What inspires a man to give up city life in favour of isolation? Colin McLaren talks to Juliette Sivertsen about his decision to move to Rakino Island.
Life on Rakino Island moves in its own time zone. The small off-grid island in the Hauraki Gulf has no shops, infrequent ferries to Auckland and fewer than 20 permanent residents. But that's exactly the life Colin McLaren desired, when he chose to move there 40 years ago.
The 77-year-old is the star of a new documentary The Man On The Island, just out in New Zealand cinemas. It's the first post-Covid lockdown film made in New Zealand, and follows McLaren and his decision to forgo the comforts of modern-day living, in exchange for something self-sustainable, remote and pristine.
"I thought if everything went belly-up in the city, I would have the islands to grow my own food and survive quite happily," he said.
"I really love coming into the city but it was always my intention to have half a life here and half a life there. And I haven't really achieved that in the past 20years because it's been too difficult and expensive to travel backwards and forwards." And so somewhat by accident, McLaren now lives a more reclusive lifestyle permanently on Rakino.
"Once you've seen paradise, why would you look anywhere else?"
Written, produced and directed by Simon Mark-Brown, The Man On The Island is a very human story, a single narrative documentary with no voiceover, just McLaren's words. It's a personal showcase of McLaren's frugal life on Rakino, his dreams and musings about the world. He wasn't initially keen on being the feature of a movie, and he's not doing it to promote or bring more visitors to the island either.
"It's really quite difficult to get here. And if people get here, there's absolutely nothing here to do other than go to the beach."
Born and raised in Otago, McLaren spent some time living in London, but always had a fascination and extraordinary interest in islands. While living in London, a photographer friend showed him some images he'd taken while in Greece, which McLaren thought looked a bit like New Zealand. When he returned to Auckland, he bought 5ha on Rakino and recreated his own piece of Greece in New Zealand.
"I did have a responsibility for it and to make something of it and grow food. And I scouted around and Greece came up again, with the notion of olives, so for the past 40 years I've been growing olives."
McLaren says Rakino is unique in many ways, mainly because it is so small. "You get all weather; if it comes from the west, if it comes from the east, the island gets it. The other advantage though is that you're never very far from the sea."
"It's out here and it has not gone the way of Waiheke. It's still a backwater and that's how half the people like it. The other half are somewhat schizophrenic when one moment they want it all for themselves and then they decide to sell and then they want everyone to come."
Remote islands to explore in the Hauraki Gulf
Rakino: Rakino isn't easy to visit due to the infrequent ferry sailings. Like many of the more remote islands in the Hauraki Gulf, there are no shops so you'll need to bring all your own food if you are staying at a bach. Rakino is also home to the luxury secluded retreat, Hurakia Lodge.
Rotoroa: Rotoroa is a stunning island sanctuary about an hour from Auckland with beautiful beaches, perfect for picnicking, swimming and snorkelling. The 80ha island was once a rehabilitation facility for alcoholics, and now is a restoration sanctuary for wildlife.
Tiritiri Matangi: Tiritiri Matangi is a 75-minute ferry from downtown Auckland, and is a pest-free wildlife reserve for native and endangered birds. It's also home to New Zealand's oldest lighthouse, first lit in 1865.
Rangitoto and Motutapu: These two contrasting islands are connected by a causeway which can be walked over in about 3.5 hours in one direction. Rangitoto is an iconic Auckland volcano, and Motutapu a lush ancient island sitting behind it, now a breeding sanctuary for native birds.
Kawau is one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf, once a busy mining settlement, and now home to the beautiful Mansion House. About 10 per cent of the island is owned by DoC, the rest is privately owned. There is no road access - visitors have to travel to accommodation and attractions by boat.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island: This island is a 30-minute scenic flight from Auckland and home to one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Aotea Track. It is also a haven for astronomers and astrophotographers, as the whole island is a designated Dark Sky Sanctuary.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com
This story was first published in the New Zealand Herald Travel on 29 November