It's a clear and crisp day in the Whangarei Heads as a friend and I reach the sands of Ocean Beach, ready to begin the Te Whara track, one of Northland’s most popular day walks. It seems we have the place to ourselves, taking in the salty sea air as the water glistens from the mid-morning sunshine. The first thing to know about this track is that it is one way (you can turn and head back the way you came but it is a fair way) so it is best to arrange someone to pick you up from the finish at Urquharts Bay (or Ocean Beach depending on where you prefer to start). We have Claire, our host from Bream Head Coast Walks Lodge, where we stayed the night before, helping us with that.
The second thing to note: make sure you stretch, and then stretch some more. A prolonged, steep hike with plenty of stairs awaits, and a decent level of fitness is required for this track, mostly for the first leg to the summit of Bream Head. It starts with grassy hills, then heads into bush with stairs. Before you reach the summit, you will come across the ruins of a WWII navar radar station, which makes a great place to rest.
It’s all worth it for the coastal panoramic views from the top, which are most stunning on a clear day. Enjoy the sights of Cape Brett in the north to Cape Rodney (Tawharanui) in the south, as well as the Poor Knights Islands, Hen and Chickens Islands, with Little Barrier and Great Barrier Island in the far east.
The Te Whara Track is at least 700 years old according to The Department of Conservation, and follows the ancient footprints of Manaia. Te Whara was the principal wife of the rangatira (chief) Manaia, and it was here that Manaia first met Puhi-moana-āriki, an early ancestor of the Ngāpuhi iwi. Manaia cautioned him with the words “Kei whara koe e Puhi i ngā tai e hāruru ana”- which translates to, “You may meet with disaster from the tides that thunder there”.
Manaia’s wife is said to have disrespected Puhi and was turned into stone. She stands as the spectacular up-thrust rock at the eastern-most point of Bream Head, known as Te Wahine iti a Manaia. Caution is paramount when near the rock faces as there are plenty of steep drop-offs here.
Once you’ve climbed onto the ridge, the track becomes relatively easy-going. Still, take care under foot as the track is often slippery, particularly if it has been raining on the days prior. Besides boasting some of the best coastal forest in the North Island, there are also a number of opportunities here to see the recently translocated whitehead/pōpokotea or the New Zealand robin/toutouwai.
Soon you will reach the track to Peach Cove, with an option of exiting the walk available too, should you not wish to walk the entire length of the ridge. Peach Cove is a lovely lunch spot, but note there are a lot of stairs and you’ll need to allow for more time for this.
Continuing to the home stretch of the track, you’ll reach a WWII gun emplacement station at Home Point, built in 1942. It’s the only remaining example of WWII defence structures in the Whangarei area.
7.5 km one way
Ocean Beach carpark, Ranui Road (38km east from Whangarei). Finishes at Urquharts Bay carpark.