Great Barrier Island (often colloquially just The Barrier) is a large island of New Zealand, situated 100 km to the north-east of central Auckland in the outer Hauraki Gulf. With an area of 285 km² it is the fourth-largest island of New Zealand's main chain of islands, with its highest point, Mount Hobson, rising 621 m.
The remote island was initially exploited for its minerals and kauri trees and saw only some limited agriculture. It is now inhabited by a small population of around 850 people, mostly living from farming and tourism. The majority of the diverse environments of the island (around 60% of the total area) is administered as nature reserve by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, with the local authority being the Auckland City Council.
The island received its European name from Captain Cook because it acts as a barrier between the Pacific Ocean and Gulf. For centuries, the indigenous Māori have called it Motu Aotea, meaning (island [of the] white cloud) in the Māori language.
The island's European name stems from its location on the outskirts of the Hauraki Gulf. With a maximum length (north-south) of some 43 km, it (and the Coromandel Peninsula directly to its south) protect the gulf from the storms of the Pacific Ocean to the east. Consequently, the island boasts highly contrasting coastal environments. The eastern coast comprises long, clear beaches, windswept sand-dunes, and heavy surf. The western coast, sheltered and calm, is home to hundreds of tiny, secluded bays which offer some of the best diving and boating in the country. The inland holds several large and biologically diverse wetlands as well as rugged and hillcountry (bush or heath in the more exposed heights) as well as various second- and old-growth kauri forests.
Entrance to the Hauraki Gulf is via two channels, one on either side of the island. Colville Channel separates the island's southernmost point (Cape Barrier) from Cape Colville at the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula to the south, and Cradock Channel separates the island from the smaller Hauturu/Little Barrier Island to the west.
The kauri logging industry was profitable in the island's early European days and up to the mid 20th Century. Forests however were well inland even though there was no easy way to get the logs to the sea or to sawmills. The logs were therefore dragged to a convenient stream bed with steep sides and a dam was constructed of wood with a 'trapdoor' near the bottom large enough for the logs to pass through. When the dam had filled (which might take up to a year) the trapdoor was opened and the logs floating above the dam were sucked down through the hole and swept down to the sea, 16 miles away in the case of the illustrated dam. The logging industry cut down large swathes of old growth, and most of the current growth is younger native forest (around 150,000 kauri seedlings were planted by the New Zealand Forest Service in the 1970s and 1980s) as well as some remaining kauri in the far north of the island. Today much of the island is covered with regenerating bush dominated by kanuka and kauri.Other industries
The island was also the site of New Zealands last whaling station, at Whangaparapara, which was opened only in 1956 (over a century after the whaling industry peaked in New Zealand), and was to be closed again (due to depletion of whaling stocks and increasing protection of whale species) by 1962. Some remains can still be visited in the bay.
Another small-scale industry on the island was gum-digging, while dairy farming and sheep farming have tended to play a small role compared to the usual New Zealand practice. In modern days, Great Barrier Islanders are generally occupied in tourism, farming or service-related industries, when not working off-island in other jobs.
The remote north of the island was the site of the sinking of the SS Wairarapa around midnight of 29 October 1894. This tragedy was one of New Zealand's worst shipwrecks, with about 140 lives lost, some of them buried in two beach grave sites in the far north of the island. As a result a Great Barrier Island pigeon post service was set up, the first message being flown on 14 May 1897. Special postage stamps were issued from October 1898 until 1908, when a new communications cable was laid to the mainland, which made the pigeon post redundant. Another major wreck lies on the opposite end of the island in the far southeast, the SS Wiltshire.
Over time, more and more parts of the island came under the stewardship of the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) or its predecessors. Partly this was land that had always belonged to the Crown, while other parts were sold or donated like the more than 10% of the island (located in the northern bush area, with some of the largest remaining kauri forests) that was gifted to the Crown by farmer Max Burrill in 1984. The DOC has created a large number of walking tracks through the island, some which are also open for mountain biking.
Great Barrier is free of some of the more troublesome introduced pests that plague the native ecosystems of other parts of New Zealand. While wild cats and dogs are present, the island has no known populations of possums, weasels, stoats, deer and rats, thus being a relative haven for native bird and plant populations. Rare animals found on the island include Brown Teal ducks, Black Petrel seabirds and North Island Kākā parrots.
Great Barrier Island in 2006 had a permanent population of around 850, primarily in coastal settlements such as Tryphena, the largest settlement in Tryphena Harbour at the southern end of the island. Other communities are Okupu, Whangaparapara, Port Fitzroy, Claris and Kaitoke. There is no central power on the island, and houses require their own generators.
The population of the island has decreased significantly in recent years, although house values have increased. The most significant increase in values has been at Kaitoke, where the white sandy beaches (Kaitoke and Medland's), nearby hot springs, and the central location on the island, with the adjacent airfield, have allowed for a burgeoning vacation centre. The population of the island swells substantially during the main holiday seasons, though it is still not a major tourist destination due to its relative remoteness.
From the end of February 2007, the island was seen around the world as the setting for the BBC One reality show, Castaway, which was filmed there for three months.
There are two ferry services to Great Barrier Island. Fullers operate a fast ferry service over the summer and at long weekends. The Fullers ferry takes around two hours to Tryphena. SeaLink operates the Island Navigator, a passenger, car and freight ferry, operating from Wynyard Wharf in Auckland city to Tryphena (several times weekly) and Port Fitzroy (less frequently).
Although technically part of Auckland City, a certain relaxation in some of the rules governing daily activities and applicable standards for civic works and services exists, shared with some of the other inhabited islands of the Hauraki Gulf.
For example, every transport service operated solely on Great Barrier Island, the Chatham Islands, or Stewart Island/Rakiura is exempt from section 70C of the Transport Act 1962 (the requirements for drivers to maintain driving-hours logbooks). Drivers subject to section 70B must nevertheless keep records of their driving hours in some form.