Cape Brett is a headland in the Bay of Islands New Zealand, that has been keeping people safe on the East Coast for hundreds of years.
First, for Maori arriving on their Waka, the dawn light reflecting off the cliffs of Rakaumangamanga helped guide them to the land. From 1910 the Cape Brett Lighthouse has been a shining beacon for this coast for all seafarers since. This lighthouse is prized for its spectacular cliff top location!
Recently I met a local man who’s mother once lived in the old light house keepers cottage, and used to row herself to Rawhiti for supplies! This would not have just been a small row to the nearest bay! My arms hurt thinking about it. Nowadays, to visit Cape Brett, you can be transported here via water taxi from Rawhiti, do this hike, or fly over on a helicopter. For hikers, there is an option of staying a night in the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage, now re-purposed as a Department of Conservation Hut. Many tourism operators also run boating trips out to Cape Brett or “The Hole in the Rock” from Paihia / Russell while looking for dolphins and other marine life along the way. You may be lucky enough to see some while you are there.
The Cape Brett Hike
leads you through rugged terrain for 16 km through native and regenerating bush. FYI: it is actually about 17.2 km to the hut! This is very important to know if you are a number tracker and like to countdown your milestones. When you mentally expect it to be over at the 16 km mark, the last 1.2 km to the hut was quite hard. Expect dramatic coastal views; steep cliffs and drop-offs to the side of the track.
I was invited to do this walk by a group of lovely, kick ass ladies. Being new to the area, I thought, it would be a good way of finding my bearings in this place; after all, this Blog is all about discovering our backyards. And what better way to do that with new friends/locals who know the place well. I knew I was not fit enough to do this walk, and there was not much time to train. So I tried to get as many walks in as I could. After much deliberation, in the end, I put it down to this.
It is ONE day of my life.
I have given birth twice.I feel this is going to be my go-to for everything hard that I face from now on. Ignorance is bliss and all that.
In comparison to hiking the Tongariro Crossing, I found this rewarding coastal hike, to be harder in gradient, also due to carrying more in my back pack, it is no easy feat. A lot of going up hill throughout the hike! It is definitely worth it for the coastal views, and for the accomplishment of having achieved this advanced walk. I was a lot fitter when I walked the Tongariro Crossing, however others have agreed with me that Cape Brett is harder.
Booking your Walking Permit, Accommodation & Water Taxi
Walking permits are $40 per person as it crosses over Maori land. The cost goes towards keeping the track maintained for walkers. Then it’s $15 to stay in the hut, as DOC maintain and own from Deep Water Cove to the hut. AKA the old lighthouse keepers’ cottage. (Check on the Department of Conservation site for up to date info and any current track warnings). Some websites will direct you to Russell Information Centre to make your bookings for the walk and a water taxi. To book a walking permit click here.
If you are planning to stay overnight at the end of the hike at the Cape Brett hut, make sure you book yourself a bed via the Department of Conservation website. You don’t want to get all the way there and find you don’t have a bed!
Online you can see how many beds have been booked so far. There are 23 bunk beds, with a mattress supplied. Provided are pots and pans, cutlery, and a few plastic plates and bowls. In a busy season, I would recommend taking your own plates, as these do look like they were left by previous trampers. Cooking is on Gas. Limited tap water at the hut must be boiled before drinking.
Bay of Islands Water Taxi is a local family run business owned by Bob and Louise Clarke, offering pick ups and drop offs at either end of this hike. They are based in Rawhiti, amongst their family heritage and are very knowledgeable of the area. They can pick you up from the end of your hike or the next morning after you have stayed for the night. Or vice versa if you are going to start your hike from Cape Brett.
We started our hike in Rawhiti – Finished at Cape Brett. Myself and one other lady in the group opted to book this for our return trip the next day. We felt this was sensible for us this time around considering our fitness level. We were still able to get the experience of staying in the hut overnight, and not be under pressure to catch the taxi back the same day. Fortunately four other trampers we met at the hut, also wanted to catch the water taxi back. So we could all split the costs which totally made it worth it. You can book through their Facebook page, or call them. They take cash and EFTPOS once you have been dropped off at a beach back in Rawhiti.
Bob and Louise have been running this trusted service since 2004. Some people find the cost quite steep, so they do not book, but then make an SOS call from Cape Brett to be picked up. This is something to keep in mind. Their phone number is at the hut on the noticeboard. There is cell phone reception at Cape Brett. Make sure you have reserved your battery life.
Bob and Louise were fantastic to deal with. Booking in advance meant we were kept in touch, with the likelihood of getting picked up at Cape Brett. It is important to note, that a Cape Brett pick up is trickier and not always guaranteed when sea conditions are not great. So we really appreciated their professional advice.
