Earlier this year Great Barrier Island was awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status. It is one of only three sanctuaries in the world, and a step up from Lake Tekapo's Dark Sky Reserve status. What this means is that Great Barrier has brilliantly dark skies with little light pollution and super bright stars, making it an astronomers, and astro-photographers dream. I was invited to spend a week on GBI to discover everything the island had to offer. It went a little like this.
The main reason for my invitation was my love of birds, so you can image how delighted I was that the itinerary included a stop on Tiritiri Matangi, an island wildlife sanctuary in the Hauraki gulf. I will do another complete bird blog, so keep an eye out for it after this one. It was a brilliant sunny day and my hat, sunnies and legs made an appearance for the first time since summer. We cracked open the bubbles, hoisted the sails and cruised off towards Tiri. There were 5 of us on board, all photographers, but specialising in different areas which gave me the opportunity to utilise my bird knowledge and point out the abundant birdlife on the island. After a whirlwind trip of the island, and ticking off a range of natives, we clambered back onto the yacht and set sail in search of a good sunset spot. Sadly, the sunset flopped so we sailed off towards Great Barrier Island.
We were hosted by Orama Oasis while we were on the Great Barrier and their hospitality was exceptional - there is a range of accommodation to suit everyone at Orama and the meals provided were delicious. We spent the first day exploring and photographing the north end of the island, the wild landscapes and the beautiful wildlife was a small taste of things to come.
On day 2, Great Barrier locals Opo and Elaine with their son Jeremiah came to show us around their private island which is on the west side of GBI. Not many people are lucky enough to have a whole island, complete with gannet colony to themselves but Opo and Elaine are the perfect guardians of this beautiful land. I could smell and hear the gannets long before I could see them, but once I rounded the top of the hill an uncontrollable smile spread across my face. How is this even real? How did I get so lucky to be here? I could have sat all day with these mostly majestic but sometimes slightly goofy birds. The interactions between pairs were simple beautiful to watch.
Once we got back to the yacht Elaine surprised us all with tasty fried bread and local Manuka honey which lasted approximately 7 seconds - we were starving and the bread with honey was ambrosia, I don't think she had seen anyone eat so fast in her life. Sunset was spent with full tummies at Port Fitzroy, but I must confess to missing the best of the light as I was chasing banded rails around the lawn. These gorgeous wee birds are uncommon on the mainland, so I was delighted to see my first non-captive bird on GBI.
The next morning, we were shifting base down towards Tryphena, this meant driving the length of the island winding our way in and out of all the little bays and estuaries looking for unique spots to photograph. I felt like I could spend weeks exploring this stunning island, every bay had a different view to admire. The grey finally subsided, and we were blessed with crazy blue skies over the white sand beaches. The next few days we settled into a routine of sunrise, relaxing, exploring, sunset and astro.
Sadly, Deb and Brent had to head back to Auckland on Thursday so just three of us had the lucky clear skies on our final night.
Friday saw Matt and I wizz around the lush Glenfern Sanctuary, we cursed the stairs, admired the views, loved the swingbridge to the giant Kauri tree and hand-fed the gorgeous wee Pateke. Glenfern has lovely accommodation, great walks and super friendly wildlife - it is a must see on the island.
Just like that, my week on Great Barrier came to an end and I was pretty upset to head home. There was so much more to see and do, and I know I'll be back next year to do it. If you are interested in visiting Great Barrier Island and would like to know more about guided photography trips please be in touch. Endless people to thank for my awesome trip but Rodger and Orama Oasis gave me this exceptional opportunity and I can't thank them enough. My fellow photographers made the trip extra special; Check them out on Instagram - Brent Purcell, Deb Clark, and Matt Jordan