This huge island is aptly named the Great Barrier, for it stands the sentinel and guardian of the Hauraki Gulf.
Its north-eastern coast absorbs all that the Pacific can throw at it and leaves the Gulf sheltered from the continuous oceanic swells.
Without this barrier, the Hauraki Gulf would be a very different boating prospect and not the small boat playground it is today. We have a lot to thank this island for and if you haven’t been there, I hope this piece gets you thinking.
Situated about one hundred kilometres from Auckland harbour, it seems just a bit too far and remote for most people to contemplate making the journey. But there are regular ferries from Auckland (including a car ferry) and a daily plane service from Dairy Flat airfield. There is also good accommodation scattered throughout the island.
It is slowly getting more popular with tourists and adventure seekers, and so it should, for it is a most beautiful and diverse island. But for my money, the best way to see and explore this island is by boat, and for us fishing people the massive coastline that the Barrier provides is an endless fishing utopia.
Taking a boat allows you to not only fish but explore all the harbours and bays, beaches, small groups of rocks and islands, plus all the nooks and crannies this island has to offer.
As far as boats go, go with a mid-sized trailer boat, but I wouldn’t be undertaking this journey in anything less than a six-meter cabin boat if launching from the Omaha ramp in good weather. With an early start you could go over and back in a day, as a straight run to Fitzroy harbour is about 50 kilometres, but a rushed trip over there seems to me to be a waste of gas.
Far better I believe to spend two, three, or even more days over there if you can after making the trip over. as there is so much to see and explore. Even several days won’t be enough time to cover it all – the place is huge.
I have been lucky enough to have gone to the barrier several times in both big trailer boats and in launches, and if you can organise it a launch is by far the best as you are fully self-contained, with galley, bathroom, freezers – all the comforts of home.
For three or four people out for a few days, it’s just a nicer way to do it. Also if the weather does turn to custard out there, you always feel safer in a bigger boat.
Clearly not all of us own launches, but if you put your thinking cap on you may know someone who knows someone, and by making the right approach with a good group of guys to make up a crew, the launch owner may jump at the chance of fishing the barrier for a few days. Or, possibly look at a bareboat charter or full charter – the cost in autumn may not be as bad as you figured for a trip you will never forget.
There is always plenty of fishing options on both sides of the island.
Whatever craft you end up going in, autumn is a perfect time to go. The weather is generally more settled, it’s not as hot or crowded as summertime and the fishing has come back on. Although, this summer the fishing was pretty good out there anyway, but autumn is even better if you have taken a full charter.
In that case obviously the skipper will have the fishing sussed, but if you’re doing it yourself, get hold of marine charts 522 and 5225. These will give you an idea of the endless scope in front of you.
There are four main safe anchorages up the length of the south western side: Tryphena, Whangapapara, Fitzroy and Port Abercrombie (namely
Nagle Cove), giving access to different areas of very fishable coast in extended calm weather.
There are also anchorages like Blind Bay, Bowling Alley Bay, and many of the coves around Katherine Bay. And one of my favourite places to lock in for the night is Oneura Bay, opposite Man of War Passage leading into port Fitzroy.
These safe havens will give you a huge amount of coast to work on, and that’s just on this side – there is another whole coast on the north eastern side, but out on that exposed open ocean coast it’s a whole different ball game.
There are outstanding beaches and miles of superb rocky fishing coast, but virtually nowhere to hide if it comes up rough. Your weather needs to be calm and stable before you venture around the corner to the eastern side.
Liz-Marie Keyser caught this 16.5lb snapper at Great Barrier.
It’s certainly beautiful around there and Rakitu island draws you like a magnet – just be careful of the weather and take plenty of fuel. Speaking of fuel and food and supplies, all of these are available on the island but it has to be freighted in, and the freight costs lots so therefore so does the fuel and goods. It’s not the store owner’s fault, it’s just the way it is, so pack your boat full of what you will need to help keep the costs down a bit and it may give you an extra day out there.
OK so lets talk about the main reason we’re out there – the fishing. In the many times we fished there I’m sure we only scratched the surface, but I can give you a few spots and tell a few stories.
Starting from Tryphena, just east of the harbour entrance and shown as two bricks on the chart, anchor up-current of this reef and cast back into it with plenty of berley. You’ll get a feed and maybe a couple of good ones. East of this spot is a small island with a drop off on the south eastern corner.Fish with the incoming tide for kingies and good snapper.
From here right around to the far end of Rosalie bay is good strayline country in close. Just watch the current here – on big tides it may get too strong to fish out wide, as it can stand up in this area with wind against tide. Good fishing, but be careful in here.
Retracing our steps and heading back up the south-west coast past Whangaparapara Harbour, you will come to two groups of islands, the Junction Islands and the Broken Islands. Between Tryphena and these islands there are any number of possibilities in close – basically just pick a likely spot and fish it.
But it is the Junction Islands that hold special meaning for me, as it was here I caught my biggest snapper: 22 pounds. That was over twenty years ago but that memory is as fresh as yesterday. If the wind allows you to overnight in Bowling Alley Bay, you’ll be sleeping in amongst some awesome fishing grounds around the outside of these islands – great for an early morning start.
A typical good catch when fishing the barrier.
Continuing on through the inner passage, there are plenty of scattered rocks and small islands. We liked to drift through here in 35 to 40 metres right up to Nelson Island, but all these rocks offer big snapper opportunities – as does the reef country of Motuhaku Island around from Wellington Head.
Heading north now to Katherine Bay, both the points on either side of this big bay are good for kingfish on an incoming tide, and the drop off just out from Moturoa Point is a good place for an evening snapper fish with the Bird Rocks outside you.
Or on the other side of the bay you have Kirikiriroa Point and its reef, or just drift the middle. Fishing is usually pretty good in here, it’s a beautiful bay but watch out for any winds from a westerly quarter – this place is wide open to that wind.
Moving on north, we come to the fabled Miners Head and reef, a place where you’re likely to catch just about anything. It’s also the resting place of the steamer Wairarapa after she smashed into the cliffs in 1894 with the loss of 135 lives.
The reef itself is a good place to jig, either for kingies or using smaller jigs you could catch snapper, trevally, John Dory or any number of reef fish. Always give this area a good work out, it’s a very fishy place.
At last we reach the other end of the island, and our final fishing spot for this side of the island is the Needles. This group of pinnacles rising sheer out of the water is a legendary place for kingfish and has also produced some great snapper over the years.
Around the corner from the Needles is a whole new coast, the north east, but I think we will leave that one for another time, as I’m sure the south-west coast will give you enough to play with to start with. And by studying the charts I suggested, you will see what I mean.
So do some planning, get a crew together, and this autumn I hope you are.