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December 2014 Issue
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Cape Brett alternative

Exposed and rugged Te Toroa Bay.
From Russell, drive 27km on Russell, Kempthorne, Manawaora roads and turn left onto Rawhiti Road. Track begins 1 km from junction.
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Whangamumu Te Toroa Track loop, Cape Brett

Cape Brett may be the jewel in the crown of Bay of Islands walks, but there are equally rewarding day trips in the vicinity. A willing neighbour and I opted for the Whangamumu Harbour/Te Toroa Bay loop near Rawhiti – our interest sparked after reading about the history of an old whaling station in the area.

The DOC sign at the access point indicated just over two hours’ return to the whaling station and six hours for the loop, taking in Te Toroa Bay and the Kauri Grove Track – which we would stretch to an unhurried eight hours.

Crossing a stile onto farmland, we walked along an expansive grass and then gravel path, amidst secondary growth of tree ferns and manuka.

The path then narrowed, turning to clay on a steady climb to the brow of a ridge.

Here the track branched left to Kauri Grove (the completion of the loop) and the Cape Brett track. Within minutes we were greeted by stunning views of Home Point and Whangaruru to the south, and Whangamumu Harbour directly below us. It wasn’t difficult to see why boaties shelter here from an easterly – the inner harbour has a narrow entrance with two outer arms adding a breakwater effect.

We descended the grassy slopes to the pohutukawa-fringed beach, deciding to it was as good a place as any to stop for lunch.

Heading north along the beach, we quickly rounded the headland leading to the ruins of the whaling station, only just avoiding the approaching high tide. The station operated from the late 19th Century until 1940, when an oil slick from a wreck forced the whales to alter their migratory route, putting the station out of business. One could only imagine the horrors of this place: blubber stripped and bones ground to dust, with the leftovers discarded in the harbour, creating a feeding frenzy of seagulls and fish.

Just a few ruins remain – the slipway, concrete vats, rusting boilers and pipes – all being swallowed by arum lilies and the ever-present kikuyu. At the water’s edge is a memorial illustrating the station’s history.

Trying not to dwell on the past, we hiked uphill through increasingly dense bush and then made the steep descent to the first of two inlets in Te Toroa Bay. It’s an unforgiving, exposed and rocky coast, eventually leading to Cape Brett. Reaching the second inlet, we were wary of rogue waves entering on the incoming tide – such a contrast to the calm waters of Whangamumu.

Having not encountered any other walkers, we felt sufficiently removed from civilisation to induce a momentary sense of calm. That was until we spotted two jet trails and an oil tanker well offshore – a reminder that human footprints are never far away.

From the second inlet it’s a strenuous 40-minute climb to the junction with the Cape Brett Track. Turning south, we moved along the undulating spine of the peninsula towards a high point of 345m at the Pukehuia trig, with magnificent views on both sides – particularly the outer Bay of Islands to the north-west.

We reached another junction and began the gentle descent of the Kauri Grove Track – a mix of regenerating bush and young kauri – eventually completing the loop. In the soft light of the late afternoon sun we reflected more on an immensely satisfying day and less on the impending soreness.

– Michael Smith