Whangarei walks: how I got lost on the trail
Whangarei walks: how I got lost on the trail while hiking in New Zealand
After hiking on Rangitoto Island and a roadtrip to the Waitakere Ranges, it was really time for me and my car Red to hit the road. I left Auckland on New Years Day and went to my first destination outside of the Auckland region: Whangarei. Whangarei is a small village located in subtropical New Zealand and the perfect base for exploring the Northland region. In this blog I’m sharing my favorite Whangarei Walks and … how I got lost on the trail. Enjoy!
Upon arrival in Whangarei it is raining. It has been a week since my arrival in New Zealand and so I cannot complain about the first drops of wetness pouring down on me. During a ten minute dry spell I quickly pitch up my tent at Top 10 Whangarei and walk to reception to inquire about the best Whangarei walks. Their staff advise me to walk to Whangarei Falls for the afternoon, an amazing forest walk that can be started right from the campsite. And so during the second dry spell of the day, I pack some snacks, a waterbottle and my rainjacket and venture off on the trail, on my way to the Whangarei Falls.
The best Whangarei walks: Whangarei Falls
As I walk down to the Hatea River from the campsite, I notice how lush and green this forest is. At the AH Reed Memorial Park along the way you can find some 500 year old kauri trees. The trail is easy to follow and with a few minor ups and downs only little challenging. After about an hour and a half I arrive at the base of the Whangarei Falls, 26 meters high and plunging down into the pond below. The falls drop down dramatically from basalt cliffs that were formed more than two million years ago, pretty impressive!
It has started to rain as I arrive at the falls and so I decide to head back to the campsite soon after, another 90 minute walk. Once back in the forest the rain is pouring down on my like crazy and I get soaked to the bone but in all honesty, I don’t even mind. I’m in New Zealand, I’m hiking and I’m happy. That’s all that counts for now.
Whangarei Walks: Bream Head / Te Whara
The next day I decide to head out to Whangarei Heads, a 6.000 hectare peninsula just a 30 minute drive away from the town of Whangarei. I plan on hiking the The Whara Track, which is described as one of the best hikes in New Zealand. It’s supposed to be a strenuous walk but I don’t mind a bit of a challenge after the long drive from Auckland. I send my brother and boyfriend back home a message that I’m heading out for the day and that I’ll report again once I’ve arrived back at the campsite by the end of the day.
Although the sun is shining in Whangarei, it turns out that there’s a thick layer of clouds above Whangarei Heads. I decide to drive all the way to the far end of the peninsula, to Ocean’s Beach, where I park my car. It’s quite busy as the nearby beach is a popular summer destination and even though it’s cloudy, it’s quite humid. Soon after I leave the car, walk along the beach and into the forest not a whole lot later. The track climbs steadily up and I’m sweating like crazy. This definitely is not just a typical walk in the park.
After about an hour I arrive at the remains of an old WWII station and after a quick visit, the trail goes up again. Further up, to the ridge on slippery trails that are still wet because of the heavy rainfalls earlier that week. My pace is slow because I have to watch where I place my feet every single step. The track gets more narrow and eventually I hit a sign ‘Warning: steep drop offs beyond this point. No formed or marked track’. This makes me wonder and just few meters further, I hit a wall. Or at least some kind of wall, because all there is left in front of me is rock. I climb up a bit and indeed there are steep drop offs on either side. I can’t see a trail and am in doubt if I’ve maybe missed a sign leading me into the right (another) direction. I can hear people talk but I can’t see them since it’s misty. All I can hear is the ocean deep down below. I sit down for a while, wondering what to do. This is vertical climbing and looks quite dangerous to me. I can’t imagine this is where the trail goes (I heard it’s hard but not impossible) yet this wall seems impassable.
I don’t have a GPS but open Google Maps and look up my location. Somehow it doesn’t really help me and I keep on wondering where I am and if I’m still on the track at all. Usually Department of Conservation, who are in charge of the New Zealand hiking trails, makes sure that trails are well signposted and during my previous New Zealand trips I have not experienced this before. I grab a map that I have of the region but have honestly no idea where exactly I am. The ocean is right below me but on the map it says that I will never be right above the ocean. By then, I realize I am lost. For the first time in my career as a solo-hiker, I have entirely no idea where I am.
I decide to stay in good spirits, I must’ve missed a trailmarker or a sidetrack that would lead me to Urquhart’s Bay, the other end of the The Whara trail. I hike back down and realize that I have climbed quite a bit. The trail down is still slippery and eventually I run into a woman who is heading the same way I came back from. I warn her that this might not be the right track and show her the picture of the sign. We decide to head back together and look for the right trail along the way. Soon enough we reach the WWII station again and once again I feel lost. It must’ve been the right trail after all because no other trails have showed up along the way.
