Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From the Mahurangi River to Kawau: a Sunday cruise

Sunday 11 March, good friends of mine shouted me a trip down the Mahurangi River from Warkworth on the MV Kawau Isle.  The craft, built in 1958, did regular trips between Sandspit and Kawau Island for around 30 years.

We passed by the 1908 scow Jane Gifford as we headed down river.

Along the Mahurangi, oyster farms proliferate. These, according to the commentary, are barges used to maintain and harvest the oyster beds.

Scott Homestead on Scott's Landing, Mahurangi Point. Took a number of shots, and they're all obscured by trees, so this was the best of 'em. Thomas Scott was a local shipbuilder and coastal trader.

Casnell Island just off the tip of Mahurangi Point, apparently a Maori pa site, is also a protected scenic reserve.

Pudding Island, so-named because it looks like a bread pudding.

Saddle Island (Te Haupa), again so-named because of its looks.

Motuora. This place has a lot of European history to it (more at the link).

I was fascinated by these rocky spurs, like teeth above the water ...

Leading to Motutara, an island which did once have an even greater rocky outcrop in the above view (western point of the island). Until it was virtually all quarried away from 1929 until the 1960s by the Auckland Regional Authority. 

Detail from DP 22125, 1929, LINZ, crown copyright

In 1926, Charlie Hanson (also known as owner of neighbouring Moturekareka) bought both islands (Deeds Index 1B.21), only to have the western point of Motutara taken under proclamation. After asking the Crown if they wanted to purchase the rest of the island along with Moturekareka in the 1940s, and being refused, Hanson sold the remainder of the land privately.

In 1967 the Commissioner of Crown Lands sought permission to bring the remains of the quarry into the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, and succeeded the following year. After an aborted attempt to subdivide the remaining two-thirds of the island by the private owners in the early 1970s, the remainder was brought into the maritime reserve in 1975. In 1980, Motutara was classified as a scenic reserve. ("Flora, Fauna and History of Moturekareka, Motutara and Kohatutara Islands, Hauraki Gulf", by Tennyson, Cameron and Taylor, Tane (1997), p. 33)

Coming alongside Moturekareka, the boat's master swung in a bit closer ...

... so we could get a view of the remains of the Rewa, whose past has been excellently summarised by Writer of the Purple Sage.

Motuketekete, the history of which was previously posted here.

I was trying to get the best I could from a distance shot of the rocks at the eastern tip, where one seems balanced as a precarious ledge. I didn't realise I also caught a tern in mid-flight until I viewed the shots here at home later.

Beehive Island. According to Marjorie Holmes, Life and Times on Kawau Island (1999), the island was gifted to a Mrs I Wilson by Sir Ernest Davis at some point. Comment was made on the boat that the island looks like it just needs a castaway -- but that isn't sand around its flanks, but ground seashell.

First glimpse I've ever had of Kawau Island - South Cove, with the day's damp mist crowning the highlands, lending atmosphere to the trip. Timber milling and farming have formed the European history here.

A bit further on from South Cove, just before Dispute Cove, the old copper mine engine house, a registered historic site.

Painting of the old copper works by John Kinder, 4-1198, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Judging by Kinder's painting from the 1850s-1860s, the engine house looks the way it does today perhaps because the rest of the shoreline appears to have been washed away over time. Most of the walls seemed to be still in place by 1910, but cracks are visible in the image below.

Auckland Weekly News 15 December 1910, ref. AWNS-19101215-14-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

Copper mining at Kawau was a relatively short-lived enterprise. From the mid 1840s to 1855, when the mine shafts flooded, this was Auckland's centre of industry.

Leading on to Kawau's other main claim to fame: Mansion House. Originally, this started out as a two-storey Georgian style Mine Manager's residence (much still to be seen on the right). Then Sir George Grey arrived, and along with his animal and bird life importations, he added the left side (but the fancy verandahs are a post-Grey addition from the 1890s).

These are distance shots only, as the boat was not allowed to dock at the jetty due to high fees, with these trips being a commercial enterprise. But private boats can get in any time they like, apparently. Didn't seem all that fair to those of us looking longingly at the building as it disappeared behind us.

Schoolroom Bay, Bon Accord Harbour, so-named after an 1870s school said to have been built there by Grey.

Above, this is it today.

Below, how it used to be.

Auckland Weekly News, 10 October 1912. Ref AWNS-19121010-6-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

These days, the vastly altered (wonder how much is actually left?) schoolhouse is tourist accommodation.

On the other side of Bon Accord Harbour is Smelting House Bay. This is the Kawau Island Yacht Club's jetty.

This is the remains of the copper smelting house, built in 1849 from Mahurangi Stone (possibly limestone?). Serious deterioration has occurred during the last century to the originally two-and-a-half storey building.

This was when some idiots set fire to the copper slag around the building. Auckland Weekly News, 3 May 1901, ref AWNS-19010503-8-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Smelting House Bay (above) is where, in the 1860s, the hulk Marion was anchored, a floating prison for Maori during the Waikato War. From the link:
"Following their capture at Rangiriri in November 1863, these men were initially held in the prison hulk Marion on Auckland Harbour before being transferred to Kawau Island (in the Hauraki Gulf north of Auckland), where they were held without charge or trial. On 11 September 1864 they seized all the boats on the island and used improvised paddles to cross the channel to the Northland coast. They built a pā north of Warkworth."

The moody mists on Sunday seemed apt for this place.

Pembles Island (Tangaroa), said to have been given the European name "after a young miner and assistant teacher who lived and worked on the island when the coppermine was working," according to Holmes.

On the way homeward, heading for Sandspit, we passed the Spirit of New Zealand at anchor.

A neat end to a great day, despite the weather.


  1. Rather envious of your trip!
    And many thanx for linking to my story about Charles Hansen...much appreciated!

  2. I'll echo Phil's comment *green envy face* thank so so much for sharing such beautiful photos and helping to bring back some really great childhood memories for me. Awesome!

  3. Great pics! This story reminded me of staying on Kawau as a child and later, as a teenager, paddling a kayak over from the mainland and all around this lovely island. I was inspired to dig out an old book I have ('Oceana' by Froude, pub. 1886) in which the author has a fascinating account of visiting Sir George Grey at his Mansion House home. As a kid, I remember being thrilled by the wallabies and peacocks, the legacy of Grey, who had quite a menagerie of exotic animals. Maybe there's a good story here, if it hasn't already been told...