The island has a long history of Maori occupation. A human and animal quarantine station operated 1872-1941, subsequently used as New Zealand’s primary naval training base to 1963. The remnant concrete water tower is a well-known Gulf landmark.
The island was extensively used for gardening from at least 1400 by Ngati tai the principal iwi. The Sunde ‘footprints’ site is a widely acclaimed archaeological site. The 1936 military fortifications survive relatively complete including a rare set of 12 barracks buildings.
The 1863-64 Waikato War was one of the most controversial and influential episodes in New Zealand's colonial development. This fort site in South Auckland is significant as one of only ten military sites that are protected and open to visitors.
Te Maraeroa Flat on Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island was extensively used for cultivation by Māori then Pākehā. The ground was never disturbed by powered machinery and so has high archaeological value.