The wonderful old boathouse on Kawau Island has been revamped and is once again bringing the local community together, with a shared love of boating and great food.
The original Kawau Island Yacht Club was built in 1952 in the Bon Accord Harbour by island residents, using donated materials. The land was leased at a very generous rate from the Lidgard family, who were well-known local boat builders and sailors (their grandchildren still are to this day). The club became a favourite gathering place for boaties cruising the gulf, and a de facto community centre for people based on the island or nearby.
In 1982 management was passed to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS), the country’s oldest and largest yachting association. The RNZYS officially incorporated the club, rebuilding the aging wharf and the fuel tanks. The club continued for another 32 years before declining membership numbers and a few too many quiet winters forced the RNZYS to reluctantly close the doors in 2014.
But the story doesn’t end there. A small group of supporters formed a committee to start a total refurbishment of the site, with support from OPAK (Organisations Passionate About Kawau), the Rodney Local Board and, once again, a whole heap of volunteers. By Christmas 2014 they reopened under a new name: Kawau Boating Club. They believed the new title would be more welcoming to all sailors, not just yachties, and they were proven right by an immediate surge in membership numbers. After dwindling below 400, there are now more than 800 member families, some from as far away as America and the Bahamas.
Robyn and Davo Lee are now on their fourth season running the Bon Accord Bar & Bistro at Kawau Boat Club.
“Two years ago, we built the Bon Accord Bar out of bits and pieces we had salvaged from the building site,” Robyn recalls. “With the new deck right on the water, and pop up bar with a real kiwiana style, we reckon it is one of the best spots in the whole of New Zealand. And just around the corner from the club the RNZYS put in a great kids’ playground.”
“We’re now open seven days a week for breakfast lunch and dinner – our fresh morning scones and our Kawau burgers are legendary already. We also provide diesel, petrol, two-stroke oil, fresh water ice, bait and a heap of general store items.”
With all of the improvements, the club has a new lease on life: most summer weekends it’s busy with fishing competitions, regatta prize givings and other special events. The New Year’s Day regatta, always a major feature on the Kawau boating calendar, now attracts even more families, and the Anzac Day ceremony brings everyone back in the autumn.
It’s easy to see why membership numbers have boomed: members get free access to showers, laundry, water top ups at the jetty, discounted fuel and cheaper bar drinks. The permanent population of Kawau Island is growing again, and the club is once more a meeting place for locals and anyone who enjoys boating, sailing and fishing in the Hauraki Gulf.
“You don’t even need a boat to enjoy Kawau,” says Robyn. “It’s easy to catch one of the regular ferries or water taxis from Sandspit, Snells Beach or Omaha. And you don’t have to be a member to come to the restaurant – everyone is welcome.”
With the recent run of good sailing weather, now’s a perfect time of year to make the short trip over.
“When the flag’s up that means we’re open,” Robyn laughs. “It’s a boatie thing!”