Our former jet pilot columnist slows right down on a trip to Kawau Island.


Life feels different on Kawau Island. It’s a place where zebras, wallabies, deer, monkeys, Chinese pheasants and the governor of New Zealand have all lived. Without roads or motor vehicles, the pace is slower – in the best possible way.

My wife, Jane, and I are in New Zealand for the summer to visit my editor, Jenny, who also happens to be my daughter (I have a writing job for life). My childhood friend Michael Absolum lives in Sandspit, so Jane and I took a holiday within our holiday and set off up north. One fine day, we all took a 30-minute ferry to Kawau.

The island is shaped like a horseshoe, with the main bay offering good protection from wind and waves. These ideal boating and exploring conditions were discussed over a cool mid-morning glass of New Zealand bubbles. We decided to split into two groups: island explorers and sea anglers.

The island-explorer team loved the beautiful, interesting and slightly quirky island and it’s ultra-friendly feel. The sea-angling team enjoyed their fruitful afternoon at the south end with a decent haul of snapper and kahawai and great views of the island from the ocean.

In 1862, Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey during his second term as governor of New Zealand. He introduced exotic animals to the island, and plants and trees native to many countries of the world. Today, the wallabies, kookaburras and peacocks are still around, as is some of the foreign flora.

The main tourist attraction is Mansion House, which was originally the residence of the manager of the island’s copper mine. It’s a good place in which to catch up on the local history, there’s a café and tearoom close by, and just a stroll away is Schoolhouse Bay, where there are some old-style Kiwi baches. According to another of my friends, Mary Chamberlain, it’s a spot with “no pretensions and that’s totally relaxed, where you can be who you are”.

A short water taxi ride across the bay takes you to the best eatery and hangout spot on the island: the Kawau Boating Club, a very friendly watering hole with a good menu, as well as some groceries and holiday stuff. We enjoyed sharing the seafood platter and a delicious vegan curry.

Back on the mainland on the Matakana Coast, Sandspit is the closest hop-off spot for Kawau Island and is itself an attractive proposition. We took a quick look around on our return from the island and it’s easy to see why it’s becoming an increasingly popular place to live. In addition to being more accessible via good roads than it has been in the past, it’s a scenic and well put together place. There are boating facilities at the marina and great spots in which to chill out and stroll around. The busy, bustling Sandspit campsite was full of happy, smiley mums, dads and children, and is located alongside a pretty beach.

We all loved our day out on Kawau Island and would heartily recommend that you take a day trip to see it too. A few days spent in a Schoolhouse Bay bach or at the Sandspit Holiday Park would also be highly agreeable.