It is erroneous to think there is a mono-culture of kanuka on Kawau Island. Yes, the predominant native trees on the island are the white flowering kanuka and the manuka, but some properties are fortunate to have one or more majestic kauri trees, or groves of ancient puriri, tawa, or tairaire.

In the next tier the most common tree fern is the ponga or silver fern, but you’ll see others such as the mamaku or black tree ferns, and some small trees such as the scented mingimingi, five finger, tree daisy, lush kawakawa, and red matipo.

Underneath these you’ll find patches of filmy ferns, including the cup shaped kidney fern, the sprawling umbrella fern and lots of spongy mosses, lovely to walk on.

But in the autumn watch where you put your feet – there will be coral fungi, deadmans fingers, earth stars, birdnest fungi, and purple Russula.

On the coastline and some headlands gnarled red flowering pohutukawa make a display in December and in the swampy zones you’ll come across cabbage trees, flaxes and the introduced Zantedeschia or arum lily.

There is certainly much, much more than kanuka on Kawau. And what is the difference between kanuka and manuka? Kanuka is ‘kind’ and manuka is ‘mean’. Touch the foliage to get the message!

Birds On And Around Kawau Island

On your trip over to Kawau Island you will probably see gannets diving gracefully into the sea for their next meal, then up they pop to have a rest on top of the water if they had success and enjoyed a good feed. You may spot a Caspian Tern, these have beautiful beaks, that look as if they have just had bright red lipstick applied! Hopefully there will be the smaller terns flying around, we call these kahawai birds and maybe they will be working the water where there is a “boil up” of fish below. The red legged and black backed gulls will follow boats hoping for an easy feed thrown over the side during gutting.

Lookout for the Oyster Catchers on the rocky shore, they will be drilling the rock oysters for a good feed with their long orange, carrot like beaks. You may also spot a North Island weka, they sometimes forage on the beach for small crabs. These flightless birds live on Kawau very successfully and we have a much bigger population here than on the mainland. They are very nosey birds and love shiny, bright, colourful things like pink jandals, which if given the chance they will pinch and run off with! They must have a huge stash of these and similar items somewhere! Every evening we hear the “weka call” around the bays as one starts the call off, others in the area then join in on this very social event.

We have a few different species of cormorants or shags around Kawau’s shore, the larger pied,”Kawau shag” as they are known, live in the trees on Rocky Bay and as you descend down the steep hillside onto the beach there are usually a large number standing on the sand, wings outstretched, drying them off. We see the little black shag doing this on jetties and pontoons too.

In the evenings we listen for kiwis calling, yes we are lucky to have these on Kawau Island. Another bird we love to hear is the little morepork owl, what could be better on a clear starry night than to have your fishing line over the jetty and listen to all the bird sounds as you survey the night sky.

Swallows often nest in rarely used boats moored around the Island and kingfishers live on the banks of the rocky shore, we watch these brightly coloured birds sitting on the jetty poles ready to swoop down into the sea for a meal. Just beware not to get too close to their nest in the bank as they dive down and make a horrid piercing screech to scare you off.

Tuis can be heard around the bays, Vivian Bay has a lot of beautiful big native trees and they can always be heard and seen in this bay. We have a lot of mature pohutukawa trees and when these are in flower the tuis are in their element, likewise when the flaxes flower.

Fantails often follow us on a walk through the bush and another bird that survives well here is the little grey warbler, this tiny bird sings an enormous warbling song. Silver (or wax) eyes, is another small bird we see here too, mostly when the pohutukawa is blooming.

I feel I must also mention our kookaburras, although not native, these have survived from Sir George Grey’s days when he introduced many different species of birds and animals to Kawau Island. If we are up early enough we heard kookaburras “laughing” away to each other. Also look out for our two male peacocks, Solo and Two-Toes in the grounds around Mansion House, they look extremely handsome in the spring when their tail feathers are in full array.

I hope this gives you a “taster” of what birds you might spot on a trip to our unique little Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf.