Good Heavens Great Barrier Island

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. 

 Tryphena, Great Barrier Island - Dark Sky Sanctuary

Tryphena, Great Barrier Island - Dark Sky Sanctuary

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.

 Red-Crowned Kakariki - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island 

Red-Crowned Kakariki - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island 

 Tui  - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island 

Tui  - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island 

 Lighthouse  - Tiri Tiri Matangi Island 

Lighthouse  - Tiri Tiri Matangi 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. 

 Pateke at Orama Oasis 

Pateke at Orama Oasis 

 Always look up on Great Barrier Island

Always look up on Great Barrier Island

 Sunset Orama Oasis style. 

Sunset Orama Oasis style. 

 Sunrise at Whangapoua Beach

Sunrise at Whangapoua Beach

 Photographing Great Barrier Island's amazing Dark Sky.

Photographing Great Barrier Island's amazing Dark Sky.

 A lone mangrove - Whangapoua Beach

A lone mangrove - Whangapoua Beach

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. 

 Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island 

Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island 

 Lovers at the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

Lovers at the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

 Deliveries - Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

Deliveries - Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

 Just part of the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

Just part of the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

 Bonding at the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

Bonding at the Gannet Colony near Great Barrier Island

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. 

 Skipper Rodger and Opo

Skipper Rodger and Opo

 Banded Rail on Great Barrier Island

Banded Rail on Great Barrier Island

 Astro-mangroves at Whangapoua Beach

Astro-mangroves at Whangapoua Beach

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.

 Can't go past a good swingbridge

Can't go past a good swingbridge

 Harataonga Bay

Harataonga Bay

 Tui in a Flowering Kowhai

Tui in a Flowering Kowhai

 Stormy Sunrise

Stormy Sunrise

 Medlands Beach

Medlands Beach

 Shoal Bay Christmas Tree

Shoal Bay Christmas Tree

 Orionids Meteor Shower captured above the Milkyway and Galactic Kiwi

Orionids Meteor Shower captured above the Milkyway and Galactic Kiwi

 Kaitoke Estuary Rainbows

Kaitoke Estuary Rainbows

 One of the many Kereru we saw.

One of the many Kereru we saw.

 Medlands Beach

Medlands Beach

 Crazy stormy light and rain for sunrise.

Crazy stormy light and rain for sunrise.

 Friendly locals.

Friendly locals.

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.

 Tryphena

Tryphena

 Tryphena

Tryphena

 Our last sunset on the Island 

Our last sunset on the Island 

 Pohutukawa beautifully lit by the light of the pub. 

Pohutukawa beautifully lit by the light of the pub. 

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.

 Glenfern Sanctuary 

Glenfern Sanctuary 

 Pateke at Glenfern Sanctuary

Pateke at Glenfern Sanctuary

 Sunset Rock views

Sunset Rock views

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 

 Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay

 Kingfisher (which were abundant on the island)

Kingfisher (which were abundant on the island)

 Awana Beach

Awana Beach

 Puriri Bay gems

Puriri Bay gems

 The crystal clear water

The crystal clear water

 Old bach near Puriri Bay

Old bach near Puriri Bay

 Puriri Bay Views

Puriri Bay Views

 Medlands Beach

Medlands Beach