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December 2013 Issue
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Dolphins and island views

View towards the Hen and Chicken Islands. Photo: Vanessa James
5.55km to hut
Peach Cove Hut, eight bunks (The hut is locked. A pin number is given once DOC has received payment)
From the Ocean Beach car park on Ranui Road, or the Peach Cove car park on Ocean Beach Road (depending which direction you do the loop in)
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Peach Cove Hut (gpx, yo 7 KB)
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Peach Cove Hut, Bream Head Scenic Reserve, Northland

Bream Head is one of those places that captures the imagination. The headland rises steeply out of the waters at the end of Bream Bay and cuts a jagged line across the sky from SH1 as you travel north through Waipu and Ruakaka. Bream Head Scenic Reserve is classified as a significant natural heritage environment. Its forest is the largest and highest-quality pohutukawa-broadleaf coastal forest in Northland, and it has a number of threatened, at risk and regionally significant plants and animals, including the critically endangered native land snail and the pupuharakeke or flax snail.

We set out in the early morning light from the Ocean Beach car park on Ranui Road. The waves were rolling in on Ocean Beach and the water was peppered with surfers. At the end of the beach the track climbed steeply up the headland and curved away through open grassland up the ridge. I took a photo of the Marsden Point oil refinery across the valley to the west, but the real spectacle was happening in the water on the other side. We spent about half an hour watching a pod of dolphins jumping around two fishing boats.

We followed the track steadily uphill through thick dry grass to Naval Post No.7, where the concrete and rusting remains of the Second World War radar station rose out of the bush in front of the Hen and Chicken Islands. From there, the track dropped into the broadleaf forest. It was not long after a drought and the trees were parched, leaves limp and ferns dry and dying. The track was narrow and covered with tree roots, and there were several sections which required some climbing.

We paused at Te Whara, the 476m summit (peak baggers take note), and about half an hour from the radar station, we reached the Black Thumb, a rocky outcrop announcing the goodness of the track to anyone who might glance that way. The walk to that point is mostly in bush, so we clambered up the side of the Thumb to take advantage of the amazing views.

The next section was partly out of the bush, and we watched the cloud rolling in towards us and hoped it wasn’t going to rain. After continuing along the ridgeline and negotiating a narrow gap between two massive boulders, the track became a formed gravel path broken up with neat sets of wooden steps. We passed the track to Peach Cove car park and carried on along the ridge to the Peach Cove Track. This is a formed track with stairs descending steeply to Peach Cove and the hut.

There are 818 steps to the beach, each more painful than the last. At the beach, which is about two minutes from the hut, the dolphins put on another spectacular display.

The Peach Cove car park is signposted as being two hours from Peach Cove. It took us 90-minutes to get back up the stairs and down the other side of the ridge to Ocean Beach car park, and it was tough going. I counted 2262 steps in all for the day, and we left two of our group lying exhausted on the grass at the end of the track while the tougher two walked down the road to Ocean Beach to collect the car.

Bream Head is one of the most beautiful walks I’ve been on. The stairs are worth it for the amazing views (although your thighs will not thank you the next day).

– Vanessa James