Monday, January 7, 2013

Kawau Island

Ladybug has been anchored in Bon Accord Bay on Kawau Island for the past few days. A strong south westerly wind will keep us here for another day, when the winds are predicted to swing into the north and help us to reach Auckland. Mike and Karen on 'Chapter 2' left this morning bound for Whangerei, where they have arranged to leave the boat while touring New Zealand by car.

Kawau Island was named by the Maori for the handsome white and black cormorant that nests here. The cormorant is a symbol of strength and leadership in Maori culture. The island was home to two distinct Maori groups and was the scene of intense fighting and competition over a type of small spotted shark that was harvested in the waters around the island and could be dried for year long sustenance. Maori sites on the island can be identified by being sited on points with cleared areas and earth works for defence.

The first whites to settle here established a sheep farm in the 1830s, but soon after manganese and then copper deposits were uncovered. The copper was found when people noticed a blue stain on the cliffs in one bay and the rocks in that area still show blue stains (copper oxide I think) where copper is leaching out of the rock. The copper mine shafts were dug under the ocean and a huge steam driven pump house erected to keep the ocean out. The sandstone pump house with its elegant Victorian brick chimney is still standing more than 150 years after it was built. The copper mine only operated for about 10 years in total, but resulted in various settlements totalling 300 people spread over half a dozen coves. A smelter was built across from where I am anchored because the ore was too dangerous to ship abroad due to its high sulfur content which could result in spontaneous combustion.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) owns and runs much of the southwest portion of the island and has developed an excellent network of trails. I have spent three enjoyable days poking around this end of the island, trying out new trails each day.

In the 1860s, Sir George Grey, governor of New Zealand bought the island as a retreat. He extended the copper mine manager's house turning it into an elaborate Victorian mansion. DOC is restoring this property and I went through the house, much of which is still open to the public during this work. The museum contains some original furniture (all rosewood) including several elaborate Victorian pieces with huge lion's claw feet. The panelling in the rooms is Kauri wood, stained red with ox blood. It is not a cozy house with its towering ceilings, dark furniture, and blood stained walls.

Governor Grey brought in exotic species of animals and plants in an effort to find foreign species that would do well in the area's mild climate. This had a predictably devastating effect on the local flora and fauna, but has left an interesting mix of local and foreign trees and plants as well as a few unusual animals.

Before arriving on the island, Grey had traveled extensively in South Africa and Australia. He brought in dozens of types of animals from these continents including 5 types of wallabies (small kangaroos), zebras (which he reportedly used to pull his carriage), deer, peacocks (from India), and monkeys. The zebras did not fare well due to the cold, the deer are now all gone, the monkeys did too well, were judged a pest, and were destroyed. The peacocks are still there and 4 out of the 5 wallaby varieties are still present. I had the pleasure of seeing two wallabies when returning from my walk yesterday around dusk.

The island is also home to two flightless birds - the Kiwi, which is nocturnal, but whose call can be heard at night in my bay, and the Weka, a bird of similar size and colour to the Kiwi, but with a shorter beak. The Weka is omnivorous and will eat just about anything. Active during the day, these birds are a common site, although rare on the mainland where they fall prey to cats and dogs.

The forests of the island are covered in huge pine trees - an introduced species that dominates the canopy. These trees are big - as big as the large rain forest trees on Canada's west coast. I measured one of the typical larger trees at 25 feet in circumference. I would estimate their heights at over 100 feet. Imagine my surprise when counting the rings on some of the fallen trees, to find they were only 45 to 70 years old! A local boater told me that they typically harvest these trees commercially at 25 years.

Tomorrow I hope to sail south to Tirititi Matangi - another nature reserve island, and then on to the volcanic cone of Rangitoto, which I hope to climb before I meet Rani in Auckland on the 16th.

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