Cape Brett Point

Walk the Cape Brett Track

Spectacular island views
Cape Brett Track

Ever imagined what it would be like to live the life of an old-time lighthouse keeper on an isolated peninsula with only seagulls and the occasional seal to keep you company? Enjoy challenging hikes through lush forest filled with birdsong, appreciate endless sea views and not afraid of cliff-edge paths with 100+ meter drops to the ocean below? If your answer to any of the above is yes, then walking the Cape Brett Track together with an overnight stay at the Cape Brett Hut should definitely be on your New Zealand adventure to-do list.

Cape Brett is the rugged peninsula that marks the southern end of Northland’s picturesque Bay of Islands. Classified by the Department of Conservation (DOC) as an Advanced walk, the Cape Brett Track is a 15 km route that starts near Rawhiti, a small coastal settlement approximately 30 km east of Russell, and makes its way along the ridge to the lighthouse and what’s left of the lighthouse keeper settlement on the peninsula’s most northerly point. Established in 1908, and staffed until 1978 when the lighthouse was automated, now only one of the original cottages remain, converted by DOC into a serviced hut for lucky hikers such as ourselves.

The small coastal settlement of Rawhiti is 234 km / 145 miles north of Auckland and the drive there will take approximately 3 hours 30 minutes. Paihia is the largest town closest to Rawhiti although if you’re just needing a few provisions, there’s a Four Square supermarket in nearby Russell, about 40 minutes drive away. That said, you may be better off stocking up in Whangarei if you’re heading up from Auckland.

For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner.

Distance:15 km (9.3 miles) one way. Return via the same track.
Walking time:6 – 8 hours one way
Fitness level:High
Start elevation13m
End elevation:31m
Highest point:347m (1138 feet)
Track type:A steep, rough track with unbridged stream crossings and steep drop-offs. Can be very muddy in places.
Track start coordinates:35°13’40.8″S 174°15’48.3″E
NZTM: 6100940N 1714971E
Google Maps: -35.2279879,174.2634255
GPX file:Download Cape Brett GPX
Track map:View Cape Brett Track topographic route map and elevation profile
  • Take lots of water, enough for walking on both days and overnight in the hut as the quality of the water cannot be guaranteed. It tasted quite salty when we were there.
  • Access to the hut is via a PIN code which you will receive after booking with DOC. There are fees for using the hut as well as a track maintenance fee for crossing private land between Rawhiti and Deep Water Cove. You can check the latest fees, pay for a Cape Brett walking permit and make a hut booking online here.
  • There is no secure parking at the start of the track and you are advised to park at 253 Rawhiti Road.

There are in fact a number of ways in which to enjoy this incredibly scenic peninsula. If you’re reasonably fit then doing the full 30 km hike from Rawhiti to the hut and back over two days is the most challenging but most rewarding option and will take anything from 6 – 8 hours each way. It does require a good level of fitness and proper boots are highly recommended, particularly in the rainy season as parts of the track get extremely muddy and there are several sections where you’ll be climbing and descending with slippery clay and tree roots underfoot. Definitely not suitable for young children unless they were born with hiking boots on their feet.

Alternatively, if a two day hike is not for you, you can catch a water taxi from Russell or Paihia which comes ashore at Deep Water Cove and from there you can join the main track and walk the final section in 2 – 3 hours. While you will miss out on some stunning scenery and more than a few hill climbs and descents, you will still get to experience the incredible clifftop path and views as you head towards the final summit before the lighthouse. As you climb, spare a thought for those of us who would have already completed 15km to get there from Rawhiti.

The hut itself is basic, but more than adequate for an overnight stay. There are 23 bunks spread over two rooms and a central area, and there’s a large communal kitchen with gas hobs and an ample assortment of mismatched pots, pans and other cooking utensils. There is however no electricity so make sure you have a torch or candles, especially useful when visiting the outhouse composting toilet. Carrying in some backup toilet paper would not be a bad idea either unless you’re particularly skilled with sawdust.

Access to the hut is via a PIN code which you’ll receive once you’ve booked and paid your hut fees. If you’re doing the full walk from Rawhiti, you will also need to pay a walkway permit as the track passes through private land and is therefore privately maintained. You can check the latest fees and book everything online via the DOC online booking form.

