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Island Time

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Stone at Orama Oasis Christian Retreat

I’ve been to paradise and back since we last ‘spoke’.

My family has just returned from an incredible holiday on Great Barrier Island/Aotea (GBI).  Two years in the planning (and saving!), the trip was a 70th birthday gift for my well-travelled father who only had only two places left in the whole of New Zealand to visit: GBI and the Chatham Islands (Chathams, you’re next).

What an adventure we had!  Tiny planes, schlepping all the food we could, flooded and nail-biting roads, tropical downpours, pristine beaches, breath-taking views, and magic family moments to treasure.  I want to go back, the island is just so beautiful.

Great Barrier Island lies north-east of Auckland, and is a 30 minute plane trip or 4-and-a-half hour ferry ride away.  With a resident population of 800, and around 60% of the island being conservation land, GBI is a fantastic spot to get away from it all and recharge tired batteries.

I went with D, my two tots, my parents and my mother-in-law.  D took one for the team and drove our car to Auckland, and then caught the ferry over to GBI the next day.  The car was packed to the gills with food for the week, as being an island, food is expensive due to having to freight most things over from Auckland.  Meanwhile the rest of us flew to Auckland, and then caught a tiny six-seater plane over to the island.

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Chip enjoying his first plane ride…for the moment

Sausage has been to Europe and looked rather bored with the whole plane thing, but plane-obsessed Chip was so excited to go on his first plane ride.  He amused us by asking if we were ‘ready’ about 30 times before we took off.  He did well, but we had a rough descent into Auckland so he screamed the plane down for the last 15 minutes.  Such fun!

Chip was a champ on the next flight however, because he could see out better, and the view of the Hauraki Gulf with all its beautiful islands, and our first glimpse of GBI is not a flight I will forget in a hurry.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, GBI is beautiful.  Lush rainforest, quirky settlements and golden beaches.

We stayed in the north-western part of the Island, at Orama Oasis.  Orama is a Christian community that has been based on GBI since the 70s, and they provide adventure holidays, spiritual retreats and run training workshops.  D had stayed at Orama before and loved it, and when I discovered we could get a sea view unit I was sold.

What a special place.

The top left picture is the view of Karaka Bay from our accommodation.  Most nights found us simply watching the sunset over the bay, revelling in the stillness and beauty.

Orama has about 20 staff and also has volunteers that run the retreat centre, the farm and work on their garden.  The Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre is also based at Orama, and a large group of home-schooled teenagers were having the time of their lives when we arrived.

On our second day, we were car-less (waiting for D to arrive) but it mattered not.  ‘Did you know we have a creche?’ said one of the workers to me.  No, I didn’t.  My jaw hit the floor when I saw it.

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It is a mini-Playcentre with everything a toddler could want, including a playhouse and sandpit outside.

That day just happened to be play group day, so we got to meet several locals, including a family who live in a boat.  My tots had an absolute ball playing with the other kids, and we enjoyed chatting with the lovely mums who either lived at Orama or nearby.

We got some beach time in at Mabey’s beach before the rain came.  Golden sand, warm water.  We had it all to ourselves.

We were unlucky to get three days of tropical downpours, but the locals were thrilled to get rain after weeks and weeks of none.  We had one day where it poured all day, and we were extremely grateful for the creche room at Orama which kept Sausage and Chip happy and probably saved our sanity.

We checked out Claris and Tryphena, the main villages, and Port Fitzroy where D and I were given a night out by his mum.

The kids, D and I headed to Okiwi Park, next to the closest school to Orama (there are 3 schools on the island).  Okiwi Park has a cool bike track, and lots of charming information signs made by the local school children.

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We had a brilliant play at Gooseberry Flat beach at Tryphena.

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But the best bit was being together.  D and I loved having extra eyes on our tots, and the grandparents loved their shenanigans.  Having dinner with everyone at Orama, giggling at ‘The Man Who Knew Too Little’, heaving a sigh of relief at making it through a flooded road, and never getting tired of the view of Karaka Bay meant for one special holiday.  Little moments like this:

Grandpa was a very good sport about being ‘stickered’.

My folks and MIL flew back while D, the kids and I took the ferry back to Auckland.  We spent a couple of days there, taking the kids to attractions that we don’t have closer to home.  My sea creature-mad girl loved Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium, although I almost died at the price – $90!  Insane!  It is an amazing place, but the entrance fee puts it out of reach of many people.

We also took our machinery-mad boy to MOTAT, the Museum of Transport and Technology.  MOTAT was one of my favourite places to visit as a kid, and it was a joy to see my own kids scampering around excitedly.

I was reminded of how much I hate Auckland.  The traffic is diabolical, and D and I ended up in a shouting match due to the stress of navigating its busy roads.  It made me realise that visiting there is not my idea of a good time.  I have lived in big cities (including Auckland, London and Seoul) but I don’t think I could ever do it again.  I really value our lifestyle in Whanganui with its five-minute commute anywhere.  Much less stressful!

We definitely came home rejuvenated from our trip away, and are plotting to return to GBI one day.

Great Barrier Island, I’ll be back!