A quick history of Aotea (Great Barrier Island)
Māori named the island Aotea meaning white cloud (ao – cloud, tea – white) as it appeared in the distance as a white cloud on the horizon. Aotea is also the name for one of great seven migratatory voyaging waka. Aotea isn’t associated with this waka which is a common misconception.
Despite its stunning natural beauty, its relative remoteness means it has remained unspoiled and a haven for native birds and plant life. Aotea is even free of some of the introduced pests which plague ecosystems in other parts of the country.
Standing at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf 100 kilometres NE of Auckland, its 43 kilometre long coast protects the inner waters of the Hauraki Gulf from Pacific Ocean storms, hence in 1769 Captain Cook giving it the European name, Great Barrier Island.
On the Pacific or east coast of the island you will find stunning long white sand surf beaches, while the west coast is made up of hundreds of calm, small, sheltered coves and bays providing some of the best diving and fishing in the country.
Inland there’s wetlands, hill country, bush and both old and regenerating native forest especially some of the largest remaining kauri forests.
On a clear day, a hike to the highest point on the island, Hirakimata or Mt Hobson (627 m) will be rewarded with magnificent views over Port Fitzroy, Whangapoua Beach, Kaiara and Kaitoke as well as the northern most point of Coromandel, Little Barrier, The Hen and Chickens, Mokohinau Islands and The Poor Knights and Hauraki Gulf.
Today the Māori people of the island are Ngāti Rehua, a hapu (sub tribe) of Ngāti Wai and their connection with the island can be traced back over hundreds of years. Evidence of the tribe’s centuries long history can be found in the island’s many archaeological sites including pā (earthwork fortifications), storage pits and middens (food waste), terracing and stone working sites.
The island was rich in resources which were heavily exploited by the early European settlers.
Whales migrated along the coast and the remnants of the last whaling station built in NZ can be found at Whangaparapara. At its peak, in 1839 up to 200 whaling ships were in NZ waters. Whaling has long since been banned.
Aotea’s huge kauri forests were intensively logged for their superb timber and gum and today you can still visit the site of the Kaiaraara main dam (the Lower Kauri Dam) once used to drive logs down the Kaiaraara Stream to the Kauri Timber Company milling operation at Whangaparapara on the coast. Today much of that forest has been regenerated and is protected by the Department of Conservation.
Copper, gold and silver were all discovered between 1841 and the 1890s and the remains of the 1899 Oreville (ore crushing) stamping battery and numerous mineshafts and adits are testimony to the once thriving mining activity.
These days the island supports a local population of approximately 1000, close-knit and self reliant but with a strong sense of community support for one another.
Visitors are warmly welcomed and with a growing number of holiday baches the population temporarily increases during the holiday season. The main settlements are at Tryphena, Okupu, Whangaparapara, Port Fitzroy, Claris and Kaitoke.
With no central power, there is a strong reliance on renewable energy with extensive use of solar and wind power and a strong ethos of sustainability and environmentally friendly action.
Regular flights operate to the island, with airfields at Claris and Okiwi, and ferry services to Tryphena and Port Fitzroy.
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