Spotlight — Kawau island

Kawau Island is my favourite island in the Hauraki Gulf — brimming with secluded coves, fascinating history, and even the odd wallaby (though there’s less of those these days). 

Kawau — named after the Kawau Paka; the white throated or little shag cormorant — is 29 nautical miles from Westhaven Marina. That makes it perfect for a weekend trip; close enough for an easy, non-stop journey but far enough from the Inner Gulf to avoid any crowds.

Once you get to Kawau there are plenty of options for anchorages, from the white sandy beaches on the northern end to the superbly sheltered Bon Accord harbour. Particular highlights on land include visiting Governor Greys historic mansion at the aptly named Mansion House Bay, the old copper mine and smelting house, and various forest walks starting from Mansion House historic reserve. 

On the water, the options are more obvious but hidden gems include the shipwreck at Moturekareka Island, body surfing or boogie boarding at Sandy Bay (you’ll need a little swell), and exploring far up into the mangroves at North Cove via dinghy or kayak (best attempted at high tide). 

A Little History

Kawau was first colonised by the seafaring tribes of Ngatitai and Ngatiwai, notorious for their piracy and cannibalism. They were so bad in fact that mainland tribes combined forces and attacked the Kawau tribes, eventually succeeding in taking control of the island. Legend has it that the attack ended in a cannibalistic feast in Bostaque Bay, a legend borne out by the discovery of human bones in the area. 

Kawau continued on a rather violent trajectory, with more battles taking place until the island was eventually abandoned by Maori following a particularly bloody skirmish during the musket wars.  

Eventually, the island was purchased by various European settlers with commercial interests – first for agriculture and grazing and eventually for copper and manganese mining and timber. 

Sir Geoge Gray, one of New Zealand’s first governors, bought the island for private use in 1862, turning it into his own personal menagerie, filled with exotics like Zebras, monkeys, elk, kangaroos and antelope. A few of these exotics remain today, including 6 different species of Wallaby (even one which was rare enough in Australia to ship some back there), peacocks, and Kookaburra. 

Sir George sold the island 1888, after which it passed through the hands of various owners before being subdivided in 1992. 

The Crown eventually bought Mansion House and the surrounding land, tasking the Hauraki Maritime Park Board with restoring the grounds to their former glory. Today, Kawau Island Historic Reserve, covering 10% of the island and encompassing Mansion House and its exotic gardens, is overseen by the Department of Conservation. 

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