When strong-willed Kate O'Connor is engaged by handsome Sir John Devenish, a member of the landed gentry with a manor in the Cotswolds and a London townhouse, he astounds her with the news that he intends to leave his comfortable life and to move his family some 11,000 miles away to the Canterbury Colonies. The future, he says, lies in New Zealond, where men of ideals are building a new society of their own from the ground up.
Somewhat reluctantly, the members of the Devenish household accompany Sir John on the journey: the slight, fragile and fickle Lady Devenish; the eerily beautiful and strangely silent daughter, Celina; and the Lodden family, the retainers who have served the Devenish clan long and well in England.
Kate, her young life already marred by personal tragedy and with few illusions that it will hold greater promise on the other side of the world, has a considerable task before her: to look after Lady Devenish and Celina on the long sea voyage out, and to shepherd them through the unknown hazards of life in a untamed land.
Yet once Kate reaches Avalon, the new family seat at the foot of Mt. Cook, a remote sheep station, bright prospects begin to glimmer like the ever-present snows on the mountains in the distance. Here also she begins to perceive the dark mystery that clouds the lives of Sir John and the Devenish family, the real secret that has driven them so far from home.
But Kate herself must first experience the rites of passage--love and disappointed love--and bear witness to tragedy before she can claim her own rightful inheritance of a new and fulfilling life in a bright and promising land.