If, like most, you choose to fly into Great Barrier Island from Auckland, on landing at Claris Aerodrome on a clear day, your eyes will undoubtedly be drawn to the jagged outline of a ridge to the north west. The highest point you’ll see in the distance is Mt Hobson (Hirakimata) which, at 627m, is also the highest point on the island. As you would expect, the summit of Mt Hobson offers some of the island’s best panoramic views so, weather permitting, a walk to the top should definitely be on your Great Barrier to-do list.
While there are a number of routes to the summit, the quickest and easiest is via Palmer’s Track which starts at a small off-road parking area on Aotea Road and will take you anywhere from 4 – 5 hours return. A 4 hour walk not your idea of fun? Fear not because at the start of Palmer’s Track there just happens to be one of the island’s other top attractions, Windy Canyon. And that’s windy, as in blowing in case you were wondering, as we found out first hand when we visited.
What makes Windy Canyon so interesting are the sheer volcanic rock buttresses along this eastern ridge of Mt Hobson and the good news is that it’s just a 10 minute walk from the road to a lookout from which you’ll have excellent views of Okiwi Basin and Whangapoua Beach to the north east, and Kaitoke and Medlands beaches to the south east. Yes there are a ‘few’ steps to climb but chances are you’ll be too distracted by the interesting colours and rock formations to notice and before you know it you will be at the top.
And when we say lookout, we simply mean a section of the path just past the top of the wooden steps. There’s no actual viewing platform but it’s all quite safe as long as you don’t do anything stupid… you know, look at me standing on one leg on top of this pointy rock kind of thing. Not a good idea at the best of times, but especially not when the wind is blowing in from the north east as it funnels up the valley from Whangapoua. We got a taste of this when we were there and while it wasn’t exactly crawling around on all fours windy, it was pretty clear how this place got its name.
So whether it’s on your way to the summit of Hirakimata or simply a quick photo stop on your drive to or from Port Fitzroy, no visit to Auckland’s largest island would be complete without taking some time to enjoy the stunning views from Windy Canyon.