Mansion House

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History of the house

Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey in 1862. At the time he was serving his second term as Governor.

Kawau Island Mansion House. Photo: DOC.
Kawau Island Mansion House

Grey had a keen interest in the natural sciences and in horticulture, and was an enthusiastic collector of plants and animals from around the world. Between 1862 and 1888 he spent a fortune developing Kawau as his island home, planting hundreds of different plant species and introducing many exotic and native animals including wallabies, kookaburras, weka, peacocks, zebras and monkeys.

Sir George Grey enlarged and remodelled the former residence of the mine superintendent as his Kawau home. Sir Frederick Thatcher (architect, cleric, and Grey’s private secretary) was responsible for the design. The original part of the house had been built between 1845 and 1847.

Known today as Mansion House, it has been in public ownership since 1967 and was extensively restored to its former appearance in 1977–80 after many years of neglect. Much conservation and restoration work is still being done by DOC.

Mansion House has been furnished with a valuable collection of antique furnishings largely donated or loaned to the Department, and is open to the public.

Mansion House gardens

Mansion House is set amongst a mixed backdrop of exotic conifers established by Sir George Grey.

Sir Grey was an enthusiastic collector of plants and animals from around the world, communicating ideas with notable scientists like Charles Darwin and exchanging plants with an international network of botanists and plant collectors. The Italianate gardens developed by Grey were the focus for his experiments with the acclimatisation of plants, particularly those of potential economic value. Plant material from Kawau was distributed throughout the country.

While many of the plant species introduced by Grey have not survived, much is known about the original layout of gardens and there are plans to progressively restore some parts with help from volunteers.

Mansion House jetty

Built for Sir George Grey in 1875, to replace the existing jetty which dated from 1844, the Mansion House jetty is thought to be the oldest surviving jetty in New Zealand. It features unusual masonry piers built from blocks of slag, a waste product from the smelting process carried out during the mining era. The jetty piers have recently been restored by the Department of Conservation.

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Historic significance

Inside Mansion House, Kawau Island.
Inside Mansion House, Kawau Island

Mansion House has been registered as a Category 1 Historic Place. The property has additional significance because the dwelling has been preserved along with its original setting, and the jetty built for Grey in 1875. The jetty, thought to be the oldest in New Zealand, has been proposed for Category 1 registration. Many original elements of Grey’s gardens remain, including a notable collection of trees and shrubs.

The coppermine engine house and smelting house are also of high heritage value and have Category 1 registration.

Conservation work

Conservation plans for Mansion House and the jetty identify remedial work needed to arrest causes of deterioration. The work has been prioritised and is progressively being implemented. Where possible, the house is being returned to its appearance at about 1890, soon after Sir George Grey sold the island.

A similar plan has been prepared for the gardens. Restoration of the gardens represents a significant opportunity to enhance the experience of visitors. A conservation plan has also been prepared for the smelting house, whose stabilisation and repairs have been carried out by DOC.

Visiting Mansion House

2013 opening hours

  • Monday to Friday 12:00 to 2:00 pm
  • Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 12:00 to 3:30 pm

Mansion House may be opened for parties of 10 people or more with five days prior arrangement. Please phone +64 9 422 8882 or use the online booking form.


  • Adults $4
  • Children (5–15 years) $2
  • Under 5 free

Children must be accompanied by an adult. Please note that there are no eftpos or credit card facilities at Mansion House.

Help look after Mansion House

  • Please remove muddy footwear before entering Mansion House.
  • No food or drinks are allowed inside Mansion House.
  • Photography is not permitted inside the house.

Related links

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Find out more



Mahurangi / Warkworth Office
Phone:      +64 9 425 7812
Full office details
Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 9 379 6476
Address:   137 Quay Street
Princes Wharf
Auckland 1010
Full office details

Mansion House, Kawau Island
Ph +64 9 422 8882
Fax +64 9 422 8726