Cape Brett really is a very special place. When you arrive at the Lighthouse by boat rather than on foot as we did, you see things differently. The character of the land is more important than tired feet; the ocean has a personality, not just a pretty outlook; the Lighthouse is a Mother, observing the Pacific, keeping watch over those who need protecting, worn and tired by her task.
I’d been keen to do the Cape Brett Walkway for several months after reading an article that described the breathtaking views. So, when deciding where to head for a much needed week of R&R, we choose Russell in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Russell is the closest township to the Track’s entrance. After arriving and booking the Hut at the DoC Visitors Centre, we were able to wander a few doors down and organise a Water Taxi to the Cape (this is the preferred option for many people).
We’d decided to catch a water taxi to the Hut and walk the track in reverse so we could enjoy a day at The Cape. I’m glad we did.
We arrived late morning, relieved to find the Hut empty. We spent the day exploring the area and developed an appreciation, as well as admiration, for the Lighthouse families that once lived here. It would have been a hard life working and raising children in this raw, isolated environment.
But as the sun moved across the sky, we also caught a glimpse of what they must have loved about the place. The views from the Hut are simply breathtaking. The sea turned from jade into a wonderful shade of cobalt. Terns and Seagulls nosedived into their food bowls and fought over land rights on the hillsides. A pod of camera-shy dolphins played below the cliffs. A truly magical place.
Nightfall approached, the wind began to howl with the seagulls, and warm and snug in our sleeping bags, we began to focus on the day ahead, anticipating what else we’d discover on our journey.
Just as the last hour always seems the longest on a tramp, the first hour always seems the hardest. I think in this instance it’s the truth.
Next morning, walking up to the Lighthouse from the Hut was a great 10 minute warm-up for what lay ahead. While none of the peaks are that high, you’re forced to walk every last one as most of the track follows the Cape’s ridge. By mid-afternoon you’ll be wondering just how many more ups and downs you can face.
But, conveniently, the track is divided in to three almost equal portions, making this tramp easy to navigate mentally.
The first third, from the Hut to Deep Water Cove, is steep but there are many beautiful look out points to stop and catch your breath. Tui’s and Fantails are plentiful and the regenerating bush is lovely.
Once you reach the junction to Deep Water Cove, you have the choice of a side trip to the beach (which will add two - three hours to your trip) or a rest stop before starting the second third of the track.
If you choose the later, you’ll begin crossing Maori Land administered by a local trust. Fees are payable for maintaining this portion of the track ($30 per adult, payment accepted at the Doc Visitor’s Centre).
You’ll experience more spectacular views on this section; if you walk in reverse on a clear day as we did, you’ll see across to the Whangerai Heads and far beyond.
At times, the track in this portion becomes very exposed. I was grateful to be walking it on a sunny day in spring rather than mid summer! If you’re thinking about making the trip in summer you’ll need plenty of sunscreen, a wide brim hat and a LOT of water.
By the time you reach the electric Possum Fence, you’ll feel a sense of relief knowing you only have one third to go.
Through the fence, the track once again runs through Department of Conservation land.
The highlights of this section include views across the Bay of Islands (you’ll get to appreciate just how many land forms there are in this harbour, and just how far you’ve walked!), a beautiful lookout across the Bay about an hour before the end (perfect for a snack stop), the sight of the golden sand beaches as you descend the final section and the wonderful entrance, or in our case, ending, to the track (a local Maori Carving).
If you’re lucky enough as we were, to walk the track without seeing another soul, you’ll really believe you’ve visited the end of the earth. It’s a magical tramp and highly recommended.
Cape Brett Walkway facts:
Track length: 16 km one way
Walking time: 7 – 8 hours recommended
Required Fitness: DoC rates this track as medium–difficult grade; I’d rate it medium
Hut fees: $12 per night, per adult
Track fees: $30 per adult
Water taxi: $80 per person, minimum 4 passengers
The track is well maintained and easy to follow but there are sections that are slippery and exposed. We recommend sturdy boots, especially if there’s been rain or rain is expected.
Cape Brett Walkway is situated in the Bay of Islands, roughly 3.5 hours drive north from New Zealand’s main centre, Auckland.
NZ Camp Site can provide you with camping and hiking gear for your journey once you arrive in Auckland. Visit www.nzcampsite.co.nz for more information or check out the special offers listed on this site.
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