In an extract from Day Walks in New Zealand, Te Whara Track, at the head of the Whāngārei Harbour, follows the route of an historic Ngātiwai trail.
TE WHARA TRACKBREAM HEAD SCENIC RESERVE
At the head of Whāngārei Harbour several peaks rise monolithically, their sheerness and close proximity to the sea lending them a stature that belies their modest heights. At 475m Te Whara/Bream Head is the highest of these, the eroded stump of a volcano that formed 20 million years ago; Manaia and Mt Lion are the other two prominent peaks.
Botanically, Bream Head is of national importance, containing Northland's largest remaining broadleaf–pōhutukawa forest and some locally endemic species. Like many other areas in New Zealand, Bream Head has attracted the attention of local conservationists, who are developing a pest-free haven for such species as kākā and kiwi.
Of the many walks available in the area, Te Whara Track is the most challenging, and follows the route of a historic Ngātiwai trail. It links Ocean Beach with Urquharts Bay, traversing en route the summits of Bream Head and Mt Lion, with a side trip to Peach Cove possible too. Walkers can expect some steep terrain, on a well-marked tramping track. The rewards are outstanding views, superb sandy beaches and much of historic interest too. Carry plenty of drinking water, and make sure you clean your boots before and after the walk to avoid spreading kauri dieback disease.
Ocean Beach to Bream Head and Peach Cove Track junction 2.5–3 hours
Follow the white sands of Ocean Beach eastwards for five minutes before picking up a track that climbs on to grassy slopes. Soon, views of the Bream Islands and the more distant Poor Knights Islands unfold. After a 40-minute climb, past a small automated lighthouse, the track reaches a World War II naval radar station base built in 1942. Although little remains of the station buildings, the rusting radar is visible, tucked into the nearby bush with the dramatic rock spire known as the Old Woman beyond.
The track enters forest and continues to climb until reaching the ridge crest near Bream Head. A side-track leads up to a viewpoint on the head (475m), but it will tempt only more agile walkers who have a good head for heights. On a clear day, walkers can see as far south as Cape Rodney and as far north as Rākaumangamanga/Cape Brett.
Further along the ridge is another large rock outcrop, known appropriately as the Black Thumb, which is sometimes tackled by rock climbers. A descent through the lush forest leads to open forest with a grassy clearing, where a track branches off to the Peach Cove Track carpark. This section of track is well benched and gravelled, with a wooden seat en route offering a rest spot with good views over Hen Island. About 15 minutes further on is the junction where a track leads down to Peach Cove.
Side trip to Peach Cove Hut (8 bunks, booking
required) 60 minutes return
A steep descent on a series of wooden steps leads through coastal forest to idyllic Peach Cove, a small sandy bay set in a bouldery coastline and overhung by coastal forest. Peach Cove Hut, originally built by the Whāngārei Tramping Club, and now managed by DoC, is set back in the bush near an astonishing pōhutukawa growing atop a gigantic boulder. To stay in the hut, which is locked, you must book through the DoC website (doc.govt.nz).
Peach Cove Track junction to Urquharts Bay
Back on the ridge, the main Te Whara Track begins an undulating climb towards Mt Lion, passing more rock pinnacles en route. The vegetation restricts the views from Mt Lion (395m). Beyond, the track begins a steepish descent towards Urquharts Bay, with a good glimpse of Smugglers Bay through the trees at one point. The track intercepts Smugglers Bay Track just past where it opens out on to farmland. Head right for 10 minutes to reach Urquharts Bay.
Total walking time 5–6 hours through trip; add 40–60 minutes for side trip to Peach Cove
Map AX31 Bream Head
Access From Whāngārei take Riverside Drive, Whāngārei Heads Road and Ocean Beach Road to reach a DoC carpark at Ocean Beach, where there are toilets and an information panel. Allow about 40 minutes to drive the 30km from Whāngārei. Te Whara Track ends at Urquharts Bay, 5km away by road from Ocean Beach.
Alternative routes Several excellent shorter walks are possible: Peach Cove Track (2 hours return from Ocean Beach Road); Busby Head and Smugglers Bay Track (1–
1.5-hour round trip); Peach Cove–Te Whara/Bream Head–Ocean Beach loop (3–3.5 hours).
Information DoC Whāngārei, tel: 09 470 3300,
Bream Head Conservation Trust, breamheadtrust.org.nz
Day Walks in New Zealand - 100 Best Short Tracks, by Shaun Barnett. Maps by Geographx
Published by Potton and Burton, $50