Kawau is a bush-clad island handily close to Auckland, but a world apart. Kawau has been home to Ngai Tai, Ngati Manuhiri of Te Kawerau and Ngati Wai, and Maori pa sites can still be seen. The navigator Toi is said to have named the island “Te kawau tumaro o Toi” or “Island of the motionless shag” . The surrounding seas were rich in fish and sharks, leading to battles between Maori groups from the 1600s til the 1820s, when Hongi Hika attacked with muskets.
In the 1840s copper was discovered on the island and was mined until 1852, with about 300 people living on the island at the time. Visitors can take walking trails through the Kawau Island Historic reserve to explore remnants from these early mining ventures.
In 1862 Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey, in his second term as Governor. He had the mining superintendent’s house expanded and remodelled, to create the stately home that can be seen today, in Mansion House Bay. Grey was fascinated by natural history and collected numerous species of exotic plants and animals for his island home. The zebras and monkeys have gone, but wallabies, peacocks and kookaburras can still be seen. From 1862 til 1888 Grey indulged his interests in science, in collecting Maori legends, and also established a dairy, farm and orchards with a community of around 100 people. The mansion house and grounds were bought by the Government in 1967. The house, furnished with antiques, and surrounded by carefully tended gardens, is a popular spot to visit, and in summer Mansion House Bay is full of yachts taking advantage of the picturesque and sheltered anchorage.
These days Kawau is home to about 70 permanent residents, and hundreds of visitors over weekends and holidays. With no public roads it’s a uniquely peaceful spot to get away from it all, listen to the birds, and enjoy walking the bush tracks, or swimming, boating and fishing in the beautiful bays.
Ferries and water taxis depart from Sandspit, about 45 minutes drive from Auckland. Be aware that holiday homes here are on tank water, and that most food will ned to be taken in and rubbish removed from the island. There are baches ranging from the rustic to the distinctly luxurious, so pack well, enjoy the voyage and relax happily in this island paradise.
Where to stay
www.kawauisland.org.nz - Kawau Island information
www.kawauwatertaxis.co.nz - Kawau Water Taxis
www.haurakigulf.aucklandnz.com - Islands of the Hauraki Gulf
www.doc.govt.nz - Kawau Island Historic Reserve