The alternative option was a water taxi back from Deepwater Cove, as it is 90% guaranteed to be picked up there with the sea conditions. As it turned out, the conditions were good for a pick up from the Cape Brett landing. We were stoked, because my walking buddy had rolled her ankle, and we would have been facing a 2.5 – 3hr walk back to Deepwater Cove to catch the Taxi there. At Cape Brett, they literally pick you up off the rocks.
Always proceed with caution when trying to board the boat.You will at least get wet feet.
Bob also gives a fantastic and humorous guided tour on the boat trip home. The views and stories told by Bob go hand in hand and are a great way to finish the trip.
Cost: $200 pickup from Deep Water Cove or $250 pickup from Cape Brett, per boat ride for up to 5 people, one way.
(Costs subject to change, see actual supplier for up to date costs).
What gear you need to start
- Hiking Shoes
- Some different shoes to change into after the hike
- Sleeping Bag if you are staying over night at the old light house keepers cottage.
- Hiking Back Pack
- Water Bottles or a Camelpack (To carry approx 4 Litres)
I have no hiking gear. I am completely amateur so I borrowed everything. In my blog post, Getting Out and About, I talk about how we don’t have to have all the fancy gear to experience life. Heck, look at me, I did this Cape Brett walk in soccer boots (or football boots)! The hiking shoes I had been wearing in were two sizes too small for me. Number 1 rookie mistake!
Although I worried about blisters, our colleague had said that they will at least give good grip on a winter track. I inserted some gel soles in them so I couldn’t feel the sprigs; I wore a sport strapping sock and a work sock on top. The boots were a little bit too big; however, this came in handy on the downhill. No toe jarring. I have since learned that our colleague was half-joking about wearing soccer boots. Luckily for me (And him) it worked out!
What to Pack
- Print out your walking Permit / Have ID with you as proof of identification, if asked to be shown to any DOC ranger, representative or contractor upon request.
- There is a Key Pad code to open the door at the hut. The code will be emailed to you upon booking your walking permit. Note this down.
- Pack some Anti-Flamme ointment or Tiger Balm! It is an absolute saviour at the end of the walk!
- Water! Hydrate well before the walk. Drink the appropriate amount of water and eat well leading up to the walk. I carried 4 litres of water with me as good drinking water was not guaranteed at the other end. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t having salty water for coffee the next morning. Priorities right?
Items DOC recommends taking
(Bear in mind you have to carry all this so use at your own discretion)
- All food
- Torch or another lighting source
- Sleeping bag, pillow
- Matches, toilet paper
- Personal clothing and toiletries
- A first aid kit. Visitors with medical conditions must take all their medical supplies with them, and note that in the event of an emergency, services could be a minimum of 2 hours away.
- Rubbish bags
- There is no heating inside the hut. (And no power) Ensure you have warm clothing especially if you are visiting during the autumn/winter months
- There are basic cleaning supplies (We took our own small dish wash liquid tea towel and cloth)
- Gas and cookers are provided
- All pots, pans, cutlery, plates are available for use in the hut (They were a little light on plates when we were there)
- There is no shower at the hut (There are two sinks outside the hut)
The essentials (or what I thought were the essentials) were put together the night before. In hindsight, I definitely took way too much stuff. I cringe when I think about it now. I am all about being prepared for all situations, but when it comes to actually having to carry it all on an advanced walk, mostly uphill, well somethings got to give. Some things I could have left behind: an extra packet of pasta, a few extra snacks, and a tin of Four Bean Mix (who wants to eat that anyway). I found the compromise of food a little hard to fathom! I had packed too many spare clothes. All these little things add up in small weights…the Cape Brett Walk got me good!
TIP: It’s best to pack the heavier items closer to your back for balance.I did not know this at the time!
If you are driving from Whangarei, you can take the coastal route on Russell Road passed Helena Bay. There is a lovely little cafe and art gallery in Helena Bay, worth the stop if you come this route. It is a beautiful but windy drive and takes you exactly 1 hr to get into Rawhiti. Bring all the things you need with you, as there are no shops in Rawhiti. Just beaches, and a Campground at a local Marae. There is sometimes a pop up shop selling ice-creams, coffee and drinks and some hot food, over the summer. The odd porta-loo is also available in the summer. So come prepared!
If you are going to continue driving to Russell passed KawaKawa, you will need to catch the Car Ferry across from Opua (which is before Paihia) to Okiato. You then turn right just after the orange Gas station, and follow the signs to Rawhiti. The drive from Russell to Rawhiti is 30mins.
The most common place to start this Hike is at the Oke Bay Stair-Case in Rawhiti. You can also start this at the start of the Whangamumu Walking Track as you come into Rawhiti. It looks like it would take longer that way. People even start walking from Russell along the main road. Unless you are a serious hiker, I wouldn’t suggest you do that!
Locals in Rawhiti provide car parking at either starting places on their own land – Bring Cash for the honesty box for the courtesy of parking there.
The HIKE – Saturday 20 July 2019
Our walk commenced at 8.45 am. You should allow 8 hours for this walk. In hindsight we should have left a bit earlier.
