During our trip to Northland over the Christmas break we were hoping to take in at least one overnight walk as it had been a few weeks since we had been out in the bush. Based on all my research the track that continued to come up on forums and reviews was Cape Brett Track.
Located in the beautiful Bay of Islands, this 16.3km (one way) track begins at Oke Bay in Rawhiti and ends below the lighthouse at the seaward end of the Cape Brett peninsula. Normally the one-way walk would take you 8hrs to complete, but having just come from sandboarding in Opononi that morning, we decided to fast track it to Deep Cove with a water taxi. Cutting off about 6hrs of walking, we landed on the shores after a quick 20min boat ride. The walk started immediately with an uphill climb and continued through native bush and regenerating forest until a clearing about 30mins in. Finally we were able to get a glimpse of the rugged coastlines and stunning views we had heard so much about!
While at the clearing we met a Canadian family who were visiting family over Christmas. They had come in from the start of the track so with over 6 hrs under their belt they were beginning to feel the fatigue set in. We chatted some more as we continued down the path, making several successive climbs and descents as we walked along the narrowing ridge line. I recall the skipper from the water taxi saying ‘You’re almost there when you’re feeling like you’re about to die’. When the path turned into a grueling, steep, relentless uphill – I knew we were close!
In the distance I could see a pole at the top of the ridgeline and knew it must mark something significant. Sure enough it was our sign of relief, as looking over the edge we could see the end of the peninsula. The last section of the path was very exposed, with steep drop-offs on either side leading to the ferocious waves below.
As we crossed the last ridgeline we could finally see the famous Cape Brett Lighthouse. First lit in 1910 it was a beacon for vessels for nearly 70 years before being decommissioned. In that time nearly 100 lighthouse keepers looked after the station and lived on the lighthouse settlement that consisted of 3 identical houses. The only one of it’s type remaining in Northland, the last remaining lighthouse keepers house is now commissioned as a Department of Conservation hut for trampers along the track. Nestled into the hill just below the lighthouse, it has a spectacular view of ocean.
After claiming a bunk and dropping the rest of our gear, Jordan and I went off to explore the area. Making our way towards the water below, we climbed down the cement steps towards and old dock – remnants of the village that once was. Down at the waters edge there was a group of guys fishing for their dinner who were also staying the night at the hut.
Moving along towards the other side of the coast we decided to sit and enjoy the view of the crashing waves against the rugged New Zealand coastline. Since we knew this would be just a short overnight hike, we decided to bring ALL the camera gear we own. That included the motion controlled slider Jordan had been dying to truly try out and this looked like a perfect spot for it.
While we sat waiting for the time-lapse to finished, we watched several boats passing by along the shore. Although just out of sight, we had heard of the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’ that was a popular with boat tour companies. According to Māori legend, local warriors used to paddle through the Hole in the Rock in their canoes before departing for battle as drops of water from the cave roof above were a good omen.
Continuing with our search for epic time-lapse locations, every turn provided one incredible view after another. Starting to feel a bit famished, I decided to head back to the hut to make one of our delicious freeze dried meals. Returning with our hot meal and a blanket we enjoyed our dinner taking in the view on the edge of the cliff as the sun began to set. Such a beautiful, serene location this was turning into one of my favorite walks!
Making our way back to the hut, we enjoyed more conversation with the Canadian family as we swapped New Zealand adventure stories. We also learned they were from Fergus, Ontario which was only 20mins from where we had been living back in Canada! Such a small world 🙂 Knowing we had a long walk back to our car the next day we crashed early in hopes of getting up and on the track before the rain that was forecast to come through.
Despite being up early, we decided to wait out the early morning shower before starting off on the track. Climbing back up towards the lightouse, we stopped to admire the view we had quickly passed by the day before. Something about lighthouses are just so charming. I don’t know what it is about them but I feel this nostalgic connection with them. Being from the east coast of Canada, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean they were prevalent in my childhood, but for some reason they just tug at my heart strings whenever I see one.
The next 7hrs would take us back along the narrow ridgelines, retracing our steps back to the turn off to Deep Cove. From here the track crosses over Maori land, requiring a special permit to continue through. The weather managed to hold off with just a few light sprinkles, but the constant up and down of the track coupled with the intense humidity made for a challenging trek back. The views though continued to deliver with cozy bays around every corner.
Closing in on our destination back at Oke Bay, we began to see more islands in the distance as we came closer to the famous Bay of Islands. A popular holiday spot for many Aucklanders, we would have loved to explore this area more, but our sights were set on hitting the far north towards Cape Reigna and Te Paki sand dunes. Stopping for an icecream at a local shop at the end of the track, our car was a welcomed sight after a long day of walking.
If you’re venturing up to Northland and are looking for a beautiful overnight walk – definitely check out Cape Brett! With the option to cut it short with a water taxi to Deep Cove, and the incredible views, it has something for everyone!