THE MAGIC OF Kawau Island
Kawau Island's tri-weekly Royal Mail run might just be the world's most spectacular delivery route.
We have four days in Auckland before heading south to Queenstown, but what to do? After looking through our guide books, we decide a trip to Kawau Island is just the thing. It's early morning but we've already driven the hour from Auckland and are now following a winding road down to a picturesque harbour nestled in a river estuary. We walk into the Kawau Cruises office and it's bustling with people like us: Tourists looking to visit an island with New Zealand history and has a restored Victorian era Mansion House that was once the residence of Governor George Grey. Shelley, of Kawau Cruises, hands us our tickets along with a map of the voyage we would take on the ferry. At the wharf there is a queue of tourists and island residents waiting to board. We're relieved to see it is a big boat and Howard, the deckhand, greets us with a beaming smile. At 10.30am, the ferry departs from Sandspit Wharf and we head towards the river mouth which opens into the magically blue expanse of Kawau Bay. Ian, our skipper, provides a safety briefing then starts his commentary. Howard brews some coffee. Inside the vessel, locals, many with what seems like food that would last for months and cats or dogs or birds, are talking amongst themselves. With a permanent population of less than 100 spread over 30 or 40 little settlement areas in the bays and coves on its sheltered western face and almost no roading, Kawau’s lack of sophisticated community infrastructure is a source of pride to residents. There is one store which serves magnificent burgers and meals for eight months of the year, and a swish little cafe open over the summer time in Mansion House Park. Everything has to be transported in and out. We decide to head to the top deck. It's hot and there is very little wind so hats and sunscreen are definitely the order of the day. Looking at the map, we trace our path and see that we're heading towards the northern end of the island to Vivian Bay, the first of many settlements that we will see today. We're on the Royal Mail run, a three times a week delivery service to Kawau island residents. The mail is delivered in canvas bags and either left on the end of wharves or handed to waiting islanders, eager to hear news from “afar”. I wonder if this is similar to the days of the pony express delivery service! Vivian Bay has a lovely sandy beach with a gloriously inviting upmarket resort right at the water’s edge. As we head out of the bay, the ferry suddenly stops and Ian announces over the PA system that there is a pod of dolphins just off the vessel's bow. We take a look and see 15 or more dolphins, including two baby calves that stay close to their mothers, all frolicking in the wake created by the ferry. We pass more little settlements as we skirt the edges of the island until we reach North Cove, a tranquil deepwater inlet with about 30 houses along the water’s edge. On this island with no roads, everything has to be done by boat or on foot. Many properties have their own private jetty in the same way that we have a garage for a car. On Kawau Island, a boat is like a car. We continue on, making more mail drops, then head into Bon Accord Harbour, which is about 4km in length and almost bisects the island. We drop more mail off, moving from wharf to wharf. That is our schedule for today. Around lunchtime, we reach spectacular Tranquil Bay where we find Governor Grey's Mansion House. The house is a cornerstone of New Zealand's colonial history and was built by Sir George Grey, who was appointed Governor in 1845 and Premier in 1877. The mansion was restored using the New Zealand conservation budget and is filled with period furniture and artwork. It took our breath away. Howard remained on the ferry firing up the barbecue for lunch while we explored the mansion and its spectacular grounds, which is home
to peacocks and weka and palm trees which helped protect us from the hot sun. We walked lunch off with an easy stroll to Coppermine, the relic of a prosperous mining industry that continued until early into the 20th century. This is a walk back in history as well as in paradise. It's time to get back onto the ferry, and on the way back there are more mail drops and pickups. We collect a few islanders heading back to the mainland, too. We decide to sit downstairs this time – we've had our fill of the open air for today – and enjoy a glass of wine. Before too long we're back where our adventure started: Sandspit Wharf. We start the drive back to Auckland tired but satisfied. We have enjoyed the warmth hospitality of some Kawau Islanders and seen a little slice of New Zealand paradise mixed with an important slice of New Zealand history. Sleep came easy that night.