A Brief history of the Kawau ferry transport 1946 -1990

A Brief history of the Kawau ferry transport 1946 -1990

photos & details ex Ken Ricketts


Purpose built in the early 1950’s by Roy Lidgard, in his boatbuilding shed in Smelting House Bay Kawau Island, for Alan Horsfall owner of the Mansion House, in Mansion House Bay, Kawau, for the carriage of passengers & freight, to & from the Mansion House, to the Sandspit at Warkworth, which was the embarkation point, for the vast majority of the guests, & virtually all freight, food, & most importantly, for boaties, grog, during Mansion House’s time as a hotel /guest house, which was up until about September 1967, at which time it was bought by the Government of the day & turned in to a historic place, under the Historic Places Trust.

A few lucky commuters travelled in style, by amphibious aircraft from the 1950’s onwards, — a Grumman Widgeon, piloted by a the famous, Freddie Ladd,  a delightful, colourful, extroverted, & very learned, & tremendously skilled, pilot,  see pic on the beach of Mansion House Bay, c.1954, (this photo along with the one of Mairie was scanned by Ken from 8 mm movie footage shot from his families launch, Juliana, c.1953-55, thence the poor quality). Ladd usually had Christmas dinner on Juliana, & later Gay Dawn, an entertained the Ricketts family with his seemingly endless supply, of real life anecdotes.

Mairie was approx 42 feet long & powered by a 4 cyl Kelvin diesel & served the Island & Mansion House for many years. In her later years such was the demand for her services that Lidgards built (1952) another boat for Mr. Horsfall, called Kawau Isle, slightly bigger & powered by a 6LW Gardner diesel, which in later years, took over most of the passenger load & left Mairie to do the donkey work, with the freight side of the logistics. The 6LW I understand, has fairly recently been replaced by a newer 6LX Gardner in Kawau Isle.


Kawau Isle is a traditional kauri timber motor vessel built in 1952 by Roy Lidgard at Smelt House Bay, Bon Accord Harbour. She is 45 feet in length, powered with a 6LW Gardner diesel engine and cruises at 7.5 knots.

For around 30 years the Kawau Isle operated a ferry service between Sandspit and Kawau Island. More recently she worked from Half Moon Bay as a charter boat and then Whangarei as a school ferry. She currently plys her trade ferrying day trippers to & from the Riverhead Hotel, on the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour.

In the bow on photo with the ‘Riverhead Ferry’ logo, the men on the bow are all past and preasent skippers of Kawau Isle. This photo was taken at Kawau Island, Bon Accord Harbour November 2012 during a cruise to celebrate the 60th anniversary to the launching of the ferry.

Note : Mairie & Kawau Isle replaced the ‘Nancibel’ – (may have been Nancibelle), which was powered with a 4 cyl 4-53 GM Detroit & ‘Kororo’ which was powered with a P6 or 6-354 6 cyl Perkins. Both of these boats were painted bottle green & given there appearance probably built in the later part, of the early 1900s. You can see the Maritana stern on, behind Kawau Isle in the 1962 pic at Mansion House Bay wharf. The back end of Kororo can be seen in the photo of a young Ken Ricketts sculling the dinghy.

A question ex Don Macleod

Refer below article / photos that appeared in DIVE Magazine Vol 11 No3, of 1972.

Is this the same launch, Nancibel, that serviced Kawau Island. (click photo to enlarge)

Nancibel _ DIVE Magazine

Update from Don 02/12:

The divers got into real trouble that weekend at the 20 fathom reef, Mayor Island, 3 cases of the bends, one of which died (Henry Liason).

There was another boat that hit a Mayor Island rock that weekend. It was the Edward G which flooded its engine room at the time

that Henry Liason was surfacing from a very deep dive.

Tauranga divers went out and salvaged the Gardner engine from the Nancibel the week after she sank.


6 thoughts on “A Brief history of the Kawau ferry transport 1946 -1990

  1. NANCIBEL was built by Bailey & Lowe in 1920 for Dodd & Gibbons of Thames. L. Rolfe of Matakana owned her 1935 and sold her to F Herring. Gubbs Motors owned her 1941 to 1951 at least, painted red and green.


  2. I am virtually certain it is the same Nancibel, I have read that she had a mishap of that type. The Nancibel had a 6LW Gadner fitted by Gubbs Motors Ltd Warkworth, who owned her, at that time, before she left Kawau in about 1950
    A Mr. Snow Stevens owned the Duchess when she was at Kawau in the 1950s — KEN RICKETTS


  3. Was the Nancibel the same vessel that sunk at the Mayor Island skindivers convention Labour Weekend 1971?


  4. I have fond memories of a fine old ship named “Duchess” that was at Kawau in the early ’60s. A double ender in fine lined Woodys style with aft dodger, funnel, saloon skylight and carvings at the bow. Her hull was dark blue and I think she had a 6 cylinder Ford; she scooted along with her stern well dug in. She was running a service in opposition to Horsfall whom nobody seemed to have a nice word for -but hey, he saved the Mansion House so that the brewery could almost wreck it. The boaties always got him to bring supplies, however, and drank in the speak easy that was called the “Snake Pit”.
    BTW There was a badly broken double ender making her last sacrifice to nature in the grass above Robertson’s boatyard at Warkworth several years back. Much stumpier and fatter in proportion to my memories of “Duchess” and not the same boat.


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