Hidden harbour highlights
The Golden Stairs Track is named for the mass of yellow flowers that gild the kowhai trees on the sheltered hillsides of Whangape Harbour.
Pawarenga Road, narrow and unsealed, skirts Rotokakahi River, passing the scattered buildings of the tiny settlement before ending at the beach. We parked beside the marae and admired St Gabriel’s Church, standing on a rise behind the marae with bush-covered hillsides as a backdrop. Saint Gabriel’s is one of the earliest Māori churches in the area, built in 1899 from kauri timber sawn by the local community.
The Golden Stairs Track isn’t easy to find. Parts were overgrown and remnants of a previous loop track added to the confusion. (The track is not on DOC land and who maintains it, if anyone, is unknown.) However, it is a great walk and we were glad we persevered.
The first part is along the beach, past the marae and some old baches. Today it’s still and quiet, there being no sign of the once busy timber mill that supplied ships with kauri from the nearby hillsides in the early 1900s.
There’s a promising uphill trail at the end of the beach, but this is not the track. It starts, as a local had told us, near where a stream empties into the harbour. The whole of the hillside here can be covered by tall shrubs with frond-like leaves and bright red flower stalks. This is cape honey flower, an invasive weed that grows up to three metres in height. Hiding here is a small sign at knee height.
The track follows the side of the harbour and crosses another stream, before zigzagging steeply up to a ridgeline. There are amazing views from here, back into the harbour where the Awaroa and Rotokakahi Rivers wind into the mountainous interior. Below, Whangape Harbour is a fiord-like waterway at the bottom of steep-sided cliffs.
Alongside the track are kowhai trees clustered on the landward slopes. The bright yellow of these native flowers is a pretty – and unusual – sight amongst the green of the bush. Above Tuapeke Point there is a high spot from which walkers can look down at the harbour entrance. Breaking waves show how treacherous the harbour would have been to the sailing ships and steamers that came in for kauri. At least four ships were wrecked here.
It is possible to walk for about 20km to Mitimiti (a two-day tramp) along the beach from here and a track leads down. The views down the coast and inland to the wild-looking mountains of the Warawara Forest, home to Northland’s only population of rifleman and also to kiwi and kaka, are glorious.
- 5.6km to Tuapeke Point
- Total Ascent
- 3hr return
- From the south, take the Hokianga ferry to Kohukohu and follow Kohukohu Road along The Twin Coast Discovery Highway through Broadwood and Pukemiro, then turn left at Pawarenga Road. Alternatively, take the West Coast Road from Kohukohu to Panguru, then turn right into Runaruna Road which leads to Pawarenga Road
- Golden stairs track (gpx, 5 KB)
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