‘Surely I’m not hallucinating,’… as a small brown phantom image flies across the track ahead, leaving me shaking my head in wonder.

It can’t be an illusion. Visibility is good in this strangely quiet mature pine forest as I’m walking under a bright midday sun. The light filters through the upper canopy and dapples the pine needle path.

Walking along the well-marked track from Schoolhouse Bay to Mansion House Bay on Kawau Island, I can’t imagine what other animal could move with such a violent burst of speed. Wallabies are known to hop about happily in the ‘Lucky Country’ but this mobile marsupial was on the verge of flying as he streaked across my path.

Hauraki Gulf islands appear to float on a shimmering sea

I’ve barely had time to regain my composure when an overweight wood pigeon indignantly flaps his wings directly over my head before noisily landing on a tree branch. The slender branch sags under his bulk so I guess there are ample food supplies on the island.

Kawau Island, off Northland’s east coast, is widely regarded as the jewel of the Hauraki Gulf. It’s named for the common shag, the ‘kawau paka’ or white-throated cormorant. Many of the island’s 80 permanent residents pride themselves as having a self-contained, independent island state, which sounds wonderful but there are no shops.

The magnificent Mansion House sits majestically in Mansion House Bay, at the entrance to Bon Accord Harbour, a deep inlet on the island’s western coast. The beautiful sheltered bay becomes a magnet for crowds of holidaymakers in summer and autumn.

Kawau Island’s quiet haven of Shipwreck bay

Steeped in history, the stately mansion is a fine example of colonial architecture. Initially the home of the island’s coppermine manager, it was upgraded to a palatial residence with lush gardens for governor, Sir George Grey.

Grey purchased the island in 1862, carried out major renovations and employed a team of gardeners to plant exotic trees in the grounds. Many of these Australian blue gums, Brazilian palms, Indian rhododendrons, deodars, Mediterranean olives, oleanders, agaves, English oaks, elms and fruit trees can still be admired today.

Among the stately trees, cheeky wekas pick their way over the lawns as if they own the place and are fully entitled to pester peaceful picnickers for titbits.

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