After some rough seas, we visit an exotic mansion on Kawau Island

November 17, 2011

Reluctantly, Capt. Vince heads us out of Smokehouse Bay west for Kawau and the Victorian fantasy world of Sir George Grey. Twice governor of New Zealand, Grey took over the home of a mining executive in the 1860s, plowing in a fortune to take it to 30 lavish rooms and transform the gardens into his private Eden

He brought in Chinese pheasants, New Guinea tree kangaroos and South African monkeys. Zebras pulled his carriage.

Island Passage ship off Kawau

But before we can see Grey’s Mansion House, we have to cross the Gulf with 20-knot southwesterly winds and three-foot swells. We batten down any flyable objects and brace for the four- or five-hour crossing.

It’s not too bad and we anchor safely at Bon Accord, the only spot Island Passage is allowed off Kawau. It’s a quick tender ride to Mansion House, where a preening peacock shows us his feathers, a shy wallaby scuttles into the woods and New Zealand wood pigeons flap away from their branches.

Calla lilies grow wild among the palms and tree ferns — how many times have I tried to grow callas back home, and here they’re weeds. The lilies, like all the New Zealand native species, are so unremarkable to Kiwis, yet so exotic to the rest of us.

Sir Grey's mansion house

Hearty hikers tramp up to the ruins of the old copper mines and up the Redwood Track, another import from the acquisitive Sir George.

Capt. Vince joins us for our farewell dinner, roast duck with risotto and merlot-raspberry sauce. It’s like the end of every wonderful cruise — where did the time go?

 Tomorrow: Our final morning aboard

Betsa Marsh is the president of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

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