I used to be glad I had such horrible jet lag. Wide awake at three.30am with my nine-year-old daughter on our lodge balcony, I stared for hours on the most unbelievable evening sky I’ve ever seen earlier than the daybreak slowly began to rub out the celebrities on the horizon and the a number of capturing stars pale away.
We have been going to my girlfriend’s massive household reunion in Auckland, New Zealand, however after we found out that Great Barrier Island, simply off the coast, had been lately awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary standing – a sometimes distant space that has an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights” – we thought it will be the right place to unwind earlier than our busy schedule. It’s the primary island and solely the fourth location within the world to attain this (together with Chile’s Gabriela Mistral, the Cosmic Campground in New Mexico and Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah).
After a 28-hour flight with two travel-sick youngsters, our hearts sank after we noticed the tiny twin engine 10-seater that was to take us the 90km throughout the Hauraki Gulf to Great Barrier. But we needn’t have frightened. Whether it was the g-force of the ascent or the noise of the airplane (we needed to put on headsets), it put our three-year-old daughter immediately to sleep till we bumped down on the grass at Claris airport. Our first empty sick bag towards all the percentages… Things have been trying up.
Surf and sand dunes at Medlands seaside, Great Barrier Island. Photograph: Alamy
Great Barrier is off-grid and the 950 individuals dwelling there (although solely about half completely) depend on photo voltaic and wind vitality, and bottled fuel for cooking. There are not any streetlights. There are not any money machines or banks. The police pressure contains a husband and spouse, and there’s one postie. It’s not simply the shortage of sunshine however the lack of noise that’s so blissful on this distinctive and beautiful little idyll. It was first found by East Polynesians about 700 years in the past and the Maori identify for the island is Aotea (canoe). Captain Cook gave the island its European identify, as a result of it acts as a barrier between the Pacific and the Hauraki Gulf.
The local weather right here is subtropical like Auckland’s, but it surely’s windier and extra rugged; a phenomenal wilderness with lush forests, superb, unspoilt sandy seashores and loads of bays and some mountainous areas the place there are good strolling tracks among the many wetlands and gorges, together with the three-day Aotea Track. You can birdwatch, snorkel, surf and kayak. The greatest seashores are on the jap aspect of the island the place the surf is best, too. The sheltered western aspect is the place you’ll discover the perfect diving and boating. Lots of individuals come right here for the incredible fishing spots across the island – snapper, squid, cod. Like a number of spots in New Zealand, there are dolphin and whale-watching journeys and also you may simply catch sight of hammerhead sharks.
It’s uncommon to seek out an island that basically does really feel undiscovered – however that is it. When one in every of my girlfriend’s relations, who comes right here commonly, found out that we’d been, he whispered to us, solely half-joking: “Shh – don’t tell anyone!” (He’s a former All Black, so I may be in a little bit of hassle.) The locals are a relaxed and pleasant bunch – a number of them informed us that it’s like Waiheke Island (now in impact a suburb of Auckland) was within the 70s when it was a hippy commune and filled with artists and folks wanting to flee the town. Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman lives on Great Barrier and Veronica Lake’s daughter, the artist Anae Swan, additionally lives right here.
The Milky Way as seen on Great Barrier Island with the Good Heavens telescope. Photograph: Mark Russell/Sophi Reinholt/The Renegade Peach Project
Our information for a few of our keep was the inestimable Hilde Hoven, a darkish sky ambassador who runs Good Heavens with Deborah Kilgallon and Orla Cumisky. They deliver their 8in Dobsonian telescope, binoculars and beanbags (it’s arduous work staring up wide-eyed in surprise with out neck help) and, my elder daughter was glad to listen to, scorching chocolate to wherever you might be on the island. “It’s odd but when the light readings were done,” mentioned Hilde, explaining how the island was awarded its particular standing, “they found there was more light pollution on the northern side coming from Fiji, which is about 3,000km away, than Auckland to the south. It’s pretty dark!”
Beginning their celestial PowerPoint demonstration utilizing a inexperienced laser pointer, Hilda and Orla confirmed us the Messier four globular cluster with white dwarf stars, Saturn and its rings, the Southern Cross and the Milky Way, which stretched throughout the sky. My daughter was particularly taken with Hilde’s recounting of the Maori fable of Māui’s fish hook to clarify the form of Scorpius. In the fable, Māui hauled the North Island of New Zealand (Te Ika-a-Māui, which implies the Fish of Māui) from the underside of the ocean along with his hook.
Mount St Paul Estate, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
We stayed at Mount St Paul’s Estate, an expensive lodge run by the genial Chris and Teara, each from Canada. Teara was a chef on the Langham in Auckland and so dinner, eaten round an enormous round kauri desk (product of one of the vital historical timber within the world), was each bit as mouth-watering as you’d anticipate; seared scallops with a wasabi pea purée and braised lamb shanks with a garlic and maple discount. Tucking into pancakes on the wraparound verandah overlooking the pristine white sandy seaside was an effective way to start out the day.
Another spotlight was an hour-long stroll to Kaitoke scorching swimming pools within the centre of the island, by way of wetlands and a kānuka forest, the place we noticed fern birds and fantails and whiled away a very good hour sitting within the swimming pools shaded from the warmth by layers of delicate umbrella ferns.
Chris Hall’s daughter Zarify, 9, within the mermaid pool at Medlands seaside. Photograph: Chris Hall for the Observer
We additionally cherished visiting the potter Sarah Harrison, who confirmed us around her studio at Shoal Bay harbour, and her many pots and jugs, plates and bowls and vibrant mosaics. She additionally makes use of a number of found supplies in her work, resembling her driftwood chairs. My elder daughter cherished the attractive hidden mermaid pool at Medlands seaside the place the water is separated from the ocean in a secluded rock pool. Other excessive factors have been the gnarly, historical pohutukawa timber; and the beautiful panoramic views of Okiwi Basin and Whangapoua seaside from the highest of Windy Canyon, only a 10-minute hike by way of a gorge up some steep picket steps on the jap aspect of the island. Apparently the island council turned down Paul McCartney’s utility to purchase a property at Great Barrier due to the unwelcome consideration he would have introduced. You can see why he needed to come right here; equally, the island is aware of precisely what sort of star watching it prefers.
Way to go
Chris and his household stayed at mountstpaulestate.co.nz, Great Barrier Island. Rooms are £99pp per evening. They flew from Auckland to Great Barrier with flymysky.co.nz, return fares from £40. Cathay Pacific flies between the UK and Hong Kong, and onwards to greater than 190 locations globally. These embrace 5 flights each day from Heathrow, and each day from Gatwick and Manchester. Return fares to Auckland in economic system are from £1,zero24, cathaypacific.co.uk (0800 917 8260). Star gazing with goodheavens.co.nz begins from $50 for youngsters and $90 for adults.