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Two Island Escapes

These two islands escapes are as different as they are alike.

November 28, 2011
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Great Barrier Island

George Sass Jr.

I’m a bit of a paradox (it sounds better than schizophrenic). A decade ago I lived with my pooch, Jezebel, aboard a classic 32-foot wooden powerboat. The 50-year-old boat was a continuous construction site. At one point, the portside deck was completely pulled up, exposing the innards of my sweet little home to the environment for nearly a week. I took cold showers during a frigid Connecticut winter while replacing the plumbing, and prepared hearty meals on a Coleman camp stove during the galley refit — and I loved every minute of it.

Yet, even while relishing the simpler life at home, I savored special, pampered moments during my travels. Snapshots include high tea at London’s famed Savoy (truthfully, I just go for the clotted cream), reliving blue-water adventures with friends over cocktails on the lawn of the Hotel du Cap in Antibes, and racing around St. Barths. The juxtaposition of these varying moments — T-shirts and tuxedos — fills me with rich memories I hope will quell any regret years from now.

In 2011, two such memories blending the simple with the pampered stand out as truly special — Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, and Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands. I was fortunate to experience both and hope you will too.

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Escape on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
On board _Sundancer_ with owner Chris Ollivier and his girlfriend, Rose, I sit back in the worn cockpit, while the Indian summer sun warms the late morning air. The dry stack exhaust sends burps of smoke into the sky, while the chugging of the naturally aspirated diesel soothes my Type A jitters. I clutch a rust-dusted bottle of Heineken, absorbing my surroundings. Maybe this is what the Virgin Islands were like 80-plus years ago — turquoise water, lush topography, no development and wonderful natural harbors. I’d like to think so. It’s truly spectacular.

Great Barrier Island lies 45 miles to the east of Auckland. Today it is home to approximately 800 hearty residents who know how to live off the land and sea, and who are content with spending more time with Mother Nature than with bustling crowds of the general public.

If a trek to New Zealand on your own boat is not part of your immediate plans, consider booking a charter with The Moorings. Although the company closed its Auckland location, it offers one-way power and sail charters between Auckland and its base in Opua in the Bay of Islands to the north. It’s the way to go.

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Ardent surfers will delight in the consistent break of Medlands Beach, while beachcombers will revel in nearly deserted, pristine shoreline. Stock your beach basket at the Wild Rose Café behind Pa Beach. The menu reflects the ethos of Great Barrier — green, clean living. During the season, the crowd at the waterfront Great Barrier Lodge is an eclectic mix of cruisers and weekend tourists from Auckland.

If you long for fine dining and accommodations, I highly recommend Earthsong Lodge. Chef/proprietor Trevor Rendle and wife, Carol, provide an unforgettable experience, from the food to the rooms.

If your plans call for an extended stay — and they should — consider renting a beachfront “bach,” the iconic, simple New Zealand cottage for the true Great Barrier experience. Pass the days away hiking, kayaking, reading a good book, swimming, fishing and simply enjoying time with your family and friends.

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The day after I left Great Barrier, I found myself poring over real estate listings, looking for my own retreat on this off-the-grid oasis. I shall return!

View a complete photo gallery of Great Barrier Island, and check out the island’s official website.

Indulge on Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands
“Excuse me, we checked in yesterday; is it possible for us to stay another night, maybe more?” I ask the friendly front-desk manager. Her beaming smile gives me the answer I hope for. After four days of cruising with 10 people on board a 47-footer — including four energetic boys under 13 — Scrub Island Resort and Marina is a sanctuary.

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The two-story cascading waterfall from the lagoon pool grabs the boys’ attention before we even secure our lines, and the gourmet restaurants call out to me. No more macaroni and cheese with a juice-box chaser!

Scrub is a unique property, with a view of Virgin Gorda across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The island’s privately owned villas and suites can be placed into a rental pool and managed by the resort. Several variations of the residences are for sale. The new 53-slip marina can hold boats up to 150 feet and is surrounded by the resort’s amenities.

For a nominal daily resort fee, marina guests can enjoy all Scrub has to offer. Yachtsmen, take note! During visits to other resort islands in the BVIs, “boat people” are directed to “quarantined” sections of the resort and treated more as nuisances than guests. During one cruise a few years ago, we were actually shown to a table right beside the dish station in a completely empty restaurant. Don’t expect any similar slights from Scrub Island’s warm staff.

In addition to the pool, amenities include a spa, three restaurants, a fitness center, three private beaches and nature trails. Within a two-minute dinghy ride from the marina you’ll find fantastic snorkeling. Take the time to walk to the northeastern side of the island and experience another beach, small pool and quaint restaurant. We spent hours here, doing absolutely nothing.

Although parts of the resort were still under construction during our August visit, the experience was a highlight of our summer. From first-class service and amenities to splendid views, this charming island oasis will be on my BVI itinerary for years to come.

View a complete photo gallery of Scrub Island.

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