Carolyn Bergquist enjoys the tranquillity of the Hauraki Gulf's newest visitor attraction.
Downtown Auckland could have been a million miles away as we stepped off the ferry in the evening sunshine on to the wharf at Rotoroa Island.
We were warmly greeted by Ginnene Salisbury, one of the island's handful of fulltime residents, and taken by four-wheel-drive to our home for the weekend. One of only three holiday homes on the island, Mahoe is set high on the hill overlooking Home Bay.
From the moment we walked in we knew we were in for a special weekend. The view from our living room was superb and we were instantly taken with the quirky retro furnishings and the cheeky weka who would visit at regular intervals during the weekend.
Tremendous thought and care has been taken to ensure the homes are well-equipped. If you fancy a picnic by the beach, colourful beach towels and a picnic basket are to hand and there's even a bucket and spade if your toddler has forgotten to pack hers. Practicalities are not overlooked either so you won't find yourself doing the dishes by hand or struggling with a charcoal barbecue.
Waking up with the resident tui singing outside the window, we decided to walk the Southern loop track which takes you to several interesting lookout points on the way to a substantial stone work by sculptor Chris Booth in memory of Jack Plowman, father of island benefactor Neal Plowman.
The 7m work, with references to nearby pohutukawa trees, is on the island's southern headland with views across Hauraki Gulf to Ponui Island's sandy beaches.
Along the way we passed the island's award-winning woolshed-style exhibition centre, designed by architect Rick Pearson, which tells the history of the island and conservation programme.
Between 1911 and 2005 the Salvation Army ran a drug and alcohol treatment centre on the island. Heading up the hill towards the headland we stopped in to see long term resident Trevor Williams, the last of 12,000 inmates who stills lives on the island. A jack-of-all-trades and the island's living treasure, today he was hard at work in his vege garden planting beans and tomatoes for the coming months.
We spent a lazy afternoon at Ladies Bay, one of several swimming beaches on the island. The beach has picnic and barbecue facilities and being just a short walk from Home Bay makes it the ideal spot for those spending a day on the island. On the hills above the beach there is evidence of the investment made in revegetation. Work is almost complete, and will ultimately see 400,000 native plants covering Rotoroa's 82 hectares.
The following morning we set out for Mai Mai Bay following another one of the island's many walking tracks. This tranquil beach is ideal for swimming and for those who enjoy a clamber around the rocks it's possible to make your way back to Home Bay at low tide.
After all the walking we decided an afternoon relaxing in the Cape Cod chairs with books and music was well-deserved before boarding the ferry back to the city.
It was a privilege to be among the first to holiday on the island, thanks to the generosity and vision of the Plowman family who funded the 99-year lease of the island from the Salvation Army and opened Rotoroa to the public last summer. With its combination of history and natural beauty the island is an ideal destination for a day trip or short stay.
IF YOU GO
Holidays homes accommodate six to 13 people. Summer rates are $375-$675 per night (two night minimum). Phone 0800 76 86 76 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
* January 15 - Family fun day and launch of new discovery trail.
* March 4 - Volunteer beach clean-up. Discounted tickets.