Kia Ora: Kawau Island

Elisabeth Easther seeks out the historical and beautiful sides of this Hauraki Gulf gem.
Kawau is home to the gracious Mansion House. Photo / Richard Robinson
Kawau is home to the gracious Mansion House. Photo / Richard Robinson

Origin of name: Named for the shag - no, not that kind of shag - kawau paka is Maori for the white-throated cormorant.

Population: 70-80 permanent residents, and about 300 holiday homes.

Island slogan: A jewel in the Hauraki Gulf (unofficial but it works).

Local mascot: The weka, although to be fair, too many and they become a menace.

Famous locals: In the 1860s, Governor George Grey called the super-flash Mansion House home.

Earn your stripes: During his time on the island, Governor Grey introduced all sorts of exotic creatures - zebras, monkeys, wallabies, kookaburras, peacocks and, on Sunday afternoons when he'd go for a jaunt, instead of travelling by horse and trap like every other human being, his carriage was towed by four zebras. Respect.

Best website:

Big business: Copper was discovered in 1842 and, when mining was at its peak, there were more than 300 miners living on the island.

Island philosophy: Demographically diverse, Kawau is, to all intents and purposes, an Independent Island Nation State aiming for a minimal amount of mainland bureaucracy.

Source of pride: Locals are quietly delighted to be part of a self-contained, non-hierarchical community.

Town fiestas: Music in the Gardens is a major event held each February in Mansion House Park. Tickets are limited to 750 people, as per DoC's allocation of landlubbers, but they could easily sell twice as many tickets. A lively family day out. And Easter is all about yachting regattas.

Here for a short time: Hop on the Royal Mail run, the longest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, servicing 75 wharves. The skipper delivers mail and parcels while sharing intriguing island stories and you can enjoy a barbecue lunch on board or take a picnic. These trips depart Sandspit every day at 10.30am. And you simply must visit the Mansion House.

Why make the effort: Because Kawau is like nowhere else on earth, so many coves each with their own distinct flavour including Lady's Bay, Schoolhouse Bay, Dispute Cove, Miners Bay, Farmer Bay and Sunny Bay - who doesn't love those names?

Kids love: Camp Bentzon is a fabulous establishment. With 120 beds (you need to book) campers can kayak, dive off the wharf and enjoy the fitness trail and adventure playground. Epic for school camps and family outings.

Best park: Mansion House Park is a spend-the-whole-day place and on fine days it's buzzing with families and friends picnicking and playing guitars, lazing under trees, swimming, hiking and enjoying the gardens and cafe

Best walks: Kawau might not have roads but it does have some splendid walking tracks. Redwood Track is a 90-minute return saunter to the towering redwood planted by Governor Grey in 1864. Trot along the Dispute Cove Track to the copper mine, this popular walk takes about two and a half hours return via Lady's Bay. FYI: Almost all the walks are across private property so be sure to ask permission - which is almost always granted.

Best view: Walk for 90 minutes from Bon Accord Harbour to the top of Mt Taylor for panoramic views of Auckland, Great Barrier and Coromandel. Best place to pull over: Coming by boat, stop in the middle of Kawau Bay and get a hit of tranquillity

Best swim: Almost everyone's property goes down to the water but the universally acknowledged best swim is the blue water of sandy Vivian Bay.

Best museum: The Mansion House is fitted out with period furniture and paintings, much as it might have looked in 1862. Open most days from 10am-3pm, for a modest fee you can have a little nosy parker

Nice arts: The island is home to plenty of writers and artists with lois e hunter having just published her seventh book of poetry, When We Were Old.

Shopping: There are no shops on Kawau, so you'll have to pack everything in and out.

Cream of the coffee: Mansion House Cafe does a fine flat white, as well as hot and iced chocolates and ice creams. The Kawau Boating Club is another spectacular place to get your caffeine fix.

Baked: Maree at Mansion House Cafe whips up mean muffins and a well-regarded lemon cake.

Best food: Though cannibalism was famously practised on the islands, that's simply not acceptable any more. Happily, the Kawau Boating Club in Bon Accord Harbour serves a scrumptious range of lunch and dinner options including a delicious Thai curry. And the KBC is also where people go to find out what's happening with the world.

Wet your whistle: The KBC is a haven for a sundowner on a balmy summer's evening.

Five star digs: Kawau Beach House in Vivian Bay is where you go to really push the boat out, as good as anything you'll find in the world, the ever-changing menu focuses on fresh seasonal produce - their caesar salad is a winner and their duck is to die for.

Best adventure: Apart from relishing all the island has to offer, arriving by seaplane is hard to top.

Best kept secret: The island itself, happily it has yet to be trampled by "progress".

Wildlife: Kiwi live here, as do two thirds of the North Island's weka population. Plus there are kookaburras, shags, peacocks, tui and kereru. Wallabies also hop about, but they are a designated pest. In the water you'll find snappers, stingies and kingies, dolphins and greedy old orcas.

Safety warnings: Aside from not speeding in your boat, people are asked to refrain from chucking fish guts to the bronze whalers when filleting their catch. Apparently the sharks aren't too interested in people but best not to test that theory by enticing them in.

Visitors, like Arnie, say: Isle be back

Thanks to Michael Marris.



One of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf, Kawau is 8km from Sandspit Wharf.
Getting there: On a good day the ferry takes about 20 minutes, longer on a rough day. You can also hail a water taxi if you'd rather.

- NZ Herald

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