KAWAU ISLAND TRACY WHIT­MEY meets a cou­ple bring­ing a touch of Ire­land to Kawau Island.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - kawaubeach­

Tracy Whit­mey voy­ages to an island re­treat on Kawau Island

“COU­PLE WANTED to run island re­treat in New Zealand” – that was guar­an­teed to catch the eye of experienced Ir­ish hos­pi­tal­ity cou­ple Ka­rina Quin­lan and Luke Tre­anor as they headed to NZ af­ter a spell work­ing in Aus­tralia (well, the word­ing might have been slightly dif­fer­ent but no mat­ter, they were hooked). Within three days of get­ting off the plane they had taken on the job of run­ning the Kawau Beach House.

Im­me­di­ately they could see the po­ten­tial of the prop­erty; nes­tled beach­front in Vi­vian Bay on Kawau Island in the Hau­raki Gulf, it’s just a 20-30 minute boat ride off the coast about 45km north of Auck­land. Over the pre­vi­ous few years the place had be­come a lit­tle shabby and suf­fered from a lack of at­ten­tion. “What it needed was a burst of fresh en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy,” says Ka­rina. To­gether with an ea­ger and com­mit­ted owner, within two weeks they had plans drawn up and in the past seven months the island re­treat has been com­pletely re­fur­bished. To­day guests can choose from three beach­front suites with pri­vate decks step­ping right onto the sand, four court­yard rooms or suites with views out over the gar­dens and Vi­vian Bay, or a hid­den-away cot­tage with two rooms sur­rounded by na­tive bush. Shar­ing the bay with only 12 other houses and com­pletely traf­ficfree, the sense of peace is pal­pa­ble. Just add one of Luke’s deluxe G&TS, a bowl of freshly popped turmeric pop­corn and a Kawau sun­set for com­plete heaven.

While ren­o­va­tions were un­der­way, Ka­rina and Luke had chance for a quick tiki tour of the coun­try sam­pling won­drous pro­duce along the way. “Even be­fore we came we were very ex­cited about New Zealand food, due to ev­ery­thing that we had heard. Where I was work­ing in Aus­tralia there was so lit­tle con­nec­tion to the prod­ucts I was us­ing, but I need to know about where ev­ery­thing is com­ing from, it’s im­por­tant to me,” says Ka­rina. While in Marl­bor­ough they vis­ited White­haven Wines and were de­lighted to find a sauvi­gnon blanc named Man­sion House Bay – now firmly es­tab­lished on their wine list back on Kawau. There it sits along­side lo­cal wines from Hype­r­ion and Heron’s Flight and lots of lo­cally sourced pro­duce such as fish from Leigh Fish­eries, smoked salmon from Matakana Smoke­house, Matakana ba­con and honey, as well as craft beer from The Sawmill Brewery and 8 Wired. Ka­rina is an ex­cel­lent chef with a gen­tle hand and an un­der­stand­ing of how to use great tech­nique with­out overkill. The food is el­e­gant and clever and Ka­rina en­joys a good for­age in both the beach house gar­dens and those of their neigh­bours. This is ap­par­ent in a clever dessert of lemon & vanilla set cus­tard with rhubarb poached in an el­der­flower and horo­pito pep­per cor­dial.

Ka­rina and Luke feel very for­tu­nate for the op­por­tu­nity to live an island life. With just 72 per­ma­nent res­i­dents on Kawau, it’s a close com­mu­nity. Keen for Kawau Beach House to be part of that com­mu­nity, the cou­ple in­vited all the res­i­dents of the island to visit, to see the new place for them­selves.

Back in the 1860s and 1870s vis­it­ing Kawau Island was a pop­u­lar day trip, with fer­ries bring­ing boat­loads to see Gover­nor Grey’s pala­tial house and menagerie of ex­otic an­i­mals – ze­bras, an­telopes, wal­la­bies, kook­abur­ras, In­dian pea­cocks and mon­keys – along with un­told species of trop­i­cal plants. While the ze­bras and mon­keys are long gone, vis­i­tors to­day can still see pea­cocks, kook­abur­ras and wal­la­bies as well as myr­iad na­tive birds in­clud­ing weka, kiwi, ker­erū and more­pork. The wa­ters around the island may of­fer glimpses of dol­phins, or­cas and rays, while on land there are var­ied hikes from a few minutes to 4 hours long, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar track to the his­toric re­mains of the cop­per mine.

Ka­rina and Luke feel very lucky that they’ve had the chance to stamp their own mark on this spe­cial place. Ka­rina says, “Our ethos is to use the best pro­duce, and to of­fer it so it’s ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. We love high-end hos­pi­tal­ity, but we are not pre­ten­tious. We’re friendly, down-to-earth coun­try people and we just want to show­case the very best of New Zealand in both food and hos­pi­tal­ity.”

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