Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island is a stunningly beautiful paradise, featuring pristine beaches, lush forests, and breathtaking views, right on Auckland's doorstep.

Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island (MāoriAotea) lies in the outer Hauraki GulfNew Zealand, 100 kilometres (62 mi) north-east of central Auckland. With an area of 285 square kilometres (110 sq mi) it is the sixth-largest island of New Zealand and fourth-largest in the main chain. Its highest point, Mount Hobson, is 627 metres (2,057 ft) above sea level. The local authority is the Auckland Council.

The island was initially exploited for its minerals and kauri trees and saw only limited agriculture. In 2013, it was inhabited by 939 people, mostly living from farming and tourism. The majority of the island (around 60% of the total area) is administered as a nature reserve by the Department of Conservation. In 2009 the island atmosphere was described as being “life in New Zealand many decades back”.

With an area of 285 square kilometres (110 sq mi), Great Barrier Island is the sixth-largest island in New Zealand after the South Island, the North IslandStewart Island/RakiuraChatham Island, and Auckland Island. The highest point, Mount Hobson or Hirakimata, is 627 metres (2,057 ft) above sea level.

Great Barrier is surrounded by several smaller islands, including Kaikoura IslandRakitu IslandAiguilles Island and Dragon Island. A number of islands are located in Great Barrier bays, including Motukahu Island, Nelson Island, Kaikoura Island, Broken Islands, Motutaiko Island, Rangiahua Island, Little Mahuki Island, Mahuki Island and Junction Islands.

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 kilometres (27 mi), 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, along with rugged hill country (bush or heath in the more exposed heights), as well as old-growth and regenerating kauri forests.


Great Barrier Island pigeon post stamp.

The remote north was the site of the sinking of the SS Wairarapa around midnight of 29 October 1894. This 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. 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 in the far southeast, the SS Wiltshire.

Nature reserves

Over time, more and more of the island came under the stewardship of the 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. DOC has created a large number of walking tracks through the island, some of which are also open for mountain biking.

The island is free of some of the more troublesome introduced pests that plague the native ecosystems of other parts of New Zealand. While wild cats, dogs, feral pigs, black ratsPolynesian rats and mice are present, there are no known populations of possumsmustelids (weasels, stoats or ferrets), hedgehogs, brown rats or deer, thus being a relative haven for native bird and plant populations. Feral goats were eradicated in 2006. Rare animals found on the island include brown teal ducks, black petrel seabirds and kaka parrots.


Great Barrier Island has two marae affiliated with the local iwi of Ngāti Rehua and Ngātiwai: the Kawa Marae and its Rehua meeting house, and Motairehe Marae and its Whakaruruhau meeting house.

In October 2020, the Government committed $313,007 from the Provincial Growth Fund to upgrade Kawa Marae, creating 6 jobs.

285 km²
621 m
930 (2018)
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