Once it grabs you, it won’t let you go. The island has a way of capturing you. First it appeals to your senses, with the wind in your hair, the salt spray on your face, the scent of obscure blossoms in the bush, your body submerged in the hot pools. And then it will appeal to your heart. With the heartbeat of the waves, but also of the Barrier wave, the warmhearted but staunch locals and the seasonal recurring events that make the Barrier truly unique.
For many people the Barrier is a place to escape the stress and pressures of city life; to step back from traffic and overcrowding. It’s a chance to live with nature, not outside of it. Being off the grid helps and locals get great satisfaction out of generating their own solar or wind power.
Resilience and resourcefulness are ingrained in the local make-up. The population of 939 (2013 Census) is close knit, ready to pitch in and help each other when help is needed. Over 30% of the population is involved in volunteer work, at the Golf Club, Local Marae, the Rural Fire Service, children’s soccer or adults netball, St. John’s Church, Rural Women or the Art Gallery. Allow time for shopping as there you will always meet people to catch up with.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island has a rich history. It dates back to the very first settlement of New Zealand by the East Polynesian ancestors of today’s Maori population. Throughout the Polynesian migratory age, many ancestral waka landed on the shores of Aotea, guided by the constellations.
Captain James Cook charted the New Zealand Coast as part of his 1768-1771 expedition to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun. He named the island Great Barrier in 1769 for the shelter and protection it provides to the Hauraki Gulf. From the 1840s, the Island’s natural resources attracted European settlement. A number of boom and bust industries exploited the Island’s mature kauri forests, minerals (copper, silver, gold) and migrating whales.
Descendants of the early European settler families still live on Great Barrier Island. Roads are named after the Blackwells, Medlands, Sandersons and Grays, and some families have been continuously on the island for more than 150 years. Old homesteads can still be seen with Ollies Cottage, built in the 1860s, still standing at Puriri Bay and homesteads at Harataonga, Tryphena, and Port Fitzroy reminding visitors of colonial times. Tryphena School was built in 1884 and is now used as a community service building.
Great Barrier is the largest island off New Zealand’s North Island. Nearly 60% of the island is public land managed by the Department of Conservation or Auckland Council with only 42% of the island in private ownership. Almost half of all dwellings are used only as holiday homes.
The Barrier will slow you down, whether you like it or not. The narrow roads (stick to the left, don’t expect to drive over 50 km p/h and don’t forget to wave to passing cars), the gentle pace of life and the many adventures that await you will help take care of the pace – it’s easy to live in the moment and enjoy it!