Great Barrier has a rich history. Maori have inhabited the island for over 1,000 years, and Europeans created a thriving timber industry, milling the huge stands of native kauri trees for the shipbuilding industry. The island was a whaling station until the 1960s, and the relics of old stamping batteries attest to a rich gold- and silver-mining history. The remains of the Oreville Stamping Battery are beside the road on the way to Whangaparapara. Also in this area is the very popular Kaitoke Hot Springs Track, which leads to natural hot springs in a creek. Use the roadside toilet - it's the last one you'll see for a while. The springs are 45 minutes in. Don't forget insect repellent.
Farther north, at Port Fitzroy, you must visit Tony Bouzaid's Glenfern Sanctuary, Glenfern Road (tel. 09/429-0091; www.glenfern.org.nz). Take his guided walk of the most wonderful native wildlife sanctuaries anywhere. Over 8,000 trees have been planted as part of an ongoing reforestation project; timber boardwalks make the walk easy. Tony also offers multiday tramp-sail packages. Even farther north, you'll find the S.S. Wairarapa Walkway at the very beautiful (and deserted) Whangapoua Beach. The steamer Wairarapa wrecked on cliffs near Miners Head on October 29, 1894, with the loss of around 130 lives. A little gravesite at the northern end of the beach serves as a reminder of one of New Zealand's worst shipping disasters.
A range of tracks crisscross Mount Hobson, a focal point for keen trampers. There are stunning views from the top on a clear day, and the summit is the main nesting ground for the rare black petrel. It's at least a 2-hour round-trip walk. A signposted side track will take you to Kaiaraara Kauri Dam, one of the tallest kauri dams, built over 70 years ago to transport logs out of the forests. If you feel like a steep climb, you'll find the remains of two more dams farther upstream.
In Okupu is a delightful surprise: Young's Museum, 212 Blind Bay Rd. (tel. 09/429-0388). Christine Young, spurred on by the memory of her father, has put together the cutest little museum you'll find anywhere. It's a real Kiwi experience, with Christine showing you through her father's astounding collection of old photographs that depict early life on the island. Phone ahead for an appointment.
A good number of artists and sculptors live on the island; the visitor center can furnish a brochure detailing their whereabouts.
Aotea Sea Kayaks, Mulberry Grove, Tryphena (tel. 09/429-0664; email@example.com), offers night kayak trips, sunset paddles, and harbor kayak cruises. Prices range from NZ$55 to NZ$95. Bush and Beach (tel. 0800/042-3224 in NZ, or 09/837-4130; www.bushandbeach.co.nz) offers a range of excellent ecowalks and tours on the island. Their 1-day adventure leaves Auckland Domestic Airport at 7:15am (returns at 5:30pm) and includes two scenic flights, breakfast, and a picnic lunch. Moderate walking ability is required. It costs NZ$675 per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.