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Great Barrier Tripping

07 December 2022

Words & Photos: Cati Pearson

Our Labour Day adventure started off bright and early on Thursday morning as we rode down Auckland's pink light path towards the viaduct. Our plan was to get coffee and a yummy breakfast before our ferry at 8am... well a call at 7:30 saying we were the last ones to board the ferry culled that idea and we raced to our boat. Breakfast of pie and boat coffee would have to suffice.

Enjoying smooth sailing across Auckland Harbour.

Our crossing was smooth, we lounged around on the deck enjoying the sun and watching dolphins play in the wash. We arrived in Tryphena to a beautiful day. I had spent some time here in my youth, and more recently doing the great walk. But this was Tysin’s first time to Great Barrier.

Our first day was pretty chill. We meandered into Tryphena township for lunch and a donut before a short grind up the gravel Rosalie Bay Road to the Kowhai Track. This 'Grade 4' track is a fast footpath that weaves its way along a farm boundary to Medlands Beach. It has a couple of sharp river crossings and some ridiculously tight corners (especially on fully laden bikepacking rigs).

Setting off on the Kowhai Track.

We popped out at the beach and rolled along to our accommodation – my Auntie's bach. Sadly no one had left a key out so we parked up on the lawn and tented. Our afternoon was spent drinking wine, eating cheese and swimming in the warm waters of the bay. The stressful day had us in bed by 8pm and we slept like babies until 8am the next day.

Day 2

It was drizzling as we packed up and hit the road towards the main township of Claris. But when we arrived 5 km later it was another blue sky beautiful day. Another breakfast pie and coffee, plus a wee stock up of riding snacks from My Fat Puku. Since I was here last more of the previously gravel roads had been sealed, which made for fast, slightly easier uphills than expected. The weeks’ worth of riding had over 3000 m vert so any help was much appreciated.

Struggling up the Harataonga Loop Track.

At the base of the Harataonga Coastal Track we had the decision to either do just the main track or clamber up a clay extension to do the Loop Track – Tysin chose the latter. We slipped and slided, pushing the bikes to the top but were rewarded with a stunning view of the coastal track and Rakitu Island. The track back to the main coastal track was tight and steep, proper mountain biking. It was beautiful - wide trails through lovely native bush. Kaka sat trailside and watched us pass, while Tūī danced above us.

The view from the top of Harataonga towards the Whangapoua camp.

The final decent into Whangapoua Bay, our campsite for the night was grade 3 flow perfection. Having the campsite all to ourselves we set up our tent then decanted all our bags into the kitchen area. A can of coke and cold stuffed potato carried from My Fat Puku in the morning gave us an energy boost. Since we had some time to kill before dinner, we decided to back track a bit along Aotea Road to hike Windy Canyon – 3 km to the trail start, that shouldn’t be too hard. However, 3 km straight up the hill in jandals (on clip pedals) turned out to be the hardest part of our entire trip!

Yummy pre-hike snack thanks to My Fat Puku.

Windy Canyon is a stunning walk to the summit of Mt Hobson (the highest point on GBI, 627 m), lined with big rock walls and board walks. Be careful with hiking in jandals though. As you get tired and start scuffing your feet they can catch on stairs and break – Tysin sadly learnt the hard way. From the summit you can see the entire island, as well as Coromandal Peninsula. We enjoyed the late afternoon sun and some ridiculously melted chocolate (melted into my Antidote jacket bum bag) before hobbling back down, 3 jandals, 4 feet.

The beauty of Wind Canyon.

Mount Hobson looking out over Port Fitzroy.

Disaster struck.

Day 3

The ride over the hill to Port Jackson was short and sweet. Taking the Old Lady Track (a tight proper grade 5 trail) right to the entrance of the Glenfern Sanctuary – a must do on GBI. The sanctuary has many native trees and birds to enjoy as well as more stunning ocean views. However, our highlight was the kauri swing bridge – a bridge that literally takes you into a kauri where you can sit amongst the branches and enjoy the view (& height).

The kauri bridge at Glenfern Sanctuary.

Lunch was set for the Port Jackson Boat Club. We rocked up at midday but everything looked shut! Next minute Kaye was at the door welcoming us in. We had some bloody good food and local Aotea Brewing beer and were joined by Kaye & Phil on the deck for some great chats. With full bellies, we toddled off quite tipsy. We stopped briefly at the Warrens Track waterfall for a dip before pushing on along the never ending road that is Forest Road. Exhausted (whether from all the climbing or the lunchtime beersies – unsure) when we got to the Green Campsite, we made the most of the last of the sun, eating cheese and crackers at the waterside.

Sussing out the pools on the Warrens Track falls.

Day 4

It was already stinking hot when we woke, so we delayed our climb out of Whangaparapara bay by taking a wee hike to the old whaling station – there wasn’t much in terms of views or whaling paraphernalia but the walk through the water back to camp was nice.

Struggling up the Harataonga Loop Track.

We climbed up to Te Ahumata and along to the summit shirtless, enjoying the warmth of the day. The views at the top were amazing, we stopped for a second breakfast and to wave at our mates who were camping at Stony Bay. The track back down into Claris was fast and flowy, and we were happily rewarded when we got there with a can of coke!

We had a few hours to kill before the pizza party at My Fat Puku so ducked back out to the XXX hot springs for a soak. Finally with wrinkled skin and bellies full of amazing pizza (plus a few too many beers) we made it back over the hill to Medlands for our final night.

The best Brisket pizzas out! Teamed perfectly with Barrier Brewing beers.

Day 5

We made the most of the calm weather by having a pre coffee swim, a post breakfast swim and a frolick in the mermaid pools before we packed up our gear for the final time to head back over to the ferry. We climbed up to the turn off to Station Rock Track. Some blog I had read said it was rideable – I can tell you the first 15 minutes to the lookout is 100% not… I was hot, tired and a bit unsure whether we should push on (literally) but Tysin decided we should finish the planned loop.

The Mermaid Pools are a must do at Medlands Beach.

From the lookout the super tight track weaves up over the hill back towards Rosalie Bay Road. Sections are rideable, flowy and fun, other sections technical and hard with bikepacking set ups, yet other sections not quite rideable but the track on the whole was fun.

Station Rock Track.

We flew down the gravel road back to the ferry pickup an hour before check in. So wharf manus and a cook up of our pesto gnocchi kept us entertained as we waited for our return to the mainland

Happy team shot!