Something else to bear in mind is water. You’re going to need a lot of it along the way each day and there’s no guarantee on the availability and quality of the water in the hut, particularly in the dry summer months. In fact when we booked, we were advised to carry in all the water we needed for our stay as there seems to be an ongoing issue with salt getting into the water tanks. We tasted the water, and while it wasn’t exactly unbearable, it wasn’t great.

Finally, parking is something else you’ll want to consider if walking the full route from Rawhiti. There is no parking area at the start of the track itself and it’s not advisable to leave your car on the side of the road overnight. A number of the locals do however allow visitors to park on their grounds for a small fee, with 253 Rawhiti Road mentioned as the ‘official’ parking area on the DOC website. Just look out for the sign at the postboxes on your right as you come down the hill into Kaingahoa Bay. Drive into the gate and park immediately to your left. Don’t forget to bring some cash to put in the small cash box nailed to the post, $5 per car per day (as at August 2016), and say hi to the deadly guard poodle before you head down the road for a kilometer or so to the official start of the track.

Meeting Pukehuia

Who or what is Pukehuia you ask? Well, after you pass through the small white picket fence that marks the beginning of the track, and as you start to make your way up the hill, you’ll want to take a moment to look to your left and find the highest point on the ridge. That my friends is Pukehuia, the highest point on the Cape Brett Track itself. Granted, at 345m it’s not that high in the scheme of things but it’s a nice 2 km uphill push that will soon have you warmed up for the many kilometres that lie ahead.

We quite enjoyed the encouraging comments on the orange route markers on the way up, but if by the time you get to the one that says ‘this is just the start’ and you’re immediately filled with dread for what lies ahead, chances are this track is not for you. And, having completed the walk to the hut, if you don’t opt to go back via the water taxi and do return via this route, you’ll appreciate the comments on the return markers – ‘feel proud’, ‘you’re almost there’, ‘what were you thinking’… ok, I may have been imagining that last one.

Cape Brett Track Marker

We were both pretty sweaty by the time we reached the lookout point and water tank on Pukehuia, and took a moment to admire the view while we stowed our rain gear. Well that’s the hard part over with we thought. Oh how wrong we were. Having looked at the Cape Brett topo map (in hindsight, not closely enough) we kind of thought that after Pukehuia, the track was reasonably level as it continued along the peninsula. That was despite DOC describing this track as ‘undulating’. Now we know what they mean. After Pukehuia, the track drops fairly steeply in places before climbing again to the next summit and then down again, and does this several more times for the next 7 or so kilometres. But with each new summit came another spectacular view across the Bay of Islands to the north and south towards the Whangamumu peninsula which helped distract us from our gradually tiring legs.

Cape Brett views
Cape Brett views
Cape Brett views

At around the 9 km mark the track reaches a small hut where there is a nice level patch of grass with stunning views to the south, a good place to catch your breath and contemplate the next 7.5 km. The good news is that from here the track gradually descends for the next 3 km down to the Waitui Stream. We stopped there for lunch before heading up to the Rakaumangamanga saddle with the weather starting to close in.

Rakaumangamanga Saddle to Cape Brett Point

At 362m, Rakaumangamanga is the highest point on the Cape Brett peninsula. Fortunately, you don’t have to climb Rakaumangamanga. You do however have to go around it, and from Waitui Stream the track heads up to a saddle, one of the most iconic spots on the track. From here, for the first time on the route, you get to see your final destination. You’ll also get to see your final challenge, the short but steep climb to the lighthouse that’s just over the summit. When you reach this point, looking across from the saddle, follow the ridge to its highest point where you’ll be able to make out a pole. That’s where you’ll be heading.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the saddle, the weather had well and truly hit and all we could see was cloud and just an ominous looking hint of what lay ahead. We stopped long enough to get our rain gear on and then hit the track, heads down for a final push to the hut. It was a fairly wet and miserable tramp from thereon although occasionally there was a brief respite, just long enough for us to see the next rapidly approaching wall of grey from the east.

