Great Barrier Island is too big to explore on foot and too hilly for bikes so we rented a car for the day to reach the far corners of the island in our limited time. The rental process was the same as we experienced in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The car was waiting for us at the dock with the keys under the mat and a request to fill out the contract before we drove away. We were instructed to leave the car in the same place at the end of the day and to hand the contract to the gas pump attendant when we filled the tank, along with the rental fee in cash.
Kay in the tiny tourist info hut suggested an itinerary, starting with the steep winding road up from Port FitzRoy to a surprisingly level plateau past a small airifield which, judging by the number of comfortable squatters, doesn’t seem to be used much.
Our first stop was the trail to Windy Canyon. We weren’t sure what to expect but after many long flights of narrow stairways we found ourselves in a place exactly as described. The air was biting cold and we were occasionally hit with gusts that might have blown us off the mountain had we not been paying attention. The view from the top was spectacular and despite the wind we stayed awhile to appreciate the perspective that comes from altitude.
Back down we drove through painterly pastureland, sometimes sharing the road with local residents.
We saw very little vehicle traffic most of the time. Good thing, too, because the twisty mountain roads were really only a lane and a half wide with no guard rails and only the occasional curbing along steep drops. Consequently we had a running bicker fest for much of the day.
Me (staring over the abyss, gasping in fright): Move over! You’re too close to the edge!
Jack (emulating Lewis Hamilton’s late braking technique): Oh, come on! When did you become a Nervous Nelly?
All. Day. Long.
Ok, he did brake early for the cows.
Most of the day was the usual car touring routine of stopping, taking photos, getting back in the car and driving on. The island is breathtaking in every direction with a surprising variety of landscapes.
Kay recommended the hike to the hot springs in the center of the island. It was a level track, at first through open woods and then across fragile wetlands, often on boardwalks to protect the delicate flora. It took nearly an hour to reach the hot springs and I was happy to kick off my shoes and soak my dogs in the warm water. If I’d come prepared I’d’ve done a full-on pedi.
Land dwellers always recommend beaches but we boaters see a lot of beaches, albeit from the wet side. Still, the Barrier has some good ones. As Schulzes and as Escapees we end up at cafes more often than not. The Wild Rose Cafe provided our post-lunch coffee drinks and a very fine almond croissant, even if it was the most expensive cafe visit in recent memory.
Since the island has barely a cell signal in places and no cell data to speak of we made a half hour stop at the main airport where we could get online for email and bill paying. While we were there a few other people came in, sat down with a phone or iPad, did a little online business then left.
It was just after 3 o’clock when we left the airport hoping to make two more stops on Kay’s suggested itinerary, which she promised we’d have ‘heaps of time’ to accomplish. But no. The roads are twisty and slow and we needed to get back to Port FitzRoy before the filling station closes at 5. No matter. We just continued to appreciate the natural beauty of the island, and at least driving back I wasn’t on the cliff side of the road and could relax my death grip on the arm rest. I might have sprained my braking foot, though.