My walking buddies were awesome to walk with. Encouraging and positive people. We all had our weaknesses/strengths somewhere, where we could balance each other out along the way. Walking is a great way to get to know people. I love the friendly banter, and moments of silence, where you are just trying to focus on breathing or taking in the views.
I was puffed at the beginning as it starts of fairly steep, which worried me as it was already tough! It took a while for my body to realise I wasn’t going to be stopping any time soon. Eventually, my endurance reserves kicked in along the way and my puff narrowed out a bit. Such a cardio work out!
Views on the Cape Brett Hike
The first viewing point looks over Oke Bay, Urupukapuka Island, Moturua Island, Roberton Island, and the Mainland further ahead.
The Bay of Islands is one big sugar rush of blue beauty.
I love getting to know this area, especially at a higher viewpoint from this Cape Brett Walk.
The Cape Brett Hike displays some unbeatable views along the way. There are even a couple of compost toilet sites. So, of course, we used it. And of course, I took a photo of my view out across the land while I peed.
Gotta love a loo with a view!
We stopped to have lunch at a beautiful cliff top view at the 9km Mark. Out yonder it was raining in one spot, and we could see a glimpse of a rainbow.
The walk from this point was actually pretty good!
Right up until Deep Water Cove, then she’s all a hard slog! I had read that the 1st and the last part were the hardest. They weren’t wrong!
You one hundred percent cannot fault these views though!
Nearing the end – 5.30 pm
Are we there yet (x 10)? The others were a bit nervous walking along the last ridge. I don’t blame them! But for me, this is where I came alive again. I literally stood on the edge of a very high drop off, comfortably taking photos of the sunset, making sure I looked all around me. This is what we climbed for I thought. This is it! It had been a long time since I had achieved anything so physically great as this.
16 km Mark
Further up I found the girls with their packs off, at the 16 km marker, looking rather disheartened, getting torches out of their bags. We still had another 1.2 km to get to the actual hut. Surprise! With the winter hours, we were losing day light quickly.
But just over the hill from the highest point, we see the lighthouse, views to die for (which by now you kinda feel like doing), and the red roof of the hut. Hooray!
We followed a nice grassy zig-zagged path all the way down to the bottom of the hill. We were definitely ready to step inside that hut!
At about 6.15 pm we entered the hut, four other trampers (who had passed us along the way) greeted us with smiles, well-done remarks, candle lights (as there is no power there) and their aromas of dinner cooking over the gas stoves. The old lighthouse keepers’ cottage was very reasonable. An area to kick off your shoes, which we couldn’t do fast enough! Three bedrooms filled with bunk beds, a kitchen, and compost toilets out the back which were stocked with hand sanitiser.
Total Hike Time – about 9 hrs 30 mins.
Settling In For the Night
This group of Mums put together what we had brought for a shared dinner. Cream cheese tomato pasta, with salami, spinach, and herbs, topped with Parmesan cheese and avocado. Chased down with chocolate and a HOT Cuppa.
Sleeping was OK. Considering my body ached all night. I lay there for a while, before dozing off, imagining what it would have been like to live here, so isolated on a stormy night. The fire alarm went off at 2 am. Either everyone was fast asleep or too dead to get up and check. I found my body achingly leaping out of bed on impulse, to see what was going on. Only for the alarm to stop on its own, leaving me puzzled, and the others asking what I was doing?
I was up at 6.30 am to walk halfway up to the lighthouse, to see the sunrise. It was a cloudy morning, so not much to view. Still, the thought of being way out here child-free and feeling oh so chuffed with myself, was really quite gratifying.
I returned to enjoy a hot brew of coffee (then left a bunch of coffee bags there for any other hikers needing a brew, again I had packed too many). The girls were heating a healthy overnight soaked porridge with dried fruits for breakfast. Two of our girls championed on walking the track home after breakfast. We took some gear for them, which they were very thankful for, and waved them on their merry way looking and feeling so much lighter than when we first arrived!
- Photo of the Rawhiti Water Taxi to the rescue!
- The final goodbye pictures
- On the Water Taxi home looking back over where we walked
Hubby and my two boys, who apparently missed their Mummy very much, greeted me back at Rawhiti Beach. Mstr 5 can’t wait to do the Cape Brett Hike with me sometime. “One day son”. One day, very far into the future for you, and probably for me too.
Good on ya Cape Brett. You were a great challenge, but a real stunner to visit.
EDIT: Nearly one year on, I am still to this day, very proud of my efforts for having completed the hike to Cape Brett. But after seeing what I carried in those pictures above, and what I wore, you can tell I was amateur! Ha-ha. Since then I have gotten Out and About more and am much fitter than I was when I did this hike. I also have a new pair of hiking shoes that fit! No more football boots! Perhaps I will do hike to Cape Brett again after all. Hubby wants to give it a crack. Maybe we will see you on the track?