Despite the wind and horizontal rain, or perhaps because of it, it’s hard to describe how we felt when we finally caught that first glimpse of the iconic Cape Brett lighthouse. We’d done it, although not quite. There was still a fairly steep, and in places, tricky descent to the lighthouse, but from there the track gently zig-zagged its way down to the red-roofed hut, our home for the night. What a relief it was to finally be inside out of the rain and the wind which by this point was so strong it shook the entire hut. That night, in our warm and comfy sleeping bags, we were too tired to care.

Sunrise at Cape Brett

The weather had been less than ideal the day before, but ever the optimists, we’d set our alarm to be up before the sun. The next morning we awoke to a gentle breeze and while everyone else slept, we crept out of the hut to catch the sunrise and the beginning of what turned out to be an awesome day. We could have stayed there for hours, watching the constantly changing light but we knew we had a 7 hour hike ahead of us so after an hour or so, we headed back to the hut to pack up our gear and start the walk back. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect, and on the way back, we were able to capture the views we’d missed the day before of Cape Brett’s rugged cliffs and stunning cobalt blue water. The photos speak for themselves.

Cape Brett Point
Cape Brett lighthouse
Cape Brett
Cape Brett view
Cape Brett

Back at Rakaumangamanga saddle, we were able to enjoy the view which the day before, had been a complete white-out. In hindsight, we’re actually glad the weather had been so bad previously as it made the trip back feel almost like a different walk altogether, with new views and surprises along the way. It also gave us a chance to experience just a small taste of what it would have been like for the lighthouse keepers and their families who lived on this remote and rugged peninsula through rain and shine. They must have been a hardy bunch.

We were pretty shattered by the time we finally reached the road at the end of the track. That last kilometre back to the car felt endless, but thoughts of a shower and a good hot meal in Russell kept our legs moving although we had to have a little chuckle as we reached the last corner and saw the roadsign that said ‘Slow down’. We were more than happy to oblige.

Cape Brett weather

On the day we walked we were lucky with the weather right up until the last few kilometres when a front moved in off the sea. We managed to dodge the worst off it but a howling wind rattled the windows of the old cottage for most of the night. Thankfully, by the following morning the weather had passed.

Being such an exposed peninsula the weather is an important factor, especially the wind on some of the more exposed sections of the track. We always keep an eye on the weather a few days out from our activities and rely on a number of sources of information. In the case of Cape Brett weather conditions check the following:

  • The New Zealand Metservice report for Paihia.
  • While MetService does provide rain forecast maps, these cover the entire country. To check more detailed local weather conditions and forecasts including wind, rain, temperature and cloud cover we use, and highly recommend,

As with all things weather related, the usual caveats and common sense should apply as no forecast is 100% accurate.

Cape Brett Track route map and elevation profile

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Cape Brett Track elevation profile

While every attempt has been made to provide useful and accurate information, OutThere.Kiwi assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of this information and cannot be held responsible for any direct or indirect damages resulting from the use or misuse of this information.

Topographic map data on this page is sourced from the LINZ Data Service and licensed by LINZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence. Elevation data is sourced from NASA’s SRTM1 (Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) database.

Matapouri Mermaid Pool

Swim in the Matapouri Mermaid Pool

Not always tranquil
Matapouri Mermaid Pools

Do a Google image search for ‘Matapouri Mermaid Pool‘ and you’ll see numerous photos of a tranquil tidal rock pool with stunning emerald green water. That’s at low tide. At high tide it’s a very different story as you can see from the photo above. Think of it as nature’s rinse cycle. Common sense dictates that you want to stay out of there while nature does its thing but when we visited, common sense was clearly taking a break as some joker in his underpants decided to take a dip and was nearly washed out to sea. And we’re not referring to one of us if that’s what you’re thinking ? For those of you who like to be a little more prepared, you can check the tides at Matapouri here.

Update (April 2019) – Rāhui closes access to Matapouri Mermaid Pools

A rāhui (cultural closure/prohibition) has been put in place by Te Whanau ā Rangiwhakaahu Hapū, a local Māori subtribe. This has been done to protect the delicate ecosystem of the Matapouri Mermaid Pool which has been significantly impacted by the high volume of visitors. The following video will give you some idea of what the pool should look like, and how it looks now as a result of human waste and sunscreen.

