The weather always makes our decisions for us. We knew the wind would turn against a sail back up to Whangarei at the end of the week and that left us with only three days to explore “the Barrier,” as the locals call it. Great Barrier Island is not to be confused with Great Barrier Reef, which is in Australia and something else entirely. We first became aware of the Barrier from an episode of House Hunters International, a TV show that fed our longing for faraway places while we were saving our pennies and planning to sail away. I was entranced by the idea of an island off the grid, where residents generate their own power, increasingly with solar panels but also with wind and diesel or gas generators. No matter what, we didn’t want to miss visiting this place and it really delivered on our expectations.
We started with a stop at the tiny tourist office in Port FitzRoy and a long talk with Kay, who gave us a rundown on don’t-miss sights. With an afternoon ahead of us the first day she steered us toward the FitzRoy House and Glen Fern Reserve, a gorgeous walk through replanted forest and farmland.
As always where there are Kauri trees there are washing stations to reduce the possibility of spreading the die-back disease that threatens the young trees and is carried on footwear to the delicate roots.
I’m a forest person. It’s in the forest that I feel most at home, maybe because I spent so much of my early adulthood camping in various forests throughout North America, or maybe because in the forest there’s everything you could possibly need to support life — shelter, water, food — or maybe it’s just because I find the trees beautiful and powerful. Whatever the reason, I never grow tired of walking in the woods. We’ve come to appreciate the New Zealand Department of Conservation, who make the landscape accessible without altering it.
Steep and narrow walkways lead to a medium-sized, 600-year-old kauri that survived the logging that mostly wiped out the forest in earlier, less-enlightened times. A swing plank bridge provided touching access, and there was even a ladder and platform should you want to sit in the tree and appreciate the view from the steep cliff. That was a bridge too far for Jack and me, but we did at least walk up to the tree to pay tribute to its strength and longevity.
The trail left the dense canopy and we found ourselves with a commanding view of the harbor, and of course, Escape Velocity way down below in the tiny anchorage. Funny how we boaters will go to great lengths just to take a photo of our beloved homes in exotic places.