Great Conservation Aims on the Barrier

Striving to preserve native wildlife and fauna on Great Barrier Island was a key focus for the Department of Conservation’s (DOC’s) Auckland board – which includes SPASIFIK publisher Innes Logan – on its two-day visit in February to an island with strong links to early Polynesian migration.



Great Barrier Island – Aotea to Maori – is the ancestral land of the Ngati Rehua hapu of Ngati Wai.

Aotea and the Hauraki Gulf were formed at the end of the last ice age when volcanic activity caused seal levels to rise. The higher land of Aotea separated from what is now the Coromandel Peninsula and became an island.

At 285 sq km it is more than three times larger than Waiheke Island and only 90km north east of Auckland city. But while Waiheke boasts a population of almost 9000, Aotea’s population has almost halved over the past three decades to around 800 residents, due to transportation costs and its relative isolation.


Maori oral history speaks of early occupation, and of Ngati Wai and its chief Rehua settling on Aotea and claiming mana whenua over the land, in the late 1700s.

Captain James Cook named the island Great Barrier in 1769 for the shelter and protection it provides to the Hauraki Gulf.

European settlers’ impact on the island came through copper mining in 1841 with gold and silver discovered in the 1890s.


Whaling began in New Zealand in the 1790s and the remains of New Zealand’s last whaling station can be seen at Whangaparapara.

Now Aotea is seen as a place to help preserve native animals and plants, including freshwater fish, bats, lizards, frogs and birds as many are under threat or extinct on New Zealand’s mainlands.


Aotea is home to almost two-thirds of the Pateke/brown teals which are among the rarest ducks in the world. Other rare species include the North Island kaka, banded wails (often mistaken for baby weka) and a number of shore birds, waders and sea birds.

DOC’s Auckland board’s two-day visit included a board meeting at the Kawa Marae on the northwest part of the island, hosted by Rod Ngawaka (Ngati Wai), a local consultant on tangata whenua, environmental and conservation issues.

The board also met Judy Gilbert a conservationist who, with her dedicated team, manages Windy Hill Sanctuary, which covers 620 hectares on the south eastern part of Great Barrier. As part of a collective, she owns 243 hectares of the sanctuary which aims for the sanctuary to be predator-free (from rats, cats and rabbits) and rid of non-native plant-life to bring the sound of native birds back in abundance to the barrier.



Fellow local John Ogden is another passionate environmentalist who produces the informative Great Barrier Island Environmental Trust News.

A more extensive feature on the trip which encourages a more conservation-minded outlook will feature in the upcoming issue of SPASIFIK (No 67) due out in May.