Cape Brett Track – Northland, New Zealand

With winter and rain on the horizon, my hiking season is coming to an end. Nevertheless, with a short gap of sun I did find an interesting overnight walk and shot off up to the Bay of Islands in the Northland province.

The Bay of Islands houses Russell, site of the first European settlement in New Zealand. And, at the eastern edge of the bay is the Cape Brett Peninsula, a forest covered area with a lighthouse at its tip. One of the islands just out from the end of the peninsula is also home to one of the region’s better known tourists spots, a natural arch of rock called the Hole in the Rock.

After my drive north from Auckland, I stayed at a backpackers in Rawhiti, right near the beginning of the track, driving a winding road to Russell for dinner.

Day 1 – Oke Bay to Cape Brett Hut – 17.3km – 8 hours

My backpackers is a kilometre from the trailhead of the Cape Brett Track, and my parking was included in the price, otherwise places charge NZ$10-20 for the night. I walked along the road past Kaingahoa Bay, to Hauai Bay, through the waharoa and up stairs.

With Oke Bay at my left, I began the climb up the highest peak on the track, Pukehuia, although at 345m it isn’t as tall as some of my previous climbs. Most of the walk will be through forests, so I am resigned to just enjoying what I can. As the climb to the top of Pukehuia is over 2km, the track is not particularly steep. But as the day is warm, I made it to the rest stop at the top covered in sweat, but with great views of the Bay of Islands.

I stopped for a brief break, and when I was about to leave, I met one of the three other people I’d see during the walk. I set off again, and on the far side of the hill is a track leading south which is marked as closed. There’s also a good view south to another pair of rocky peninsulas.

At the base of Pukehuia is another closed track, this one also leading to the remains of Whangamumu whaling station. Soon after, I reached the predator proof fence that crosses the entire peninsula. It’s an electrified fence that keeps the possums out, although the gate was open when I arrived, I closed it once I’d gone through. For my second climb of day, smaller than Pukehuia, and the second highest of the walk, with a pair of peaks which I called the nipples. As I climbed down the first of these nipples, I passed the other two people I would see on the trail, and continued on to the far side of the 2nd nipple, where there’s a shelter. I stopped in an open grassy areas nearby for lunch with Outu Bay below.

Over the next several kilometres the trail descended to the Wait ui Stream before climbing steps to the junction of the only side trip of the walk and location where the Water Taxi collects people. As it would have added an hour to the walk, I skipped it and continued on up the hill to be regaled by views of the end of the peninsula and climbs yet to come.

As I drew closer I could make out the track climbing along the sheer cliff face on the most dangerous part of the walk. Thankfully, today the wind was calm.

After the fourth and shortest climb of the day, I came to the cliffs leading up to the entrance of the aforementioned most dangerous part of the walk, the clifftops.

At one point, on the way to the pole that marks the highest point, there’s a guard rail to protect walkers. Beyond the highest point the thin trail leads along the top of the 200m high cliff.

And from this last rise, the lighthouse came into view, along with Piercy Island, home of the Hole in the Rock.

I climbed down to the old lighthouse, which is now redundant, replaced by the smaller (a tenth of its size), stronger, electric powered one on the other side. From that vantage point, I could for the first time see the old lighthouse keeper’s hut below, which has been converted into the Cape Brett Hut by the Department of Conservation. The rest of the walk is down the hill on long switchbacks, but after a long day walking, my legs are a bit like jelly.

On arrival at the hut, I discovered there was already a dozen people there that had walked in earlier in the day. The hut also had its own cookers, pots and cutlery. I had been warned that as it’s late summer, the water may have run out, so I carred in extra water. But, I found there was still water in the tanks, although I still used my own water first. After reading for a while, I cooked my dinner and returned to my bunk for an early start the next day.

Day 2 – Cape Brett Hut to Oke Bay – 17.3km – 8 hours

More people had arrived after me the night before, and the hut was rather busy. There was also a cyclone pushing down on Northland, so most people in the hut were arranging to catch the water taxi before the seas got too rough. As I hadn’t seen a single person walking back the other way on day 1, I assumed they’d also got the water taxi too. Maybe I’m too cheap, but I came to walk, so I hikedout. When ready, and with a far lighter pack in the morning, I climbed the hill back to the lighthouse.

As I crossed the dangerous portion of the track, the wind was a little stronger , but nothing more substantial. While today was supposed to be mainly cloudy, most of the morning was sunny. The track was now familiar, and I remembered all the parts I walked over the day before. During the day, I met a family of 8 heading to stay in the hut overnight. I hope they didn’t get stuck there, as the water taxi doesn’t come in choppy water. A few hours later, I emerged from the trail, down the stairs and through the waharoa.

I walked the 1km to my car and drove to my night spot over an hour away in the city of Whangarei.

Overall,
The Cape Brett track was a nice overnight hike made more challenging by its distance, several climbs and the last section. While I usually prefer not to double backalong the same track, sometimes there isn’t other walking options. Overall, a good couple of days, although I wish less of it was in the forest.

