Kawau Island is one of the larger islands that make up the Hauraki Gulf and can be found 8kms off the coast about 45 km north of Auckland. The climate is sub-tropical with majority of the island covered in bush, mainly Kanuka, Manuka and Pohutukawa but there are also excellent stands of Puriri and Kauri plus many more pockets of other native species.
The island covers an area of approximately 5000 acres, is 8km by 5km at its longest axes, and is almost bisected by the long inlet of Bon Accord Harbour which is geologically a “drowned valley”. The island has remained largely in private ownership except for around 10% which is owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and this includes the famous Mansion House in Mansion House Bay. Access to the island is by boat and ferry and water taxis travel daily from Sandspit, near Warkworth, about one and a half hour’s drive from Auckland.
The island has a small population of permanent residents and many holiday dwellings, and is a popular destination for pleasure craft cruising the Hauraki Gulf. The crystal clear waters of Kawau Bay are a paradise for fishing and sailing and there are many sheltered anchorages for boaties.
Electricity, phone and all modern communications services are available on the island and mail and other items are delivered as required. There is no reticulated water on Kawau Island so the majority of properties rely on tank water for their domestic supply and most Kawau residents have septic tanks or bio-waste systems.
A permanent population of approximately 70 live on the island, with the main population based at South Cove, North Cove, and Bon Accord Harbour. This population swells to hundreds over weekends and holiday time. There is a café / restaurant open at weekends and most days during the summer season for brunch, lunches and dinner. It is also available for weddings and private functions. The Kawau Island Yacht Club provides fuel and has limited stores. There are several holiday baches and houses to let, self contained holiday flats and bed & breakfast accommodation (all meals available). Majority of the population is based around the water’s edge with access by private jetties, apart from South Cove and Schoolhouse Bay which have public jetty access and roading to the various homes in the subdivisions.
Only minutes from the mainland, Kawau Island offers the ideal “away from it all” holiday venue, no roads, no cars applies to the majority of the island. There are many native birds on the island and as you wander around you will hear and see tuis, fantails, wood pigeons, kingfishers, silver-eyes, grey warblers, the cheeky flightless weka and also many different sea birds. Occasionally you may see and hear bright-coloured Rosellas and Kookaburras, native to Australia but settled on the island. As dusk approaches the sounds of moorporks can be heard in the bush and if you are lucky you may even hear a kiwi.
Kawau Island was originally settled by early migrations of Maori people. From time to time tribes contested for the right to live on the island, which was eventually abandoned in the 1820s after a particularly bloody skirmish during the musket wars. A manganese mine was established on the island in the 1840s; shortly after, copper was discovered by accident. Fascinating ruins of the underground seashore copper mine, a pumping engine house and a small smelter remain today.
In 1862 the island was purchased by one of New Zealand’s first governors, Sir George Grey, as a private residence. He employed architects to significantly extend the mine manager’s house to create the stately mansion that still stands today, fully restored in its sheltered sunny bay. In the valley behind the house, the governor created an extensive garden containing plants and animals from all over the world. The Kawau Island Historic Reserve was created to protect Sir George’s historic stately home in Mansion House Bay, which is open for viewing. Peaceful walking tracks lead through native forest to beaches, Maori Pa sites and old copper mine. Another walk takes you to a grove of large redwood trees. The magnificent house and park-like gardens are open to visitors, and colourful peacocks still strut the lawns.
For more detailed information about Kawau Island check out the links to the following websites:
Department of Conservation – Historic Heritage by region
Pohutukawa Trust – Plant restoration on Kawau Island
Wikipedia – History
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron – services provided on Kawau Island
Treasure Islands – information about the conservation of the Hauraki Gulf islands.