Exploring the Northland Coast

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‘The coast from Whangarei to Cape Brett offers some fantastic cruising with safe anchorages, great diving, fabulous fishing, sandy beaches and much more.’

So you’ve had a great summer break, enjoyed the magical Bay of Islands and are looking to head south and home. Allow a little extra time along the way. It’s well worth it.

AUCKLANDERS heading to and from the Bay tend to break the trip into three parts,
Kawau, Whangarei or Tutukaka and then straight to the Bay, the reverse on the way south, with the destination as the focus. Well, you’re missing out, big time. The coast from Whangarei to Cape Brett offers some fantastic cruising with safe anchorages, great diving, fabulous fishing, sandy beaches and much more. Now if that description doesn’t get your cruising taste buds humming, you don’t deserve a boat.

BY LAND

This part of the Northland coast is also easily accessed from land with numerous camping grounds, boat ramps and safe places to swim and explore by Kayak. Heading south from The Bay take the Old Russell Road or if you are feeling a bit more adventurous the Rawhiti Rd to Whangaruru and Bland Bay. Heading south the road takes you to Whananaki and Rangitapu before getting to Tutukaka. All of these places have fabulous white sand beaches and a place to pitch a tent, park the Caravan or launch the boat.

BY SEA

Making your way south by boat takes a little longer. Heading out of The Bay around Cape Brett, the first stop is Whangamumu. Site of an old Whaling station this used to be a busy place. With Russell, which was known as the hell hole of the South Pacific, just around the corner, skippers of the whaling fleet preferred to drop anchor here. The whales were harpooned from oar driven whaling dorys’ with directions given to the boats from the headlands on either side of the harbour. The catch was then towed back to the factory for processing. The remains of the facility are fun to explore, and there are several walks, the two lookouts among them.

Although Whangamumu is not served by road, there is a walking track to the Rawhiti Rd which takes about 45 minutes each way, and there are tracks on both the north and south peninsulas. The northern trail connects to the Brett walk as well as the lookout.

The anchorage is safe in all-weather but does suffer from groundswell in North to Southeast winds; we find the Bay in the south-east corner best if there is a swell running. Holding is good throughout the Bay; avoid leaving in brisk NE winds as the entrance faces open ocean. The area is part of the Bay of Islands Maritime Park so keep an ear out for fire restrictions & of course pack out your rubbish.

DROP DEAD GORGEOUS

This whole area is drop dead gorgeous. Bland Bay, just north of Whangaruru, is a great day spot with a white sand beach and good holding on a hard sand bottom. Tuck into the Bay on the SE corner but watch your depth. On the way into and out of Bland Bay watch out for Danger Rock and the isolated obstruction on the southern side of the entrance to the Bay plus it’s neighbour just to the south, these are of particular concern when moving from Bland Bay to Whangaruru Harbour. There is a boat ramp and public camping area on the isthmus.

Whangaruru Harbour has several great anchorages and is a haven even in extreme conditions. We sat out a 50 knot easterly blow here in Puriri Bay without difficulty. The holding is good sand mud in about 4m at low water. There is a DoC camp ashore with fresh water, toilets and shower facilities. A track leads to the top of the hill from here, then onto Cape Home where you are treated to spectacular views of the coast.

There are excellent facilities available in the area. Oakura, on the western side of the harbour, has shops and fuel plus another campground and there are dozens of great walks. With good shelter, we usually use Whangaruru as a base for day trips to some of the surrounding bays. As mentioned Bland Bay is just north of Whangaruru and to the south is Mimiwhangata and Whananaki. Mimiwhangata has that wonderful remote feel to it, the area is a DoC Coastal Park, so there is access from the land as well, but in all the times we have anchored here we have rarely seen people ashore other than from neighbouring boats. There is a good loop track, around the headland to Okupe Beach, which is open to the ocean and a great swimming and snorkelling spot.

Further south at the entrance to Whananaki, is Elizabeth Reef. Watch this one, it’s nasty, unmarked and sticks out further than you think, the outer obstruction is over a mile seaward from the headland. Anchorage in settled conditions can be found in 2.5m of water just around the headland, and a run up the river by dinghy is a must. No trip ashore at Whananaki wouldn’t be complete without a stop for ice cream. While Mimiwhangata is a reasonable overnight anchorage in settled conditions, Whananaki should be regarded as a day stop only.

