Mansion House on Kawau Island. © Monica Tischler

Kawau: an island apart


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Locals describe living on Kawau Island as ‘quiet.’

It’s not surprising; there are no proper roads and no shops, not even a dairy. So it’s vital to come prepared with supplies, although there are a few places that serve food during the summer season.

Kawau Island is close to Auckland and easy to get to – a short ferry journey from Sandspit.

The ferry pulls up at South Cove wharf and we climb off, laden with weekend supplies: walking gear, food and a fishing rod each.

A wallaby bounces across our path and several weka scatter off into the bush. It’s hard to believe we’re still in New Zealand.

We’ve heard there are good fishing spots around nearby Beehive Island, a small, grassy mound with a ring of pale yellow sand at its base. We paddle around on kayaks, out into a glassy bay before agreeing on a spot that feels lucky. A penguin pops its head up. It doesn’t take long before we feel little tugs at the end of our rods, and then bigger, stronger pulls. 

Pushing through the water, we pass ruins of the island’s old copper mine. Dragging our boats safely onto the rocks, we marvel at the crumbling building that once housed the steam engine and pump to keep the mine free of water. Copper was extracted here from 1844 until the early 1850s and there were at least 300 people living on the island back then. I’m told there are now a mere 85 permanent residents.

A quiet bay on Kawau Island

A quiet bay on Kawau Island. © Monica Tischler

Over to the next bay, Dispute Cove, we tie our kayaks up and walk over the hill to Mansion House Bay, sharing a track with fantails and monarch butterflies. The house of former New Zealand Governor General, Sir George Grey, glows in the sunlight. Originally the residence for the island’s mine superintendent, the Victorian home was purchased in 1862 by Grey, who spent a fortune developing Kawau, planting orchards, olive groves and other exotic and native trees. Today, peacocks and wallabies can still be spotted here.

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