It’s not lost on us that by sharing our own experience of this beautiful taonga (national treasure) online, we did in some small way contribute to the problem. This is our opportunity to be part of the solution and so we ask you to respect the rāhui and not visit the pools.

But don’t let this put you off visiting the area. The beach in Matapouri Bay is beautiful and great for swimming, and nearby whale Bay is definitely worth visiting. Perhaps in future we’ll see access restored but in a controlled manner and with the proper facilities in place so that we can continue to experience all of the beauty that New Zealand has to offer.

Matapouri Bay is around 195 km / 121 miles north of Auckland, heading up on State Highway 1 (SH1) towards Whangarei. The drive to Matapouri Bay from Auckland takes on average around 3 hours but it’s always best to check the NZTA journey planner for updates on delays or road closures before heading north. There is also a toll road just north of Auckland but this can be avoided by a slightly longer but more scenic route via Orewa.

While you can drive through Whangarei, it’s quicker to bypass the town on SH1 until you see a sign to the right for Whangarei Falls and Tikipunga/Tutukaka Coast. From here it’s just 35 minutes to Matapouri Bay.

So what were we doing there at high tide when all the travel guides clearly state that visiting Matapouri’s mermaid pool is a low tide activity? We were heading back home to Auckland after an epic weekend in the Bay of Islands walking the Cape Brett Track, and with time on our hands we decided to stop in at Matapouri. The tide was still heading out when we arrived so we figured we would relax on the beach until it was low tide and then stroll over to the headland at the northern end of Matapouri Bay. The thing is, we don’t do relaxing very well, so I did a bit of scouting and found that with some well-timed rockhopping we could actually make it all the way to the point without wading so we figured ‘why not?’.

Matapouri Beach

Getting to the pools from Matapouri Bay

From the carpark at the end of Morrison Road it’s a 600m stroll to the northern end (turn left) of Matapouri Bay’s white crescent beach until you reach the saddle between the two headland hills of Rokoaweke and Rangitapu Points. A few years ago it seems there was an easy path which led via an archway to the pool but the archway has since collapsed which means there’s now a more arduous route. This involves climbing up and over the point and definitely requires some human four wheel drive action as it’s a pretty steep, and in places slippery climb. Fortunately there are lots of branches and roots to hold on to, plus some thoughtful (we assume) locals have tied ropes between the trees which definitely makes things easier in both directions.

Matapouri Mermaid Pool
Matapouri Mermaid Pool

Once over the steep section, there’s a short, easy walk through palms and with the sound of the ocean below and a growing sense of anticipation, we almost felt like we were on a remote island movie set and that at any moment, some ridiculously handsome actor would come crashing through the underbrush. Nope, not this day. In fact, as it turned out, apart from a few fishermen and a rather Bohemian looking woman and her dog who both disappeared randomly into the bush, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Oh yes, not forgetting the previously mentioned underpants wearing muppet.

Avoiding the crowds is definitely one of the many benefits of exploring New Zealand out of peak season. However, there was one downside which was the fact that despite it being sunny, it was still fairly cool, not surprising given that it was still technically winter. Nevertheless, there was no way we were going to come all this way without one of us swimming. That ‘one of us’ was me while Debs captured the evidence as you can see below. It was a short swim in every sense of the word.

Matapouri Mermaid Pool
Matapouri Beach

Unfortunately, time and the tide was against us on the day we visited so we really didn’t get to experience Matapouri’s Mermaid Pool at its best. The sea was also a little dirty so we suspect that even at low tide the pool would not have become the crystal clear emerald beauty we were hoping for. But we weren’t disappointed as it was still a great place to relax and soak up some winter sun and once the weather gets a little warmer we will definitely be going back to swim and while we’re there, visit nearby Whale Bay.

At the far northern end of Matapouri Bay beach, before you head across to the point, keep a lookout for a path leading off to the left. This is the path to Whale Bay, another beautiful beach nearby that’s definitely worth visiting if you have time. It’s about 1.5 km to Whale Bay which is only accessible on foot or from the water so it’s quite secluded.

Looking for more ideas on things to do and places to see when visiting the Northland region? Have a look at our guide, Top things to do in Northland.

