Sarah Ell relishes a taste of Great Barrier's wild landscape and sense of freedom.

When you say Great Barrier Island, most people think alternative lifestylers, isolation, wild weather, shipwrecks (the Rose Noelle, the Wairarapa).

But, as we discovered this summer, this hidden paradise on Auckland's horizon is also a place with a strong sense of community, good coffee, stunning views, noisy and curious birds, wild beaches, thick bush and clear waters.

And, better still, this outpost of the Super City is only a half-hour flight away. It's kind of hard to believe that the same amount of time it can take to drive to the supermarket on a Saturday on the "mainland" can see you whisked away from the everyday world and taken to an island paradise.

Spending a weekend there recently with my family filled my head with vivid snapshots of a different life: intense images of wild landscapes, clear light and a sense of freedom.

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I had only visited the island before by boat so it was great on this trip to have a rental car, from Aotea Car Rentals. We made the most of our wheels to thoroughly explore the Barrier's roads, which as the signs say are frequently narrow and never straight.

While most of the main artery from north to south is sealed, there are plenty of gravel roads to meander along, leading to hidden harbours such as Whangaparapara and lonely but majestic beaches like Kaitoke.

Great Barrier's majestic beaches like Kaitoke are only a half-hour flight from Auckland.
Great Barrier's majestic beaches like Kaitoke are only a half-hour flight from Auckland.