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Going guided: Exploring Aotea

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June 2020 Issue

Aotea/Great Barrier Island is a half hour flight from Auckland, yet it’s a destination few Kiwis have visited.

Great Barrier Island is one of those ‘one day’ destinations, says Walking Legends guide Karllie Clifton.

“I find when I mention Aotea to people, they often talk about how they have always wanted to visit one day but just haven’t got there yet,” she says. 

And yet, the beach-laden paradise is just a 30-minute flight from Auckland.

Clifton says the ‘off-the-grid’ island is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.

“The next closest might be Rakiura but the weather on Aotea is so much better,” she says. “It has the untouched feel, and it’s a dark sky sanctuary of which there are currently only 11 in the world.”

A guided trip to the island begins the moment the tyres hit the tarmac, says Whangamata tramper Ann Costar.

“We landed in a little wee plane and  then we were straight away picked up  from the airport and taken to our first walk,” she says.

“We had beautiful bush to walk through, an interesting track, beautiful lookouts, and the scenery was spectacular looking across Little Barrier and Coromandel, listening to the birds.”

The following day, the group climbed to the summit of Hirakimatā – the highest peak on the island, and often the highlight of the trip.

“It is our biggest day hiking and it’s filled with so many spectacular views, lunch at Mt Heale Hut and a soak in the natural Kaitoke Hot Springs near the end of the hike,” Clifton says.

Exploring the island has long been on the bucket list for Costar, who has kept tramping right through her sixties.

“I’d never been out to the Barrier, but I’m trying to get a few walks in before I can’t anymore – it was full on, and all go, and it was fabulous,” she says.

Clifton says she loves sharing the ‘piece of paradise’ with clients.

“It is a really special place for me and to combine that with my love for the outdoors really is an extremely fulfilling job – it doesn’t feel like work at all,” she says.

Where Aotea/Great Barrier Island
Who Walking Legends, www.walkinglegends.co.nz
When October-April
Duration Four days
Price $1850