I can’t stand the fact that I just got confused, however I decide not to be bothered by it too much. I sit down at the picnic tables and grab some lunch. Another woman arrives, she is walking Te Araroa, New Zealand’s long distance trail. In the meanwhile the sun has started to shine. We enjoy our lunch together and end up chatting for about an hour. As she leaves, I decide to start making my way back to the car as it has become too late to head back to the point where I got lost and give this trail another try.
The way down is stunning and in between the moments I enjoy the view, I also worry about my orientation skills as well as my abilities to solo hike in New Zealand. I have quite a few (backcountry) hikes planned and this makes me insecure. Maybe I should get me a GPS or even a PLB (personal location beacon) just in case. However I can see why this is one of the best Whangarei walks, the view into the distance is simply amazing and even though I’ve already descended quite a bit, I still somehow feel like I’m on top of the world.
Within another hour I’m back at my car, which has been baking in the sun all afternoon. I take off my hiking boots, put on my flipflops and decide to head back to Whangarei for an iced coffee and a pizza. I’m sure I’ll have better luck on my next hike. Or maybe not …
The Bream Head / Te Whara Track is supposed to be one of the best Whangarei walks and even though I didn’t quite make it to the end of the trail, I can definitely recommend you hiking the section I’ve done, from Ocean’s Bay up to the old WWII station. From here, you can continue but just realize that the track is nowhere near easy. If you ever end up hiking here, feel free to let me know whether I should have continued climbing the rocks, or whether I did end up on the wrong track, one way or the other. Up until today, I still haven’t found out. And … even though I got lost, I made a short movie of my hike on Te Whara. Check it out and enjoy!
Planning your New Zealand trip:
– Check the best flights to New Zealand on Skyscanner.
– Order your copy of Lonely Planet Tramping in New Zealand here.
– Search for the best accommodation in Whangarei here and in Whangarei Heads here.
– A list of best Whangarei walks can be found on the official Whangarei website
Want to read more about my adventures while hiking in New Zealand? You may also enjoy the following post:
– The best hikes in New Zealand
– Hiking on Rangitoto Island – a great urban walk from the city of Auckland
– Hiking the Routeburn Track: New Zealand’s most amazing multi-day hike
– New Zealand North Island itinerary – a blog by fellow blogger Travelgal Nicole
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Thanks for sharing!
Brilliant Antonette! We are in NZ now. The South Island hikes in particular are stunning. North Island rocks too. We hiked around Opotiki quite a bit; lively vibe up there.
Awww I’m so jealous, I really can’t wait to go back. Enjoy it all, it’s amazing! Hoping to return for the 4th time in 2019 🙂
Wow! The Whangarei Falls seem so charming and breathtaking! This place is so perfect for walking or a simple morning stroll. When’s the best time of the year to explore Whangarei?
I’d say the New Zealand spring, summer and fall, although I could imagine winter would be great, too, depending on the temperature.
Miranda @ Migration Expert UK
Beautiful pictures, I’m always mesmerized when I watch waterfalls. Thanks for sharing!
Typical – that trail is part of the TA. Of course the trail was in a bad state and you got lost
Bream Head is a track recommended by DOC and they’ve hired a big blogger to write about it, so I assumed it would be in better state. Sounds like you didn’t really enjoy TA!
Haha no honestly the TA was great, but trail maintenance wasn’t really part of it…!
Yeah I heard from a friend of mine … happy to hear you enjoyed it 🙂 I want to go back one day and to it …
I am writing a hiking guide book http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/3866865368 and this was the most confusing hike I have done out of the 50 walks all over NZ. I experienced exactly the same thing as you did (ending up at a steep rockwall) and I thought I must have missed the lookout. Later I found out climbing up to the left is the thing you need to do to get the 360° view, even DOC describes about. So you were just 15m below the rocky summit. To get up there you need to be completely free of vertigo because there are steep drop offs of literally hundreds of meters and no safety barriers, handrails etc. What baffles me is the way DOC treats the track: It is supposed to be one the 6 best day walks of NZ, they state at their homepage “At the Bream Head summit, …, enjoy a magnificent coastal panorama.”, put photos on their website from the lookout https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/northland/places/whangarei-heads-area/bream-head-scenic-reserve and then they do not mention that there is a dangerous climb only for the not fainthearted and there are no signs installed to the summit at all. I addressed this in an email to DOC Whangarei but I have not yet received an answer.
Wow, I’m so happy to get your comment as I’m still wondering where I had gone wrong and cannot stand the fact that I never found out. Up until now as I should have pushed on. From previous visits to New Zealand I knew that DOC always marks their trails so well, especially the ones that they promote and this is one of them, so I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that they would not be clear on this spot whether how to continue. I’m curious to hear if you ever hear back from DOC in Whangarei regarding this. I even met a lady on the tour who experienced the same in fact. I’m heading back to New Zealand this November but not the Northern Island this time, otherwise I’d have walked it again to check it out.
Anyway, thanks so much for getting in touch, it really clears things up for me now and there’s no need to be bothered anymore about the fact if I took the wrong trail somewhere.