When you’re a list obsessed, plan-everything-ahead, uber organised earthling, having someone take control of the reigns and devise an adventure in such spectacular detail is a breathe of fresh air.
This story begins back in September, when a Facebook message popped up from two friends masterminding an overnight tramp to Cape Brett. These are the type of friends that are either running bush marathons at the weekend or trekking up mountains doing a casual bit of avalanche survival training. We were in safe hands.
14 ‘I’m keen’ responses later and we had ourselves a party.
Cape Brett came with some surprises. This hike was not what I expected. I had visions of a moderately hilly, relaxing walk across the rugged coast, taking in the views across the peninsula. The latter part is true, but easy this was not.
Our odyssey began on Friday evening, staying overnight on The Farm, about 20 minutes drive from the start of the track in Rawhiti. The Farm is a backpackers hostel come campsite. We paid $80 for a hut with an en suite, but in retrospect we should have just camped as the huts were pretty crumby and we had to go on a mass bug killing spree on arrival (typical urbanites).
We set off early on Saturday to the promise of two days of sunshine and blue skies and that’s exactly what we got.
Launch point: 253 Rawhiti Road (there is secure paid parking on the same road).
Distance: 16.3km each way – totalling 32.6km over the weekend. Not that far off a marathon!
Time: It look us around 8 hours to get to the doc hut on the first day as we stopped off at Deep Water Cove for a swim, plus lots of photo ops en route. We set off fairly early and arrived at the hut in time to swoon over the sun setting and go seal spotting.
The second day was much quicker (around 6 hours) as we had lighter packs and the team were firmly focused on the end goal.
If those distances sound like too much, you can skip a good portion of the track and get a boat to Deep Water Cove (about $45 each way) and trek three hours (6km) to the doc hut.
Costs: The doc hut was $15 per person for one night; the track maintenance fee was $30 per person; parking is $5 into an honesty box.
The terrain: The track is well kept, well sign posted and passes through lush coastal bush, with lots of tree roots to contend with so you have to watch your footing (just remember to look up and check out the views every now and then – it’s easy to get focused on where your next step is going).
Parts of the track are quite exposed and you get very close to some steep cliff drops. I would only do this in the summer months when you’re forecast some good weather. Rain and gail force winds could definitely ruin this hike for you/land you in some hairy situations!
There are lots of climbs and descents so find yourself a decent walking stick to keep the pressure off your knees – it makes a huge difference.
Before you make the finishing climb over to the hut (at around 14km) there is a big section of grass which is as springy as a mattress and overlooks the cobalt ocean. This is a good spot to recharge and refuel before your last push. You’ll know you’re getting close to the hut when you feel like your legs are about to give up on you!
The final hour of the hike on day one and the first hour of the hike on day two were the most difficult sections of the track.
Pack light: The steep climbs are challenging enough without a backpack containing five litres of water, plus everything else. Be ruthless and take only what you need. Try and get kit that is lightweight. This will make all the difference to the enjoyment of your hike.
Deep Water Cove
Cape Brett is a cruel mistress. You spend the majority of the walk very sweaty, looking out over to an inviting emerald sea. The fact that you can’t get down to it because you’re on top of a cliff is very frustrating. But fear not, towards the second half of the walk you’ll reach a cross roads to detour to Deep Water Cove. Take the detour!
The steep track leads you down to a stony beach straight out of Moonrise Kingdom where you can bathe in the cool, clear waters in a protected bay (note that there are no showers at the hut so this makes all the difference). This is also the point where the boat taxi ferries hikers to the track.
We shared the water with some jellyfish and a sting ray so watch your step!
Quick history lesson: Cape Brett lighthouse has been signalling vessels to safety for over 1,000 years, even guiding Māori settlers who arrived in Aotearoa to set up home. The main lighthouse signal has been replaced by a smaller version which still functions today.
It’s hard to imagine the isolated, simple life of a Lighthouse Keeper way out here. You would never get tired of the majestic views out to sea. Some lucky visitors get to observe dolphins playing around the cliffs (although we were sadly not that fortunate). But we did spot a seal chilling on a rock!
Perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the wild ocean, with it’s little red roof peaking out from the rolling green hills, the feeling of having this in your vision after eight hours of strenuous walking was magical! The hut used to be the home of the lighthouse keeper and is approx. 120 years old.
It was such a relief to take off our cumbersome backpacks when we arrived!
Inside the hut was a pleasant surprise. Clean and tidy, with cooking pots, pans and utensils. Unlike the warning on the doc website, there was water in the taps that we could boil and use to hydrate our noodles.
There is a table and chairs outside the hut overlooking the ocean, so you can have your dinner whilst watching the sun go down, which is pretty rad! They also have a guitar in the hut for some evenings entertainment, brought to you by Bronkapipes…
The hut is made up of three rooms – two with lots of bunk beds and one room with just one bunk bed and a sink (a bit of a luxury suite if there are just two of you!). They supply the mattresses and you just need to bring your sleeping bag/pillow.
The toilets are long drops that you fill with sawdust to keep them clean. They’re not fresh but they’re not as bad as those festival long drops either.
There is no power in the hut, so come sundown the sky gradually lights up with a million stars and planets, which is quite astounding. Venus was shining brightly when we visited. Photo credits go to the teams star photographer, Ben.
We set our alarms and got up and out the hut by 6am to watch the sunrise over the ocean which was a pretty special moment. It’s one of the first places in the world you’ll see the sunrise. Our next camping trip this month is to Gisborne, which is the first city in the world where you can see the sunrise.
It was amazing and challenging and I’m glad we conquered the entire trek. If I was to do it again, I would probably get the boat into Deep Water Cove and walk the full track back the following day. But I would recommend for first timers (who have a good level of fitness, mind) to do the lot as it’s such a good sense of achievement when you reach the finishing line.
This bay is also waiting for you at the end of the track in Rawhiti if you want to freshen up…
This was our first overnight hike in New Zealand and I’m excited to tackle some more – any recommendations are welcome!