Kaitoke Hot Springs

Visit Kaitoke Hot Springs

Naturally rustic
Kaitoke Hot Springs

Ok, let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. Kaitoke is an undeveloped natural hot spring with the emphasis on undeveloped. What does this mean? Well it means that if you’ve arrived on Great Barrier Island having recently spent time in and around Taupo or Rotorua with their many geothermal wonders, Kaitoke is going to be a bit of a disappointment.

So if you have visions of deep natural spa pools filled will clear hot spring water that gently tickles your nether regions as it bubbles to the surface, don’t. Instead, what you’ll find is a stream with a few small man-made, calf-depth ‘pools’, most of which are lukewarm at best. That’s at least what we initially experienced when we visited.

To be fair though, it was raining off and on when we arrived. Plus there was the fact that Great Barrier’s changeable ‘spring’ weather had scuppered the previous days plans so we weren’t exactly in the best of spirits. Not forgetting the imminent threat of death by small creatures commonly referred to as “brain-eating amoeba”.

Kaitoke Hot Springs

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones disappointed by Kaitoke as a couple we’d spoken to at breakfast that morning had also expressed their disappointment. It seems they were expecting more from the island’s much touted hot springs. So here’s our advice, if you’ve just arrived on Great Barrier Island and looking for things to do, forget about Kaitoke Hot Springs, at least to begin with. Your time would be much better spent exploring the island’s many beautiful east coast beaches, paddling its west coast bays or enjoying the panoramic views from one of its many summits.

If however the weather turns and you’re faced with having to spend the day indoors, then we would say Kaitoke is a good option. It’s an easy, level walk from the carpark which you can’t miss on the road that heads west towards Whangaparapara. And here’s a tip, take your wet shoes or at least wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet. The real fun is in exploring the stream which, as you head upstream from the bridge gets more interesting the further you go up. Along the way, keep an eye out for the hot water vents. The ones we found were small, but the smell of sulphur and the tell-tale white deposits will guide you. You’ll also find a pool you can actually swim in as opposed to wallow horizontally… just mind the amoeba.

Kaitoke Hot Springs
Kaitoke Hot Springs
Kaitoke Hot Springs

So while we personally wouldn’t class Kaitoke’s hot pools as a Great Barrier must-do, it’s worth a visit if you’ve got some time on your hands and nowhere else in particular to go. Just set your expectations and be up for a little exploring along the stream and you might just have some fun.

Windy Canyon

Visit Windy Canyon

Rock walls and sea views
Windy Canyon

If, like most, you choose to fly into Great Barrier Island from Auckland, on landing at Claris Aerodrome on a clear day, your eyes will undoubtedly be drawn to the jagged outline of a ridge to the north west. The highest point you’ll see in the distance is Mt Hobson (Hirakimata) which, at 627m, is also the highest point on the island. As you would expect, the summit of Mt Hobson offers some of the island’s best panoramic views so, weather permitting, a walk to the top should definitely be on your Great Barrier to-do list.

While there are a number of routes to the summit, the quickest and easiest is via Palmer’s Track which starts at a small off-road parking area on Aotea Road and will take you anywhere from 4 – 5 hours return. A 4 hour walk not your idea of fun? Fear not because at the start of Palmer’s Track there just happens to be one of the island’s other top attractions, Windy Canyon. And that’s windy, as in blowing in case you were wondering, as we found out first hand when we visited.

Windy Canyon

What makes Windy Canyon so interesting are the sheer volcanic rock buttresses along this eastern ridge of Mt Hobson and the good news is that it’s just a 10 minute walk from the road to a lookout from which you’ll have excellent views of Okiwi Basin and Whangapoua Beach to the north east, and Kaitoke and Medlands beaches to the south east. Yes there are a ‘few’ steps to climb but chances are you’ll be too distracted by the interesting colours and rock formations to notice and before you know it you will be at the top.

Windy Canyon
Windy Canyon
Windy Canyon

And when we say lookout, we simply mean a section of the path just past the top of the wooden steps. There’s no actual viewing platform but it’s all quite safe as long as you don’t do anything stupid… you know, look at me standing on one leg on top of this pointy rock kind of thing. Not a good idea at the best of times, but especially not when the wind is blowing in from the north east as it funnels up the valley from Whangapoua. We got a taste of this when we were there and while it wasn’t exactly crawling around on all fours windy, it was pretty clear how this place got its name.

