Local guide Russell guiding our group around Aotea Great Barrier

Aotea Great Barrier Island – The People

He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata

The People, The People, The People

We all know it’s the people who make any place memorable and this is especially true of beautiful Aotea Great Barrier Island where a cast of warm and welcoming locals adds a great richness to our tour.

Visitors soon learn that everyone on Great Barrier seems to have had an amazing range of jobs and has the ability to weave that experience into fascinating stories.

Russell Scott – the hippie who never left

Russell Scott came to Great Barrier in the 1960s to join a hippie commune and somehow never quite managed to leave.

He has been a road construction worker, a DOC track hand, fencer, property maintenance contractor, ambulance driver and volunteer fireman and for several years was an integral part of MoaTours’ team joining our coach to share his local knowledge with our groups.

He knows everyone on the island – and they all know him.

We put a few questions to Russell about life on the island.

How long have you lived here?

I moved to the island 50 years ago as a teenager with friends from Hamilton when my brother and his family found a large block of land here and set up a communal landholding. I grew up on a farm in Whanganui and the longest time spent off island in these 50 years is a six month stint working on the Routeburn Track.

Island Life

I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for 25 years. I have always worked outside, for many years as a contractor for the local Council, DOC and arboriculturists, etc. I’ve maintained the island’s walking tracks, Kauri dieback work, interspersed with spells of fishing, fencing and firewood supply.

Living off grid, and often without regular food supplies to the island for many years, means this community has an inbuilt resilience which creates a special bond among those that live here for any length of time no matter their financial or cultural background.

What is your favourite place on the island?

My favourite place is a small, isolated bay at the southern end of the island where I have spent a lot of time with my two sons and friends encouraging them to love and enjoy the sea and its foreshore as I do. The bush clad hills surrounding it are my homeland and each season offers special experiences.

What is one thing you hope people visiting Aotea Great Barrier take away from their experience?

I would hope people who have spent time here with MoaTours would go away with a real sense of understanding and appreciation of the deeply beautiful and precious environment and unique isolated community.

Do you have a favourite place in New Zealand off the Island?

The Te Anau to Milford Sound Road will always be my favourite off island place.

Val and Francis at Shoal Bay Estate

Val, our hostess for all our dinners and breakfasts, has lived most of her life in New Zealand, but is originally from Lebanon, and this heritage is evident in the Mediterranean hints in the amazing meals that await us every evening.

As if lavish daily dinners for 18 are not enough of a challenge, on the side, she runs a rental car service and B&B accommodation, tends a huge vegetable garden, and keeps Francis under firm control, while still having time to relax with the group and share her interesting history. 

Shoal Bay Estate
Shoal Bay Estate

Leigh & Lynley, tranquillity in Tryphena

Our other hosts throughout our stay have the perfect background to understand and take care of the needs of our group.
Leigh is a former police officer and Lynley was a kindergarten teacher!

They are comparative newcomers to the island, and love its laid back lifestyle. Both are committed to doing all they can to ensure their guests relax into island life and nothing is too much trouble. 

Chris Ollivier, chef turned cruise captain

Chris Ollivier shares the history of the coastline and bays of Port FitzRoy when he takes our group out on his comfortable launch.
The day is also memorable for a delicious lunch and amazing carrot cake – Chris’s secret weapon, freshly made before he meets us in the morning – a skill from his former life as a chef and restaurateur. 

Glenfern Sanctuary Trust, committed environmentalists

A short cruise across Port FitzRoy take us to the jetty at Glenfern Regional Park Sanctuary, an 83-hectare Regional Park inside a 2km long predator-proof fence. Established by yachtsman Tony Bouzaid, the property is managed by the Glenfern Sanctuary Trust, along with the Ngati Rehua Ngatiwai ki Aotea nga mana whenua o Aotea Trust. We meet the Sanctuary’s custodians to hear about their commitment to the principles of Kaitiakitanga and the protection of endangered flora and fauna.

Glenfern Eco Sanctuary

Gerald and Caity Endt – passionate producers

On our return from our cruise at Port FitzRoy we stop off at “Okiwi Passion” to meet the owners who have for many years fed the island with fresh, organic produce. Gerald and Caity are constantly developing innovative methods and equipment which they explain to our groups with a passion. 

Christina Blackwell, builder extraordinaire 

One of the most unusual restaurants you are ever likely to visit is The Boars Nest, lovingly created out of recycled materials by Christina Blackwell and her daughter-in-law.

The Blackwells are one of the long standing land-owners on Aotea Great Barrier and Christina will share stories of the island’s history and personalities.
As well as running the restaurant and a catering business, Christina is the island’s rural mail driver, an ambulance officer, and operates a waterfront camping ground.
See what we mean about the versatile locals? 

Fenella Christian, artist and social worker

Like Russell Scott, another versatile local came to the island to join a commune in the 1960s. Fenella Christian will share fascinating stories of the challenges of raising a family in a remote bay with only sea access. When her family were a little older, Fenella opted for the civilisation of Tryphena and ran the general store.

While she worked there, she felt a need to keep in closer contact with her mother on the mainland, so encouraged her to come over, live with them, and take on the role of postmistress. As her mother was a qualified nurse, she was soon in great demand for much more than postal services.

Fenella moved on from the general store to become the manager of welfare services on the island.
Now retired, well no longer paid for that work, Fenella is a recognised artist whose work is on display when we visit the island’s community gallery in Claris and the Black Cow Gallery she runs with her woodworker husband. 

Visit the Black Cow gallery to see Fenella's art work
Visit the Black Cow gallery to see Fenella's art work

David Watson, hipped on history

The Great Barrier Island Milk Grain and Honey Museum, which houses a wealth of displays and information on generations of the island’s unique folk and their stories, is the work of one dedicated man who loves to share his amazing collection.

A visit on our last day is a great reminder of all the stories we have heard, including seeing Russell in his hippie days – front and centre! 

Visiting Aotea Great Barrier with MoaTours

When you join MoaTours on a holiday in Aotea Great Barrier Island you will enjoy included flights and all meals, along with the unique landscape and its people. Roam the island, beaches, inlets, cruise Port FitzRoy, discover the history and learn about the people.

You can find information about our 5 day Aotea Great Barrier tour here.

Visit our photo gallery here 

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Aotea Great Barrier Island Escape 5 Day Tour

Meet local guides and artists as we explore remote corners of Aotea Great Barrier Island. Scenic Hauraki Gulf flights are included.

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