The upcoming Bay of Islands Walking Weekend

By: Elisabeth Easther, Photography by: Bay of Islands walking weekend


Walking is good for the spirit, proclaims Elisabeth Easther as she previews the upcoming Bay of Islands Walking Weekend

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking," said German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He had a point. When surrounded by nature, putting one foot in front of the other throws life into perspective. A walk, long or short, is a pick-me-up.

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If good health (and fun) are on the agenda, head to Northland next month for the Bay of Islands Walking Weekend. Now in its seventh year, the event – headquartered in Russell’s bowling club – is hugely popular thanks to the range of routes on offer. Take your pick from 18 walks (and one kayak trip) spread over three days.

Visit a secluded beach. Enjoy an island stroll. Get up close to a lighthouse or meander through the mangroves. The local guides are exceptional. Enthusiastic and well-informed, they generously share their knowledge of flora, fauna, history, culture, and more.

Whether you prefer to slog it out all day or take a gentle stroll with a historical interest, there is a walk for all appetites. And on the subject of tastes, some of the trails include vineyards. Food and drink are available on arrival – cheers to that.

A handful of highlights

Urupukapuka Island

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Spectacular vistas as far as the eye can see

About 7km from Russell, Urupukapuka Island is the largest of the bay’s 144 islands. Its 208 pest-free hectares feature picturesque beaches and a handful of archaeological sites. Walkers are transported by boat and have two options – the 11km loop featuring some excellent climbs, or the comparatively sedate 5km route.

Discover more about American adventurer Zane Grey, who established a world-famous fishing camp here in 1927. The best view is from the trig station above Otehei Bay where it’s possible to take in the Kerikeri Inlet, Russell, Waitangi and the Cavalli Islands.

The Conservation Centre at Otehei is packed with fascinating historical exhibits and provides information on Project Island Song, a community enterprise that, along with DOC, is helping birdlife to flourish. Watch for dotterels, oystercatchers, pied stilts, paradise ducks, saddlebacks, robins, whiteheads and gulls. If you’re lucky, you might also spot orcas and dolphins.

Te Araroa taster – the Russell Forest Track

Added to this year’s event, the Russell Forest Track provides a taster of the Te Araroa Trail, the country’s longest tramping route. This part of that epic 3000km route, which stretches from Cape Reinga to Bluff, is a mere 10km, but many walkers say it’s one of their favourite legs.

With 4km following the pretty Papakauri stream, there’s a fair bit of wading and rock-hopping. But the scenery is stunning, so it’s well worth the soggy socks. The walk takes about six hours, including stops for snacks, photos and breathers.

Pukehuia/Whangamumu Track

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Pukehuia

Rawhiti, 40 minutes from Russell, is where walkers can begin their Whangamumu adventure with a lesson in rongoā, or traditional Māori medicine. Learn to craft a therapeutic balm from kawakawa and other potent botanicals before setting off on the 4.2km (one-way) route.

Climb through native bush up the slopes of Pukehuia for about an hour before emerging from the canopy to extraordinary views across the Bay of Islands to the Poor Knights and Mimiwhangata. The descent takes in groves of young kauri and mature podocarp forest.

There’s plenty to interest history buffs at Whangamumu Whaling Station, the only place where whalers were thought to have used nets. Explore the ruins, including the vats that held the whale oil, the slipway, and an eerie old boiler. 

The final leg of the track leads down to the Tangatapu wetland which, after replanting and pest control, is now home to thriving birdlife. Sharp-eyed ornithologists might spot the secretive fern bird, whose tail is longer than its body.

Omata Estate

Russell is famous for its lively past. But alongside all those sinners were a few saints. In 1819, the Reverend Samuel Marsden planted the region’s first grapes (for sacramental purposes, of course). Thanks, in part, to his missionary zeal for winemaking, the Bay of Islands now has a growing reputation for wine, with one of the top crops grown at boutique Omata Estate.

From Russell, the 5km stroll to this beautiful hilltop cellar door takes in significant heritage buildings, a steep hill, mangroves, and a history lesson on mining at Tikitikioure. Then it’s time for a meander around Orongo Bay’s oyster farm with one more climb through native bush before you’re at Omata, where a platter and a glass of wine await.

Cape Brett Walkway, Overnight Walk

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The hut at Cape Brett

End to end, the Cape Brett Walkway is a 16km but, for this event, walkers are transported by water taxi to Deep Water Cove, which means there’s only 6km to cover. The well-maintained trail passes beneath a canopy of mānuka trees, with birds – tūī, kererū and pīwakawaka – darting about fearlessly, viewing our boots as something to stir up bugs for dinner.

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Cape Brett Lighthouse

Arriving at the ridge, catch a first glimpse of the elegant lighthouse – first lit in 1906. The 14m building has many stories to tell and, for many trekkers, spending a night at the adjacent converted keeper’s house is unforgettable. The next day, after a leisurely breakfast and a morning exploring the peninsula, walk back the way you came to a waiting boat at Deep Water Cove.

Hike HQ

The Russell Bowling Club serves as education centre and event HQ – the place where ramblers begin their walks. At day’s end, it’s also where they meet to share stories. It may be all about walking, but this event is hardly pedestrian.

what to take with you

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  • Water
  • Lunch and snacks
  • Sunscreen/sun hat
  • Sturdy walking shoes, preferably boots
  • Raincoat
  • Camera
  • Walking stick, if preferred
  • Money in case you pass a shop/café/oyster farmer

Motorhoming in the Northland

The Bay of Islands Walking Weekend offers 20 per cent discounts at two excellent holiday parks:

  • Top 10 Holiday Park: russelltop10.co.nz
  • Orongo Bay Holiday Park: russellaccommodation.co.nz
  • For all other accommodation needs, contact the Russell Information Centre, 0800 633 255 or russellinfo.co.nz 
  • Book ahead to secure a place. For more information, visit boiwalkingweekend.co.nz 

3-day adventure for four competition

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Enjoy a fantastic 3-day adventure for four people, including a walk for four (18 October) followed by wine tasting, and wood-fired pizzas at the Omata Estate Vineyard. A choice of any of the 13 walks on Saturday 19 October. And three nights’ accommodation for four in two powered motorhome sites in the beautiful grounds of Russell’s Orongo Bay Holiday Park, where you have the chance to see and hear kiwi and weka in their natural environment!

Click here to enter before 20 September 2019.

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