Great Barrier - island that tough times forgot

By Beck Vass

Great Barrier Island's Palmers Beach, Kaitoke Beach and Medlands. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Great Barrier Island's Palmers Beach, Kaitoke Beach and Medlands. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It may take effort to get to, and be reminiscent of a gentler age, but Great Barrier Island appears to have survived the recession.

Businesses say times may be tighter for some, but the small community on the island, off the northern end of the Coromandel Peninsula, is thriving.

All agree that with the remote location it's just about impossible to tell how many people are visiting.

The white sand beaches and clear blue seas attract surfers, fishermen and sightseers but, even on land, the manuka-covered hills cover up the island's baches and - as the locals say - the Barrier just seems to "soak everyone up".

It's not hard to see why. Great Barrier Island is life in New Zealand many decades back - a place with a slower pace and where locals use only the last three digits when giving out their phone numbers.

Electricity comes from personal diesel generators, or more modern solar panels.

But plane and freight and extra ferry services have all been full over the island's busiest season between Christmas and last week.

Airport shuttle driver Mike Newman said he had been busier than in previous years.

"It's been exceptionally busy. I haven't had much time to do much but go backwards and forwards to the airport."

John Brock, the owner of the Currach Irish Pub in Tryphena on the western side of the island, where he has lived for three years, said patron numbers seemed to be down on last year, but not by much.

"It's been really good since Labour Weekend. We're really pleased with it. I do think the numbers are down a bit. We've been busy but we've had quite a bit of entertainment and that helps."

Cheryl Jones, owner of the Fitzroy General Store, said business was down about 15 per cent but that was "nothing major in the overall picture" - especially because a year ago she and husband Alan had the busiest summer they had seen since moving to the island eight years ago.

"There's not as many people this year. The recession didn't really hurt us at all last year, but I really think it has hit now."

Mrs Jones believes fewer Aucklanders, who make up the majority of visitors, were opting to use their boats this summer.

However, working at the nearby marina fuel supply, her husband Alan said fuel sales - diesel is $1.41 a litre and 91 petrol $2.11 a litre - were still going strong as boaties came in to top up.

Mr Jones said it was possible the islanders were seeing the delayed effects of the recession but he was not sure why last season had been so busy.

"There was just a lot of people and [the busy season] carried on for quite a bit longer ... maybe they thought they'd better spend it while they had it."

Other business operators said the next two weeks would make or break their season.

Most families would head back home and it would be during this period that they could tell if more people were staying longer, or if the traditional "second wave" of tourists came through, as in past years.

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