appreciation of what Great Barrier offers for a riding adventure.
We returned the way we came on Day One, through to Medlands Beach for another swim. En route we stopped for coffee at the Claris Texas Café, which also serves the longest milkshakes in town. We dropped one of the crew at the airport, leaving the bike for the shuttle to pick up. No room for bikes on the plane! After Medlands Beach there is a solid road climb and downhill to Tryphena.
All the road climbs are very consistent and when linked with downhill tracks are good combinations. There are three types of tracks on Great Barrier: cross county dual trails, purpose built single (dual use) tracks and some challenging untamed downhills where gravity is your friend. The best swimming is on the east coast, there are stores with supplies in each of the travel centres (harbours and airport), and it is recommended to take a few spare bike parts.