Until next time,
The Lone Trail Wanderer

Rangitoto Motutapu Circuit – Auckland

About six hundred years ago, the volcanic cone that is Rangitoto Island erupted its way out of Auckland Harbour beside Motutapu Island. Rangitoto is the largest of the approximately 53 cones in the Auckland volcanic field, all of which are considered dormant.

I’ve not previously been to either island, and at NZ$39 return for the ferry, I decided to make the most of it and do an overnight hike. There’s no formal hike here though, only a number of day hikes on one or the other. So I made one starting and finishing at the Rangitoto Wharf and camping at Home Bay, the only public campsite on the far side of Motutapu Island.

Rangitoto Wharf to Home Bay Campsite – 12.3km – 4 hours

I booked the last ferry to the island for the day at 12:15 pm. The trip over was only 25 minutes, with a stop at Devonport. There were few people on the ferry, one other guy and his son who would be staying at Home Bay, and a day walker. The Auckland weather was sunny and warm, and there was a slight breeze on the top of the ferry as we crossed although clouds hung across both islands, stretching off into the distance.

On arrival, I marched along the wharf and through the waharoa.

Rangitoto Island has the largest forest of Pohutikawa trees in the world, although large portions of the island are covered in jagged volcanic rock. A wide path had been cleared and flattened in many places for the numerous tourists who climb the peak.

After a while, the clouds moved on leaving a hot day for the rocky climb cutting a fairly straight line up the side of the 260m cone. About 15 minutes from the summit, I came to a small camping area with a trail leading off on the side track to the lava caves.

As I had no intention of returning this way, I cut off along the side track, finding some rocky paths that led back down the slope a little before coming to the first of two main lava tubes. At the first, there were two women and their young children, so I left them to it and continued to the second lava tube. This tunnel was about 30 metres long with a nice spot in the middle with a ceiling gap. At the end I had to stoop down to get through before following a trail back to the start of the tube where I’d left my pack.

The kids were just leaving the other tube when I got back to it, but the holes were only small. I walked the 15 minutes back to the main trail and climbed to the summit where there was a large viewing platform beside an old WWII bunker.

After my brief stay at the summit, I followed a trail around the side of the cone and down an overgrown path to the summit road.

This summit road cut through trees and rock fields all the way to the causeway, which was built to connect the islands during WWII. On the road near the causeway were several baches (beach houses), remnants of the 140 built in the 1920s and 1930s before they were banned in 1937.

I stopped for a rest and at the entrance to the island.

After my break, I cut along a path although the two inch grass made it somewhat hard to walk through. The two islands are like polar opposites, and could be described as Good and Evil, or Heaven and Hell. Motutapu has rolling hills, and lots of open grassy fields, while Rangitoto is harsh, with its volcanic rocks and good covering of trees and plants.

I followed the trail across the island, with good views of the harbour, islands and the Auckland Coast until Home Bay came into view.

I climbed down the hill to the campsite and found a spot to pitch my tent. The Home Bay Campsite has 142 non-powered tent sites and during my stay there was only two tents, mine and the man I’d met on the ferry on the way over with his son.

I hung out on a seat near my tent reading until the sun went down in pinks across the sky.

Home Bay Campsite to Rangitoto Wharf – 13.5km – 5 hours

There was a fine layer of dew on everything when I woke, but instead of the forecasted cloudy day, it was full on sun.

I decided I wanted to make the 2:30pm ferry, and arranged my pickup at the other end. This gave me some time to check out other parts of Motutapu Island. I headed north up the hill and along the Rotary Centennial Walkway.

The walkway came to the junction of several roads and further up a brief hill climb to a set of gun emplacements installed during WWII.

Further down the hill was the main gun emplacement area with several underground tunnels, rooms, and large emplacements along with signs explaining various parts.

After some exploring, and checking out another set of tunnels near the junction, I followed a road along to an education camp. I was supposed to stop off at reception and announce my arrival, no exceptions, but I passed through and up the hill on the other side without talking to anyone.

I crossed Administration Bay briefly before heading back up the grassy hills and around the North Western edge of the island back to the causeway. I stopped briefly to talk with some Department of Conservation workers who were scouting for Kiwi, of which they had caught, scanned and released 23 today with a target of 50. I had no idea there were Kiwi on the island.

I stopped for a break at the causeway before beginning along the coastal trail back to Rangitoto Wharf.

At Islington Bay Wharf, I realised the coastal track would take me too long, and I would miss my ferry, so I cut back along the road, followed it up towards the summit and split off part way to race towards the Rangitoto wharf. The sun continued to beat down during the afternoon, and it was again roasting on the rocky Rangitoto. I arrived back at the wharf just prior to the ferry arriving, but was utterly drenched in sweat. As soon as I could I got into a large bathroom and changed into my dry clothes for the trip back.

Overall,
My Rangitoto Motutapu Island circuit was a success, there was plenty to see on both islands, and being a Monday, it was quiet. I enjoyed my time there.

Next, I will wait for an opening in the weather and will find another, hopefully longer, walk before winter pushes me into hibernation.

The Lone Trail Wanderer