Danielle Wright and family discover life is laid-back on Rakino Island.
It's quite a glamorous set on the Belaire ferry to Rakino Island. Great Gatsby lookalikes are pointing out landmarks to young women in floral playsuits and oversized sunglasses, while tween-aged boys fool around on iPhones.
After a short trip past Rangitoto and Motutapu islands, we're greeted by well-dressed kids fishing off rocks; and on the wharf in front of the community hall, derelict cars without registrations line the road. A smart-looking family arrives in a beaten-up van covered in children's handprints. Regular holidaymakers to the island use the cars until they stop working - it's quite charming but a bit of an eyesore in such a pretty spot.
They park on the grass under a pohutakawa tree and head to the beach to race on overloaded paddle boards around the boats in the bay. Seeing the generations all together, I wonder if the children whose handprints mark the van are now mums with their own kids holidaying here.
We walk from the boat to the first bay where we watch games of cricket on the sand and splash in the swimming-pool-clear water while a scottie dog named Oscar barks at us until the owners finally come to claim him.
There's plenty of shade, so we set up camp on a picnic table next to a tree with a giant rope swing, so we can watch all the beach action.
A boat arrives in the bay and kids clamber from the shore up to the swing, not stopping there but excitedly heading behind it along a trail. Curious, our children follow, and soon we're all heading along a path beneath tuis chattering in tall trees until we come to a tree house - really just rows of wood nailed to thick branches.
There's also a ladder attached to a pohutakawa tree, another rope swing across a big drop and a wooden viewing platform from which you can see the whole bay, all courtesy of a thoughtful family with a home nearby.
"You should see the Treasure Tree," says a girl, seeing how much everyone's enjoying the secret tree house. "It's where you go to put things you've made. Head to Woody Bay and there's a hedge you go through to get there."
It sounds intriguing. It seems a local resident put a few things in the tree - such as driftwood nativity scenes - then one day others started adding to it, someone eventually putting up a "Treasure Tree" sign. Further along the beach a tree was dubbed the "Elephant Tree" because of its shape, and the idea took on a life of its own.
Although we don't find the elusive tree on this trip, we do wander down Ivan's Walk (walk up the hill from the ferry, pass the first street on the right, keep walking until you get to some bins and there's a sign just through the bush). This walkway leads to the beach, where we walk back to Home Bay along a rocky coastline over giant pebbles - great for a natural hot stone foot massage - and over jagged rock pools, no mean feat while carrying a 4-year-old.
Back at the bay, a wedding is being celebrated on the beach, complete with a Massey Ferguson bridal car, everyone toasting the happy couple on the only sunny day in weeks.
If you take the first left turn from the ferry, instead of walking up the hill, you'll come to a bay with a very long, rickety wharf covered in bright orange lichen.
It's here that Governor Grey built his home, before being lured to Kawau Island.
It's quite eerie walking around this place, and later I read that Ihaka Takaanini Te Tihi, the principal chief of the Aakitai tribe who was briefly imprisoned on the island, died here of what one observer called "homesickness and a broken heart".
We hurry back to catch our return ferry. For us, Rakino Island seemed the perfect family beach escape. It might have broken Ihaka's heart, but it certainly won ours.
TO THE ISLAND
Adam at Belaire Ferries provides a direct service from the Downtown Ferry Terminal to Rakino Island. Adults are $52 return, children $31 return. Phone: (09) 416 6344.
Find baches to rent on the island from $75 a night at bookabach.co.nz.
Danielle Wright travelled to Rakino Island courtesy of Belaire Ferries.