Aotea/Great Barrier Island set to re-open

Department of Conservation —  15/09/2020

Hokia ki ō maunga kia purea ai koe e ngā hau a Tāwhirimātea.

Return to your mountains so that you can be cleansed by the winds of Tāwhirimātea.

Hirakimata lookout, looking towards Hauturu/Little Barrier
📷: DOC

As we watched the world struggle to take the helm of this global pandemic Aotearoa was plunged back into the uncertainty of fast-moving, ever-changing lockdown systems and Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, home to 1.6 million, stood still while most of Aotearoa kept moving.

For most of us living in the super city, watching the announcement was a hard pill to swallow. But what did that mean for us in Tāmaki Makaurau? It meant saying ‘ka kite for now’ to our traditional workspaces, our learning institutes, our recreational facilities and our wider backyard. More specifically, it meant packing up and going back to that makeshift little home office in the corner of your room while watching your kids eat a week’s worth of shopping in one day. It meant putting away those stylish new pants you got in your excessive online shopping spree and saying a heartfelt ‘I missed you’ to our trusty grey sweatpants. And it meant our weekly excursions to our local supermarkets became the highlights of our week.

The boundless inland activities of the supercity were not the only places subject to that heavy door slam. Our Tāmaki Makaurau districts felt the move into level 3 fast and swift and our beautiful, picturesque Aotea/Great Barrier Island was also subject of the lockdown shift as it sits within the Auckland region.

Mt Heale Hut looking towards Hauturu/Little Barrier
📷: Andres Apse

Aotea/Great Barrier Island lies 100 km northeast of downtown Auckland on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf and is home to a plethora of scenic views and wildlife. Spectacular bluffs and ridges with Hirakimata as its highest peak at 621m. Forest covered ranges, a maze of bays, island and indented fiords and to your east, sweeping white sands and surf beaches, often backed by tidal creeks and wetlands, Aotea/Great Barrier Island is a must see and attracts many, many visitors.

Kayaker enjoying the surf, looking out to Rakitu Island.
📷: DOC

Because Aotea was subject to level 3 lockdown DOC’s Aotea/Great Barrier Island Operations Manager, George Taylor, and his team of Rangers were tasked with looking after Aotea and ensuring that lockdown regulations were adhered to. Although most of the amenities and facilities were closed during the level 3 lockdown, most of the tracks remained open subject to the appropriate guidance. While most people complied with lockdown requirements, DOC did have to speak to a few people who were intending to use these facilities during lockdown. They were informed of the closures and advised to move on.

Regrettably, DOC did find evidence that huts were used during this time. “This is incredibly frustrating to discover. This will prompt us to be more vigilant should we have to go back into lockdown in the future,” says George Taylor.

While we continued life in level 3 and our DOC Rangers on Aotea/Great Barrier Island monitored for potential rule breakers, we waited with bated breath for a potential shift and lo and behold, the time had arrived. Auckland is now under Level 2 and will continue at this steady pace for another week or so. The city that never sleeps was awake again, and we opened our doors…slightly.

Soaking at the Kaitoke Hot Spring.
📷: DOC

After a lockdown that felt longer than the first, we know that Aucklanders that were once cooped up within their four walls have been itching to go out and about and explore all that Auckland has to offer and with restrictions lifted this means that Aotea/Great Barrier Island will be welcoming visitors with our DOC team preparing for the re-opening of huts and amenities.

The DOC Aotea/Great Barrier Island team is now preparing for re-opening and for an influx of spring and summer visitors looking to experience the outdoors once again on Aotea Track, one of the most popular outdoor attractions.

George Taylor says, “Track conditions are perfect at the moment and the weather has been fairly settled and with only a 30-minute flight from Auckland, Aotea/Great Barrier Island can provide a remote outdoors experience.” This is something that was out of reach in recent times.

Palmers Track heading towards Hirakimata lookout.
📷: DOC

So now that the time has come, our Great Barrier Island welcomes you and if you are planning to leave the confines of your home and are planning to get back outdoors, George Taylor says, “Remember to be prepared when travelling outdoors. Check the weather and track conditions before you go and make sure you take the necessary food, water and clothing equipment.”

COVID-19 Alert Level 2: Keep yourself safe in huts and campsites and using toilets

• You are responsible for your own health and hygiene – take and use your own cleaning and protective equipment. Leave facilities clean and fit for use by others.
• Keep one metre physical distancing is required at huts.

Consider wearing a mask.
• Hut capacity for larger bookable huts is reduced.
• Enable contact tracing – tell someone before you go and use the hut books.
• Huts, campsites and lodges cannot be used to self-isolate.