Cape Brett and the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is well known for sea kayaking but there are also some nice walks and the portability of a packraft offers some great trip flexibility. This trip report covers Cape Brett and the Urupukapuka Island area. There are many other places to explore around the Bay of Islands as well.

Thanks to Kevin Frank for the info for this trip.


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Cape Brett track

Cape Brett is a popular overnight tramp that ends at the Cape Brett lighthouse and DOC hut. The hut is a converted lighthouse keeper’s house. The hut needs to be booked and there is also a track maintenance fee for crossing the section between Rawhiti and Deep Water Cove. The track fee could be avoided by paddling to and from Deep Water Cove. There are also water taxi options that can either be booked to Deep Water Cove or the hut itself.

The track starts at Oke Bay. There are a couple of places to park where you pay a nominal parking fee ($5/night). I’m not sure what the theft rate is if you don’t choose one of these options but we went the safe route and didn’t have any issues. We just left our vehicle there while we paddled around Urupukapuka as well.

There are kilometer markers along the track. DOC claims the track is 16.3 km but based on the kilometer markers (and our own GPS tracking) it is more like 17.5 km. The hills don’t look like much on a topo map, but they are typical coastal tramping up and down terrain. Also it was quite hot when we were on the track, which we found slowed us down. It’s worthwhile to get an early start to avoid the late afternoon heat if you can. There were about five other couples that also tramped out to the hut with the intention of tramping back, but decided to call and catch the water taxi back instead, if that is any indication. Cell service seemed quite good.

There is a “possum-proof” fence along the way. It does seem to have helped with the regenerating native flora and fauna. The fantails are among the friendliest I’ve seen. There are also stunning views of Urupukapuka and the surrounding islands.

The lighthouse is quite interesting and there is a thorough history of it available online. The hut has gas cookers which was nice because it was advised to boil water there. It had rained quite a bit before we went so the rainwater collection system worked well, but we’ve also read that the water can get brackish at times (from sea spray presumably), so it is recommended to carry in all the fresh water you need. We cached some water near the Deep Water Cove turnoff which worked well for us on the return trip. There were a couple of shelters along the track that had rainwater collection as well so as long as it has rained recently you should be fine.

Hole in the Rock

If the weather is nice, you can paddle out to and through the Hole in the Rock in Motukokako Island. There is also some really good snorkelling in the waters around the cape. The water was warm enough to go in for a good swim without wetsuits when we were there in the summer.

If you’re lucky you might get to see some marine mammals – we weren’t, unfortunately. We did see a boil of some kind of fish feeding and a smallish fin (shark?) swimming through them. Since it is open ocean you will want some calm weather for paddling, and need to keep a close eye on changing conditions. An unexpected offshore breeze in a Packraft would be somewhat inconvenient to say the least…

You will be offshore so a good means of communication is also advised (we had a PLB). During the day if the weather is nice there will probably be lots of other traffic out on the water too.

We paddled back to Rawhiti from Deep Water Cove. There are a few sea caves you can paddle through between bays so it is worthwhile to explore the coastline. Be careful if it is near high tide or if the swells are high!

Urupukapuka and surrounding islands

You can also paddle out to Urupukapuka Island from Rawhiti. There are water taxi options from Russel and Pahia as well. There are three DOC campsites which must be booked on Urupukapuka. There is good drinking water and cold showers at the campsites.

There is a (gasp!) cafe/bar at Otehei Bay on the Island, which is also where the water taxis dock. It is fun to paddle up alongside boats that probably have doorknobs worth more than a packraft. There can be a lot of people on jet skis and/or pulling waterskiers to watch out for. There are tracks all around the island, and many bays that you can land at, so there are lots of options with a packraft.

There is also a track on nearby Moturua Island. Most of the islands are pest-free so make sure you check, clean, and seal your gear.

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