Island ~ History
The first settlers to arrive on Great Barrier Island were the Maoris,
arriving from distant Pacific islands. They named the Island Aotea,
which means White Cloud after an early canoe. Captain James
Cook discovered the Island during the Endevour's exploration
of New Zealand in 1769. He named the Island Great Barrier because
it formed a breakwater between the Hauraki Gulf and the Pacific.
Large numbers of Maori people occupied Great Barrier Island prior to
the arrival of the first European settlers. During 1838 in Tryphena,
an awful massacre occured between the fighting local tribes, and invaders
from Coromandel. Descendents from both the Ngatiwai and Ngatimaru
tribes still inhabit the northern end of the Island. They have cultivated
land around Katherine Bay since European occupation. In the past, they
cut Puriri posts for sale in Auckland. After World War II, many left
to find work on the mainland due to a decline in the economics of dairying.
The first European settlers arrived during the 1840's and were involved
in extraction industries. Kauri milling was established in 1840, and
later in 1888 the Kauri Timber Company took over an earlier operator
and established a large scale logging enterprise. At Whangaparapara,
the Southern Hemispheres largest mill operated, consisting a settlement
of 200 people. Timber was shipped directly to Australia and Europe,
and in later years timber was brought across from Northland for milling.
They built three timber dams, and tramways to take out the massive logs.
The kauri bushmen were tough, gutsy and resourceful. Pohutakawa was
also exported for boat-building. Logging operations continued until
From 1847, settlers arrived from Cornwall, Westmoreland, Germany, Dublin
& Tipperary. They cleared the land for agricultural use, and from
the 1860's Manuka and Kanuka was shipped to Auckland for firewood. They
were resourceful people, using what the land could provide to survive.
With few roads, travel about the Island was difficult with bulls and
horses being used to cross the rough hills.
Beekeeping was first started by George Blackwell (Les Blackwell's great
grandfather), and during the 1880's the Island had over 1,000 hives
originating from imported Italian bees. Claimed to be one of the first
bee keeping ventures in New Zealand, during 1895 10-tons of honey was
produced, most being shipped to England.
During 1892, silver was found at Okupu (by Bev Blackwell's great grandfather,
Sanderson), and gold was discovered at White Cliffs nearby. Shortly
afterwards, the Oreville stamping battery catered for the processing
of the Sunbeam and Iona mines, and during the early 1900's had a settlement
of 1,000 people. In 1908 the Barrier Mining Company closed it's Oreville
operation. Other small-scale mining operations have continued since
then. Copper has also been extracted from the Island, together with
manganese and sulphur. Locations include the Whangaparapara enterance
and Miners Head at the northern-end.
A pigeongram servce began in 1896, because news of the S.S. Waiarapa
tradgedy one year prior, took 3-4 days to reach Auckland by sea. It
became the world's first regular airmail service, and used the world's
first airmail stamps. It continued until the closure of Oreville in
Dairying has been the main agriculture pursued, with fresh cream being
sent to Auckland by boat for many years. A shortage of farming equipment,
bad soil and high freight costs have made farming difficult. Today,
much of the land previously used has either converted back to natural
bush, or been sub-divided into sections - especially in the Southern
end of the Island. Farming today is more likely to be biodynamic, and
successful horticulture includes barbacos and macadamia nuts.
Whaling first began in 1829, with a resurgence in the 1950's. In 1957
a whaling station was opened at Tennis Court Bay, Wharaparapara. Ships
from as far as Norway came to load whale oil. The operation was difficult,
and the whalers were forced to search further out to sea, pressured
by large captures in the area by Russian and Japanese whaling fleets.
The whaling station closed in 1962.
No records have been found on when fishing started on the Island. It
is known, crayfish were taken commercially as far back as the 1950's.
Mussel farming has been operating at Port Fitzroy, and several long-liners
operate from throughout the Island. Fishing is less economic nowdays
due to the previously introduced licensing and quota system, and over-fished
Alternative lifestylers have been coming to the Island since the late
1960's, to face the challenge of hardship and self-reliance. They have
a deep attachment to the Island as a good place to live. Living
on the Island allows them to come close to nature. They prefer to live
by their own rules and despise encroachment of city life on their once
sleepy hollow. They are usually conservation minded and want to protect
endangered land and wildlife species. They despise restrictions and
bureaucacy, seeking instead self-sufficiency.
During the late 1960's the Islander's aided the country's first pirate
radio station - Radio Hauraki which broadcast illegally from
local waters in the Colville Channel. In Janurary 1968, the M.V.
Tiri was forced onto rocks at the entrance of Whangaparapara Harbour
during a storm. A second vessel, the Tiri II suffered a similar
fate only months later, in the same area.
The Island is unique through it's isolation - an unspoiled paradise.
It has geothermal hot springs. The rugged hills and mountains provide
a wilderness of sub-tropical vegetation. The wildlife includes mainly
birds, and some wild pigs, rabbits, rats and mice. It contains one of
the only two nesting areas in New Zealand for the Black Petrel.
Compared to city life, the Barrier has no street lighting, with many
homes only accessible by long bush tracks through rugged countryside.
Recent changes during the 1990's include a crackdown on vehicle safety,
with warrant of fitness now required for all vehicles.
The isolation from the rest of New Zealand is most responsible for the
hardships suffered by the Island's settlers. Even todays residents are
forced to bear the associated burdens of this isolation which includes
infrequent mail and supplies of fresh food such as bread, high freight
costs on all grocery items, and limited educational and work opportunities.
No schooling exists after Primary level except by way of correspondence.
It is a far reach from city facilities like libraries and other information
centres. The Island does not have reticulated mains power, water supply or
The resident population is around 800 people but in peak summer when pleasure
boats anchor in the bays and holiday makers arrive by plane and boat,
numbers reach over 30,000. Activity is seasonal consisting only a short
period of the year. A small tourist industry is geared towards catering
for all-season visitors, usually backpackers, many from overseas.