Ahhh. Whangaroa you have my heart. It would have to be one of the hidden jewels of the earth. Part of me wants to say, ‘Go there go there’. They other part wants me to stay silent so it retains its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity and it can just be mine, and a handful of others’, secret.
Up until a ‘stumble upon’ on Google, when planning our recent trip to New Zealand, I had never heard of Whangaroa. I had been to the South Island a few times and loved it, but had never really explored the North Island so in all honesty, it was all new to me.
Whangaroa Harbour is a spectacular waterway, not dissimilar to the Bay of Islands, but in my mind, just a little bit prettier. I think it was the remoteness that appealed to me. Everything was just that little bit more pristine and less obvious.
We do quite a bit of bushwalking and that was how I stumbled upon Whangaroa. I found a few walking tracks that I felt were worthy of further exploration and off we went.
What I liked about Whangaroa is that the walking tracks were tracks less travelled. I guess the locals would all know they were there, and all the locals we spoke to had walked the tracks, but it wasn’t where most tourists end up, so walking is relaxing, and you are not likely to meet many others along the way – we didn’t meet any.
Firstly, as an Aussie, you will need to learn how to pronounce Whangaroa. As we discovered ‘wh’ is pronounced as an ‘f’ so it is actually said ‘fangaroa’. We didn’t discover this until we had a fun conversation with the bar girl at the sports fishing club, who entertained us with quite a few stories on kiwi nuances and pronunciations – up until then we sounded like total tourists in our mispronunciation. Not much changed after this. I am sure we still sounded like tourists, but at least we were getting the name right now.
We had barely arrived in town (Whangaroa with an ‘F’), popped our bags in our room, and we were already heading up the nearest peak, which happened to be St. Paul’s Rock.
St. Paul’s Rock was literally just behind where we were staying (Prima a Situ, a lovely little B&B with a very hospitable host and incredible views of the harbour) – I don’t think you could visit Whangaroa without doing this quick little climb.
The walk to the peak would normally be an easy walk, but it was perhaps made a little more difficult by the recent rain, so some rustic walking sticks, on loan from our host, made navigating, what was now quite a slippery slope, a little easier. I did have a bit of a giggle when on our way down a couple were making their way up in dress shoes. By all appearances, the mud stains up their backs and butts suggested they were not having an easy time of it…
The last bit of the walk to get to the actual peak is a bit of a rock climb, but there are some chains there to help pull yourself up.
The views are SENSATIONAL. It really is an incredibly beautiful scenic landscape. I was wishing I had taken up some wine and crackers to watch the sunset over the bay… as it happened we could watch it from the verandah of our room back at Prima a Situ anyway…
Another walk we did was a little bit more epic. It was to the Kairara Rock or Duke’s Nose, as it is commonly called, which is on the other side of the harbour. The Wairakau Steam Track that you walk to get you there, starts at Totara North, which you will need to either drive to, or start walking a lot earlier…
In the spring/summer months you can walk to the ‘nose’, and then organise for a water taxi to pick you up at a little jetty at the base, that will take you home. However, we were just short of the season beginning so we had to do the walk there and back which took about 5 hours altogether. That was taking it pretty easy, taking lots of photos enroute. My oohs and ahhs can often hold us up substantially. I just kept thinking about the movie The Piano, and I wondered if it may have been filmed somewhere in the region. The damp muddy dense forest felt almost familiar in parts. Stunning, and eerily beautiful. Moss, lichen, tangled vines followed by intense greenery. Beautiful. Mud, lots of Mud. I liked the mud 🙂
In the days prior to us arriving, Whangaroa had substantial rains and experienced quite a bit of flooding in parts, and while the flooding had dispersed quite quickly, we had not anticipated that two parts of the track would be covered by streams – didn’t mention that in the track notes…. Normally just a trickle, the streams were a bit more ‘flowing’ than that now, but fortunately, if you follow the banks, there are a couple of spots that were low enough to wade through, but only just. So be careful, and don’t take any unnecessary risks.
It was shoes off for us, then shoes on, and then off again. It is a decent walk, but a beautiful one. Once you reach Lane Cove Hut at Pekapeka Bay, it is only about 45 minutes to the top.
To get to the top, again, you need to pull yourself up via some chains. I have to admit, I don’t normally have a problem with this sort of thing, but due to the rain, and the rocks seeping moisture, it was incredibly slippery and difficult to find some grip to leverage myself up and I nearly gave in. Instead we hid our backpacks filled with all our camera gear in the bushes to lighten up. This was great in that we were now quite light and able to pull ourselves up less cumbersomely, but not so great now that we had reached the top, as it was down to my iPhone to take photos – and it really didn’t do the spectacular views justice. Bugger.
The bay is littered with steep little islands. I felt like I wanted to explore them all, and that 2 nights was not nearly enough time to spend in this beautiful region.
I have read, that since our visit, access to the peak has been closed and the chains removed – which is a bit of a shame. But it is still a spectacular walk. Visit the website to find out more.
We had left quite late in the afternoon, so we didn’t really spend that much time on top – and while there was the appearance that there was no one around, I wasn’t terribly complacent about leaving all of my camera gear at the bottom behind a bush. We also couldn’t organise a water taxi so we knew we would have to do the 2.5 hour walk back, and we wanted to do it by dark. Being lost in the forest at night doesn’t really appeal to me that much… did I mention the mud?
It was a great walk, and well worth it, but it would have been great to be able to get the water taxi back and enjoy the spectacular waterways.
Whangaroa ticked all of the boxes for me. Yes, Whangaroa definitely has my heart… I will be back some time soon to reclaim it!
Where to Stay:
Prima a Situ is a B&B located overlooking the bay. Terry, the host, is incredibly helpful and accommodating, and an extremely interesting person – make sure you leave some time to have a chat, and he will help advise you if there are any activities you would like to due in the duration of your stay. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else. You could easily spend a week here and still not have seen everything you want to see as well as have time to enjoy the serenity. Oh, and the mornings… the fog on the bay and in between the gullies. OMG.
Where to Eat:
Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club – Whangaroa
We actually had a great meal at the Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club. The young girl at the bar was an absolute delight, we could have spent hours talking to her. It made our stay and we got some great local knowledge as well as tips on what the best beers are, how to pronounce Whangaroa and where to go when. The restaurant had just been taken over by a new chef as well and the food was quite good.
Mangonui Fish Shop & Takeaway – Beach Rd, Mangonui
We went for a drive to the Mangonui Fish and Chip shop – about 20 minutes. It is apparently famous for its fish and chips. Locals had warned us that it was expensive, but for us it was still less than what we would have paid back home and we thought the fish and chips were great. Incidentally Mangonui is a gorgeous little fishing town, well worth the visit alone.
Madhatters Café – Leigh St, Kaeo
We had some great breakfasts at the Madhatter’s Café in Kaeo, which is just a short drive from Whangaroa. Funky little café where you will feel very welcomed.
This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds