Walking on Great Barrier Island

Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Thu 5 Nov 2020 04:09

We spent another week at Great Barrier Island, moving on from Smokehouse Bay to Kaiaraara Bay as this gives access to some good walks.  The bay is open to the west and we anchored at its head in the hope that we would get shelter from both the north and the south, and to be closer to the landing for the walks. We had previously done the trail to Mount Hobson, the highest point on the Barrier, and didn’t fancy tackling that again (too many steps) so we did a short walk first and then set out for Cooper’s Castle.

Before we left Smokehouse Bay we stoked up the woodburner for the bathhouse and had nice, hot showers

Looking up Kaiaraara Bay towards Mount Hobson

Our short walk from Kaiaraara Bay was shorter than planned and, returning at low water, we got the dinghy bogged down on the mudflats!

The trail to Cooper’s Castle started up the stream at the head of the bay on the well made route to Mount Hobson, before turning north and getting rougher.  It climbed up a dry stream bed to the ridge and then carried on climbing along a narrow footpath between the trees to Cooper’s Castle at the top of the ridge.  We then had a great ridge walk with occasional views to both sides of the island between the trees and a final descent to the road.  Across the road we followed the Old Lady track back to the settlement at Port Fitzroy where we had a welcome ice-cream at the General Store.  We took to the road for the return to Kaiaraara Bay and got back to our dinghy exactly 6 hours after we left it.

Well made trail at the start of the walk

Coopers Castle Lookout and the view to the East coast

Looking west from the ridge

Huge bromeliads in the trees

Amazing patterns on this fallen tree on the Old Lady track

We were joined in this anchorage by Shirley on Speedwell of Hongkong, one of our lockdown buddies from Norsand boatyard.  She came on board for supper one night and we were able to enjoy stories of some of her amazing adventures.  She left South Africa 20 years ago and has been sailing singlehanded on her 26ft, junk rigged, classic boat ever since.

We had a couple of nights in Forestry Bay so we could do some shopping at the Port Fitzroy General Store and climb to the Lookout Rock overlooking this bay, before sailing back to the mainland on Saturday – the only day with a favourable wind of any strength in the next week.  The forecast was still for a light wind, so we were pleasantly surprised to pick up a good sailing breeze after just a couple of miles for a great beam reach all the  way back to the river entrance – 7 hours later .  We had a look at the Smugglers Bay anchorage again, but on this occasion the wind was gusting through the bay so we decided to carry on into the river against the outcoming tide – it took a further hour and a half for the last few miles to Munro Bay.

Port Fitzroy and Forestry Bay (centre left behind the small island) from the Lookout Rock

The end of a great day’s sail as we approach Bream Head and the entrance to the Hatea River

We had no need to be in town immediately so we enjoyed the peace of this well protected anchorage for a few nights.  It was relatively busy to start with as this was the Labour Day holiday weekend and the traditional start of the season for New Zealand boaties, but after Monday it emptied.  Phil took the chance to go up Mount Manaia again, but Sarah opted out and waited at the bottom of the track.

Looking over the river entrance from the start of the track to Mount Manaia.  The channel is relatively narrow between the headland at centre left and a sand bank to the right. To the left is Urqharts Bay, another popular anchorage

Manuka flowers – a great favourite with the bees

Settlers memorial.  This area was settled by Scots who first emigrated to Nova Scotia before moving on to Australia then settling here and giving their names to a number of bays. 

We finally returned to town last Wednesday. Our plan had been to drive to South Island before Christmas for several weeks exploring taking a tent or staying in B&Bs as the mood took us, but our car was being unreliable and the required part had to come from Singapore with an expected delivery date in 4-6 weeks, so we decided to fly to Christchurch and hire a campervan for a month instead.  We finalised the bookings on Friday morning, only to receive a call from the garage to say the part had arrived!