The impressive 360 views of the Bay of Islands makes the Cape Brett track one of the best overnight hikes you can find in the Northland region of New Zealand.
Antonio and I hiked this track over a weekend while we were living in Auckland.
There are a few different ways you can reach Cape Brett. Hiking the Cape Brett Walkway is the most popular and rewarding way. The trail is very well marked with signs and orange direction arrows, making it easy to follow.
The trail is not in a loop so if you want to return to where you started you need to walk back the way you came. We chose to hike in and hike out but if you are not up for the challenge you can take a water taxi from Deep Water Cove or Cape Brett Landing. From here you can go to Russell or Paihia for 80 NZD.
Another option is to take the water taxi to Cape Brett and go on some of the shorter hikes in the area.
From Auckland we drove 4 hours to Rawhiti, the start of the track. We left the car parked on the side of the road. If you are not comfortable leaving your car, you can park at Hartwells in Kaimarama Bay, at the end of the Rawhiti road in a secure parking area for a recommended donation of 5NZD. There is an honesty box you can leave the money in if nobody is around.
The majority of the trail goes through Maori land and you are required to get a permit to walk through it. The permit is 30 NZD per person and can be paid at the DOC office in Russell. The fee goes towards maintaining this portion of the track. This whole area of New Zealand has a strong Maori tradition. The seven peaks of this track are said to represent the 7 waka (canoes) that brought the Moari to New Zealand from Hawaiiki over 700 years ago.
The trail goes along a hilly ridge in the center of the peninsula. There is thick bush on both sides of the trail, at some points it clears and you can see all the way to the Whangerai Heads. It is undulating and can be steep at times. There are many bluffs and drop offs that you should be aware of. Keep an eye out for fantails and tui’s flying around or resting in the trees.
A few hours into the walk you will come to an electric wire fence with a gate. It is designed to keep possums out, which can be harmful to the trees so make sure to close the gate once you’ve gone through. From this point you have completed 1/3 of the trail.
Eventually the trail reaches a light house. From this point you have amazing views of outer Bay of Islands, north to the Cavalli Islands and south to Whangaruru and beyond to the Poor Knights Islands.
EQUIPMENT CHECK LIST
At a relaxed pace we completed the track at just under 8 hours. At the end of the peninsula there is a DOC hut, which was the former lighthouse keepers house. The hut has 22 bunks and a cooking area with gas stoves. There are a few pots and pans but it is best to bring your own along with your own cutlery. It is 12.20 NZD per night to stay in the hut, which can be paid at the DOC office in Russell or online. As this area is has a high risk of fire camping is not allowed.
From the hut you can take a one hour side trip to Deep Water Cove where you can go for a swim or snorkel.
Bring warm clothes, a warm sleeping bag, good walking shoes or boots, and a waterproof jacket. You should carry at least 3 liters of water with you and some snacks for the trail. There is drinking water available at the hut but it tastes salty because of the ocean mist that gets into the water tank. There is a stream about an hour before you reach the hut, we recommend that you fill up on water there. This is a difficult track and requires you to have a good level of fitness.
Walking the entirety of the track in and out is a 2 day trip. The track is 16.5 km, at a comfortable pace it can be completed in 8 hours (one way). You can chose to walk the track the same way that you came or you can catch a ferry to Russell or Paihia.
It is best to go during summer (December – May) as there are less chances of rain. If it rains this steep trail can become even more challenging.
The trail can be reached from Oke Bay as well as by water taxi from Russell or Paihia.
WHAT WE LIKED THE MOST
- The great views of the coast along the trail.
- The trail was easy to follow and is well maintained. The view from the lighthouse looking out to the end of the peninsula is very impressive, especially just before sunset.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE THAT MUCH
- The salty water at the hut. After a long day of hiking it was less that refreshing.
- As the track can be accessed by water taxi, so the hut can be very crowded.
Hiking the Cape Brett Track is a great short trip if you are visiting Northland or a weekend trip if you live in New Zealand. While it is one of the more challenging trails in the area it’s certainly rewarding as you get to see great views of the ocean and surrounding islands.
Location: Rawhiti, Northland, New Zealand
Price: 30 NZD trail fee and 12.50 NZD per night for the DOC hut.
Useful Notes: Plan to arrive at the trail early so you have plenty of day light to reach the hut. Also, the last portion of the track is exposed, so be prepared for high winds.