Windy Canyon

So whether it’s on your way to the summit of Hirakimata or simply a quick photo stop on your drive to or from Port Fitzroy, no visit to Auckland’s largest island would be complete without taking some time to enjoy the stunning views from Windy Canyon.

Te Ahumata

Climb Te Ahumata

Chasing gold
Te Ahumata

At 398m, Te Ahumata may not be the highest peak on Great Barrier Island but this plateau shaped hill with its distinctive ‘white cliffs’ has certainly had its fair share of attention over the years all thanks to… gold. Supposedly, there’s over 4 billion (yes, BILLION) dollars worth of gold and silver buried in that there hill just waiting to be mined but, unsurprisingly, this seems to have resulted in some arguments between the locals, as is usually the case when money and conservation collide.

Of course we knew nothing of this when we decided to climb to the top of Te Ahumata, and the only gold we were chasing was the golden glow of a spectacular sunset. With the weather closing in and the top of Mt Hobson (the island’s highest point) playing hide and seek with the clouds, we figured Te Ahumata was the next best place to be given that it’s just an hour climb to the summit and we knew we’d be heading back down in the dark.

Te Ahumata

The route to the summit of Te Ahumata is via a path that gradually makes its way up from a junction with the Te Ahumata Track. This cycle-friendly track follows an old mining road between Whangaparapara and Blind Bay roads but we only walked the first 30 minutes from the Whangaparapara Road end to get to the well-marked junction to the summit path. For the most part this path is well formed although fairly rutted and potholed at the start where it obviously turns into a small stream when it’s raining. It only takes another 30 minutes to the summit and along the way we were treated to views of some of the island’s southern bays as well as the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula across the Colville Channel.

Te Ahumata

Apart from the communications tower and it’s small solar powered hut along with some remains of what we assume was a trig beacon, there’s not much else on the summit. The views of this southern half of the island are however excellent with Little Barrier Island to the west and the distinctive outline of Mt Hobson to the north. The path does in fact continue on for a little way past the tower to a spot with views of Kaitoke and Medlands beaches. We did notice on our topo map that there’s a disused mine up there as well but didn’t see any obvious signs of it and thought it best not to go blundering through the bush. But then, we had other things on our mind, the sunset.

Te Ahumata

As it turned out, the sunset wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for although we were rewarded with a few moments of magic light. But that perfect shot of a blazing orange sky with the sun going down behind Little Barrier Island eluded us this time and we called time as the light began to fade. After a quick 40 minute ‘jog’ down the hill, headlamps lighting our way, we arrived back at the car feeling pretty windswept but happy, having spent a good first day on Great Barrier Island.

Te Arai Beach

Visit Te Arai Beach

An east coast gem
Te Arai Beach

Despite being a little out of the way, or perhaps because of this, Te Arai Point is one of our favourite Auckland Beaches. And by ‘out of the way’ we mean it’s 100 km north of Auckland itself, and getting there involves a bit of gravel road driving. But don’t let that put you off, this beach is well worth the drive. It’s usually a lot less crowded than its neighbouring beaches, Mangawhai and Pakiri, and it really does offer something for everyone, whether it’s a chilled family day out or something a little more adventurous.

When there’s a swell running from the north east, Te Arai has a great beach break for surfing although, being an east coast beach, it tends to be fairly calm more often than not, so perfect for swimming and diving. Not a surfer and keen to learn? The team from Aotearoa Surf School usually setup there in the busier months and will have you up on your feet and having fun in no time.

If surfing or standup paddle boarding is not your thing but you’d like to stretch your legs, there’s a well formed path that makes its way south, up and along the headland. From here you’ll get excellent views of Pakiri beach as it stretches south for almost 14 km. Looking north, you’ll see the unmistakable outline of Taranga Island, part of the Hen and Chicken Islands as well as Bream Head. Then of course there’s Te Arai beach itself and the Te Arai Regional Park, with its important dune lake ecosystem. From Te Arai Point, the beach stretches north for almost 10 km to the mouth of the Mangawhai Estuary so if you enjoy long walks along near deserted beaches, Te Arai is the place for you. Along the way you’ll almost certainly see pairs of black Oystercatchers (Torea) with their distinctive orange bills along with the ever-frantic Northern New Zealand Dotterel (Tuturiwhatu). And if you’re really lucky, you may even spot one of New Zealand’s critically endangered Fairy Terns near the mouth of the Te Arai stream.

