Hauraki Gulf: Right pace on Kawau
We leave our car behind in Sandspit, along with a wet weather forecast and take a 30-minute boat ride to North Cove on Kawau Island, for a weekend away.
"So when we get to the other side, Mum, will we pick up a car?" asks Miss Six.
"No, there are no cars where we're going."
"That's weird," she replies.
Inside quiet North Cove, nothing moves except Helen and Dave as they welcome us to Kawau Lodge, nestled naturally into the hillside. They show us our lovely king room, secluded on the far side of the house, with our own private deck.
Directly across water the view is of continuous bush: kanuka, manuka, puriri, kauri and tree ferns, with old-style baches and more modest modern homes sprinkled along the water's edge.
Since my husband and I haven't visited the island since our pre-child days when we dived for scallops, we have lots of plans and we're keen to explore. But our best intentions melt as we instead relax in our comfy room.
We sit on the bed, we lie on the bed. Soon soft snoring sounds from dozing husband, while Miss Six settles her doll into her new bed.
Later I sit on a deckchair at the jetty listening to tui sing, a pair, like black darts, whoosh past me. Native wood pigeons sit in branches of a pohutukawa tree and fluffy baby weka scuttle around in the undergrowth. Further away an oystercatcher squeaks; blue penguins also live here.
After Helen's delicious healthy dinner, we feel very relaxed in the company of the hosts and another New Zealand couple. We hear the repetitive calls of a morepork and we're told that a kiwi sounds from across the water. But I sleep too deeply to hear it.
Next morning we kayak out to the cove's entrance. Across the water the sight of suburbia in Arkles Bay scares us enough that we turn back towards the lodge. Later we catch a boat ride with Dave to the Kawau Boat Club in Bon Accord Harbour. It's the essence of the island for the 50 permanent residents and many visitors. It's open to all with a small library, general store and fuel supply for boats.
The polished wooden floorboards look great under the feet of the boaties as they join their mates for a midday pint and a reasonably priced meal.
Stately Mansion House, decorated by its detailed verandah, appears as elegant as ever. The walls of the drawing room are wide kauri panelling, stained dark from ox blood, its four smooth kauri columns were extravagantly sent to England to be turned.
Miss Six is granted her wish to play the 1860s piano; the notes fill the room with life.
The resident peacock releases a haunting cry and his exquisite coloured feathers flow behind as he struts across the lawn. There's no remnant of the tennis court, golf course, bowling green or hotel ventures of the 1970s; now it is a tranquil reserve. I would love to have seen it when monkeys and zebras from Governor Grey's menagerie roamed during some of his 26 years of island ownership.
There's no sign of wallabies or laughing kookaburras either, the remains of Grey's exotics, as we walk over the hill to a look-out.
Below is the lean chimney of the old copper mine which brought hundreds of hopeful Europeans here in the mid-1800s.
The following day, Helen's yummy packed lunch in our day bag, we take an hour bushwalk accompanied by birds from Kawau Lodge to pretty Vivian Bay. The walk starts with some quirky displays along the path like a giant weka egg that distracts us from the first of a few hill climbs.
A weekend in Kawau Lodge peacefully surrounded by bush and water has peeled away city stress. It's a special place in a magical setting -- no sounds but the sea, boaties and bird song.
Need to know
• Kawau Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, is easily accessed by boat from Sandspit, a one-hour drive north of Auckland City and a 10-minute drive from Warkworth. There is plenty of parking available in Sandspit.
• Allow for a half-hour boat ride from Sandspit to Kawau Island, as it stops at the bays, dropping people off. We caught Kawau Ferry Service with John (ph 021 422 173). Kawau Lodge also offers ferry rides for guests and boat tours in and around Kawau (phone Dave, 021 951 038).
• We booked Kawau Lodge through booking.com. It's an easy-to-use website, you don't pay until you stay and they guarantee the best price. There are more than 3000 properties listed in New Zealand and more than 820,000 in the world, all with genuine guest reviews.
• Once guests have booked, Kawau Lodge gets in touch to personalise their stays and learn their specific requirements.
• Kawau Lodge hosts up to six guests.
• Mansion House, open weekdays midday-2pm, weekends midday-3.30pm. Music in the Gardens, Saturday February 13.
Kelly Lynch was hosted by booking.com
The Hauraki Gulf island is a captivating and peaceful place, where birdsong and an exotic history provide the backdrop, and city stress just melts away, writes Kelly Lynch.