TANTALISING TOOTS

The next stop, Tutukaka, about 25 miles south of Whangaruru. Watch the entry here if there is an easterly swell running and steer to the leads to stay out of trouble. Once into the harbour the best anchorage is SE of Philip Island, or if you had the good sense to book early, you might have been lucky enough to get a slot at the Tutukaka Marina. The holding off Philip Island is good if you can tuck in far enough, but the bottom is rock and shale in the main channel and hard to get a hold in. In calm or offshore conditions, the small Bay directly opposite makes a great spot to drop the pick. The rest of the harbour is generally too shallow to be useful.

There is an excellent walk to the light on the south gable. The start of the trail is just behind the Public Restrooms opposite the game fish club then follows the DoC signs. If you want to complete the walk right out onto Kukutauwhae Island its best done at low tide, otherwise be prepared to get wet. The views all along this track are outstanding.

Take care to hide the credit card before you arrive here as there is some great boutique shopping in Toots. There’s a general store (behind the main waterfront building), access to fuel ( the fuel berth is on the eastern end of the marina, behind the breakwater), water, some great restaurants, the Game Fish Club, accommodation and several dive operators.

CRAYS, WRECKS & THE KNIGHTS

The diving along this entire coast is incredible. Cray’s abound, there are scallops in the sandy shallows, and there are some world-renowned wreck sites. The former HMNZS Tui is resting at 34-58.8 South and 174-32.29 East, just north of Tutukaka and the Waikato now rests in water 28m deep at 35,39.165 South and 174,32.670 East, Just south of Toot’s in Ngunguru Bay. The HMNZS Tui and HMNZS Waikato are large exnavy vessels specially prepared for adventure diving before being sunk at diver friendly depths. Purpose cut access and exit points allow exploration of guns, bridges, control areas, helicopter hangar, engine rooms, cabins and crew areas. The Piece de resistance, though, is the Poor Knights Islands.

The Poor Knights are a marine reserve and best dived with a competent dive operator. Lying about 18 miles northeast of Tutukaka it takes about 45 minutes to get out there in one of the fast dive boats. There are numerous dives here depending on the tide, swell and wind but one not to be missed is Blue Maomao Mayhem at the famous Blue Maomao Arch. Stingrays congregate annually in huge numbers here, using the arches for protection from Orca.

Next stop south is the Whangarei Harbour. Often avoided by boaties heading past, this harbour has plenty to offer. Coming down the coast if there’s any swell running it’s best to stay offshore. Closer to Whangarei Heads keep outside Mauitaha Island, the outer Bream Island just north of Bream Head. Care should be taken to avoid Bream Rock which lies 700 meters ENE of Mauitaha Island and at a depth of just 3.3m breaks in heavy weather.

SCALLOPS ON SNORKEL

Rounding Bream Head, past Peach Cove and Smugglers Bay, which both have beautiful sandy beaches and are good in Northerly winds, Busby Head marks the eastern side of the Whangarei Harbour entrance channel. Watch the current here mainly on the outgoing tide as a 3-knot current is not unusual. Just north is Home Point then east into Urquarts Bay which is lovely in everything except West to Souwesterlies or if there’s a large SE swell running at the entrance this tends to bend into the Bay. If you’re a fan of Scallops, the Calliope Bank is a great spot to try your luck in depths that a bag can
be filled using just a mask and snorkel.

If there’s bad weather forecast head past the main wharf area towards Parua Bay on the eastern side of the harbour and sling the hook at “The Nook” a beautiful spot with excellent holding in 2.5m at low tide.

MARVELLOUS MARSDEN COVE

If you’d prefer a bit more civilisation, the Marsden Cove Marina is a great choice. The entrance is on the western side of the harbour just past the main commercial wharf and leads to the yacht basin and services area. In busy periods you’ll need to book but give the office a call anyway as they’re very good at finding a spot for you. Once there try out the Land and Sea Cafe for a meal. They open at 8 am for coffee and breakfast and during the busy periods, stay open for dinner too.

The Marina has an easy access fuel berth pump out, and trailer ramp, the chandlery, marine and engineering supplies have a full selection. There’s an excellent general store and bakery. Ladies, you can also pamper yourself at Reflections Hair and Beauty, and if mechanical repairs are needed, there’s Marsden Cove Marine and a fully serviced haul out and hardstand. Having spent a good week to 10 days getting to Whangarei from the Bay you’ll head home, with any luck, looking to spend a bit more time on this coast next year. In the meantime, safe boating, a calm anchorage and not too many sundowners.

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