Of course our favourite part of Te Arai Beach is the bit that’s often overlooked. Most visitors to the point will simply walk to the small bay and possibly climb to the top of the rocky mound before returning to their cars or back to the main beach. But if you’re up for a little adventure, and don’t mind some gentle coasteering, walking south you can in fact make it all the way around the point to the northern end of Pakiri Beach. Along the way you’ll be rewarded with interesting rock formations, secluded little coves and some excellent swimming spots. Do it and you’ll see what we mean. The photos below are a little taster.

Te Arai Beach
Te Arai Beach
Te Arai Beach
Te Arai Beach
Te Arai Beach

Whakakaiwhara Point

Visit Duder Regional Park

Hauraki Gulf views
Duder Regional Park

We’d driven along Maraetai Coast Road south of Auckland (the start of New Zealand’s own Pacific Coast Highway) several times and never really noticed the turnoff to Duder Regional Park. Turns out we’d been missing a really scenic little walk to the remains of an old Pa site (fortified Māori settlement) at the end of Whakakaiwhara Point which juts out into the Tamaki Strait as if reaching out to nearby Ponui Island.

The peninsula has a rich history dating all the way back to the 1300s and is still a working farm so if you do visit, you’ll share your experience with the local cows and sheep as you make your way through the paddocks. Although much of the peninsula was cleared for farming, there are still a few pockets of the original forest (including precious Kauri trees) which you can explore and will offer some respite from the sun on hot summer days.

Duder Regional Park

The main walk in the park is an easy 4.3km loop that takes you up to a trig beacon and most of the way along the peninsula before heading back to the carpark, but you really do want to take the time (another hour or so return) to walk out to the end of the peninsula. With steep sides, 360 degree views of the surrounding area and a narrow ridgetop path to get there, you will see why this was an ideal Pā site (Māori defensive settlement). On the day that we walked, there was a blustery southwester which made things a little interesting as the peninsula narrowed with relatively steepish slopes down to the sea on either side. Fortunately, just beyond the flat section of the Pā are a few sheltered spots, perfect for a relaxing picnic as you look out towards Waiheke and Ponui (Chamberlins) Islands.

Duder Regional Park

As we walked, we couldn’t help but notice the interesting looking shoreline around the peninsula. There is in fact a short coastal route that’s accessible from Umupuia Beach at low tide which continues on to a white sandy bay (called, rather unsurprisingly, Sandy Bay/Waiapu) before joining the main farm track loop just past the trig beacon. However, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, and this will be the plan for our next visit, it looks like you can actually walk along the beach and rocks around the entire peninsula – a good opportunity to break out the water shoes for a spot of gentle coasteering.

Duder Regional Park
Duder Regional Park

Owharoa Falls

Visit Owharoa Falls

Worth a quick visit
Owharoa Falls

It’s very easy to miss or simply ignore the turnoff to Owharoa Falls as you drive on Highway 2, a scenic but deceptively twisty stretch of road between Paeroa and Waihi. While we wouldn’t call this a must do, if you’re not in a particular hurry or better yet, planning on cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail or visiting nearby Karangahake Gorge, it’s worth taking an extra few minutes to visit these pretty falls.

Owharoa is actually a series of three waterfalls but it’s the one closest to the Highway 2 end of Waitawheta Road that gets all the glory. At around 6m, it’s not particularly high but its distinctive upsidedown fan shape and moss covered steps do make for some pretty photos. As an added bonus it also makes for a nice picnic/swimming spot on a hot day.

On the subject of picnics, just nearby on Waitawheta Road we noticed the entrance to The Falls Retreat and being the inquisitive sort, we thought we’d check it out. What a stunning setting and a what looks like great place to stay, but what really piqued our interest was the rather rustic looking kitchen restaurant, The Bistro. Unfortunately it was closed when we popped in but we think a lunch there next time we’re in the area will definitely be in order.

