If you're wanting to take your kids on a true adventure and spend some quality time with them away from the city, this is the place.
Travelling to Great Barrier with children is one big adventure right from the beginning, whether you choose to travel by plane or ferry. The ferry ride is plenty of fun, giving you a rare chance for quality family time, as you enjoy the views of the city disappearing behind you.
We recommend taking drawing paper and pens, cards or other travel games, a good book and money for a coffee and pie at the ferry cafe and bar. You can also sneak in your laptop and a movie to get through the home stretch.
Once you arrive on the island, it’s best to plan your days by location. We suggest the following:
Head north to Whangapoua and enjoy the fabulous walks along Whangapoua Beach (about half an hour each way), before giving your children a history lesson at the gravesite of the SS Wairarapa, one of New Zealand’s worst shipwrecks, in which over 140 people drowned in October 1894.
When you’ve had enough of the beach, head across to Port Fitzroy. Once you’ve met the locals at Fitzroy you can either go exploring on the many walking tracks (Bush’s Track, Forest Road, South Fork Track) around the areas or head into Glenfern Sanctuary, where you can opt for a guided (recommended) or unguided come face to face with some of New Zealand’s most threatened or endangered species.
Head fishing! No trip to the Barrier would be complete without at least one day on the water, and there’s always a guaranteed catch! There’s plenty of fishing charters (and even some locals!) willing to take you out, to show you what lies beneath the pristine waters surrounding the Barrier. And the best thing is, you’ll come home with dinner for the next night or two!
Start with a morning in Claris, visiting the Aotea Community Art Gallery (exhibiting lots of local talent) and the Milk, Honey and Grain Museum. Take your camera with you – there’s some real hidden treasures in this museum that will give your kids plenty to scream (and then laugh!) about.
Grab some lunch in Claris at the Claris Texas Cafe or the bakery opposite the art gallery, and then head to the beautiful white sandy beaches of Medlands and Kaitoke. You’ll be able to walk for miles if you feel like it, or simply rest up with your book. On most days, you’ll find good surf (for boogie boarding or surfing) at Medlands, and plenty of shallow pools on the beach for the kids to play in (at Kaitoke).
It’s time to head bush at Whangaparapara. There are so many fantastic (and well maintained) tracks traversing the island, you really can choose the track to suit you. Consider the gradient and length of the track based on the abilities of your family and then enjoy. The bush scenery is amazing and there are plenty of hidden gems along the way, like the Kaitoke Hot Water Springs, Withey’s Track, the Tramline Track). Pack your togs for the Kaitoke Hot Water Springs, a natural spring in the river that doubles as a spa to ease those tired feet.
Time to choose your ride – horse or bike? There are great options for both horse trekking and bicycle hire on the island, so plan ahead to book your adventure early in the week. Whether you choose to travel by horse or bike, there are plenty of incredible places to explore.
Tips for travelling with children
- Travelling by ferry means you will have your own vehicle on the island and also means you can bring supplies for all eventualities, which makes your trip more enjoyable. As well as packing plenty of food, throw in the boogie boards and fishing rods (for the wharfs as well as on the boat) and lots of board games (like you used to play as a kid).
- Use your Barrier holiday as an excuse to truly disconnect from the mainland and enjoy quality time with your children, without the interruptions of TV, cellphones, and computers.
- The distance between most destinations is short (under 30 minutes) but the roads are windy, so if your children get carsick, you may want to plan for this.