Owharoa Falls

Wairere Falls

Visit Wairere Falls

Highest on the North Island
Wairere Falls

If you’re driving along Highway 27 just north of Matamata on a clear day (possibly having just seen some Hobbits) it’s near impossible to miss the splendour that is Wairere Falls. At 153 metres, this two step waterfall is the highest in the North Island and definitely worth the short detour to see up close as it tumbles over the Kaimai escarpment. How close depends on how much time you have and whether or not you enjoy stairs, and lots of them.

From the carpark near the base of the waterfall it’s about a 45 minute walk to the lower falls lookout. A well formed and well maintained track winds its way up towards the falls through picturesque native forest, crossing the Wairere Stream several times via wooden bridges. There are a few tricky sections along the way where you need to watch your footing as you walk over wet and slippery moss covered boulders, but for the most part, we’d say it’s an easy walk. That is until you meet ‘the staircase’. For thereon, it’s a bit of a slow and sweaty slog up to the lower viewing platform but you’ll be rewarded with an excellent view of the falls.

Wairere Falls lookout

For many visitors who’ve managed to haul themselves this far, this is the end of the road and after taking a few photos they head back down to the carpark. But if you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind another fairly tough, muddy and slippery uphill slog for another 45 minutes then you should definitely head to the top of the falls.

The view from the upper falls lookout is really something special as you look out over the patchwork that is Waikato. As an added bonus, depending on the wind, you may even be treated to a free shower. That’s certainly what we experienced on the day that we visited as the wind was gusting from the west, turning the falls into horizontal rain. So, as you head up, don’t be surprised if some rather drenched folk pass you on their way down. Just look forward to a rather refreshing cooldown.

Wairere Falls

Diving Great Barrier Island

Dive Great Barrier Island

So close but so far
Dive Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island is just 90km from downtown Auckland but it may as well be a world away. It’s a little like the land that time forgot, not in a dinosaur movie kind of way but more the fact that everyone waves as they pass by, and rush hour traffic consists of four cars leaving the aerodrome at the same time.

More than 60 per cent of Great Barrier Island is administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC). This makes it one of the Auckland region’s richest plant and wildlife areas and that extends to the marine life as the island lies on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Unsurprisingly then, Great Barrier Island is a real mecca for divers, offering a vast array of dive sites suitable for all skill levels.

Over the coming seasons, we intend to explore as many of the island’s dive sites as we can and we’ll share our experiences here, starting with a visit to the site of the SS Wairarapa, New Zealand’s third worst shipwreck, followed by a little bimble on the western side of Miners Head.

SS Wairarapa Wreck Dive

The Wairarapa was a 1786 tonnes, 87m steamship that sailed the route between Auckland and Sydney in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, on a foggy night in late October 1894, an error in judgement lead to the ship steaming at almost full speed into Miners Head near the northern tip of Great Barrier Island. This tragedy claimed the lives of 121 passengers and crew and left the survivors stranded for almost 30 hours, huddled on the rocks at the foot of the sheer cliffs of Miners Head. You can read more about this tragic event on the DOC website.

Today, the remains of the Wairarapa lie in shallow waters from 4 to 15 meters. Over decades, the vessel has broken up considerably so you can’t swim in or through the wreck as such, making it a safe dive for all levels. The kelp-covered wreck is now well integrated into the surrounding environment, and at first glance there doesn’t appear to be much to see. But if you take the time to explore you’ll discover interesting little nooks and crannies that are full of life, with demoiselle, colourful wrasse and even the odd nudibranch.

Miners Head Copper Bay

Situated on the northwestern tip of Great Barrier Island, Miners Head was the site of New Zealand’s first copper mine. Established in 1841, it’s estimated that over 2000 tonnes of copper ore was extracted out of the mine by hand and through blasting up until 1867 when the copper eventually ran out. Today, all that remains are the entrances to the old mining tunnels scattered around the high cliffs along with the unmistakeable green tinge of copper. You can read more about the mining operation on the DOC website.

After diving the SS Wairarapa, we headed around to a small sheltered bay on the western side of Miners Head where we had lunch before taking a gentle bimble around the bay. There are some interesting rock outcrops and gullies to explore at around 12 to 15 meters with a good assortment of sea life to keep you company.