The 62 nm passage between Cape Brett, on the south side of the Bay of Islands, and Bream Head, the promontory marking the entrance to Whangarei Harbor, took us past the scenic east coast of North Island. It’s possible to make the entire passage in one, very long, day. But we chose to break it up by stopping for the night at Tutukaka Harbor.Tutukaka Harbor is a small harbor that is entered by a narrow channel between rock reefs. We were advised that the entrance can be dangerous when an easterly wind is blowing as this creates high breakers at the entrance. But the wind had been light to non-existent all day, and the entrance was flat and calm as we slowly motored through.
The Tutukaka Coast, rated as “one of the top coastal destinations on the planet,” per the tourist literature, is popular with people on holiday. You can go diving, kayaking, race Polynesian-style canoes, sport fish, and surf. Oh, and hike. New Zealanders seem to love playing outside.
We left Tutukaka Harbor the next morning, again with very light wind, and covered the 21 nm to Bream Head in four short hours under motor. Bream Head is at the tip of the Whangarei Heads peninsula. There’s a big natural preserve on the peninsula at Bream Head that we would like to visit by land, sometime this summer (remember: It’s summer time here in New Zealand). Bream Head itself is all that remains of a prehistoric volcano.
Rounding Bream Head, we continued up the bay to enter the Hatea River, which would take us to Whangarei. The Hatea is not a long river, and it is shallow. Really more of an estuary. The navigation channel is regularly dredged and must be carefully followed to avoid going aground, but it is clearly marked.
Just below the city of Whangarei is a visually striking bascule bridge, built in 2013. The center span has a 25m lifting section designed to resemble a Maori fish hook, and this span must be lifted to allow sailboats to pass underneath. We had a bit of confusion about which VHF channel to use for contacting the bridge tender (it had recently changed), but another sailboat coming downriver called for an opening and we passed through afterward.
Our destination was the Whangarei Town Basin, where the city’s marina is located. The Town Basin is in the older part of the city, and is where most of the galleries, restaurants, museums, and the weekly craft fair are found, as well as the picturesque marina with its restored buildings. The pedestrian Canopy Bridge defines the upstream limit of the Town Basin and the Hatea River Loop walkway.
The marina has docks with slips on both sides of the river. Below the slips is additional boat moorage, where boats are secured between pilings rather than tied alongside a dock. We tied up to the temporary guest dock, checked in, and then warped Velic to her longer-term berth, just a few feet away. In the photo below you can see Sharron – marina staff – helping us warp Velic to the spot we are currently occupying below the marina office. It’s a little public, but you can’t beat the convenience!
We are living aboard and, while the location is a bit public, it is also extremely convenient. Marine services of all kinds, a hardware store and a lumberyard are within walking distance. Two major grocery stores, a shopping center, a sporting goods store, and numerous smaller stores useful to cruisers are also nearby. And many trails start at the waterfront, for those times when we want a break from boat projects and everyday chores and to get out into nature.
A loop walkway follows along both banks of the Hatea River, with pedestrian bridges crossing the river to link the two sides. We walked the Hatea River Loop soon after we arrived, starting and ending at the marina.
A few days later we followed another trail leading from Town Basin, this time going up the Hatea River to Mair Park. We then climbed up Mt. Parihaka, which overlooks the city of Whangarei and the surrounding area.
At the start, the trail is boardwalk over wetlands bordering the Hatea River –
Leaving the river behind we moved into the forest, where everywhere we saw these iconic tree ferns. There are several varieties of these tree ferns, all endemic to New Zealand. Two emblems that are recognized and identified with New Zealand are the tree fern (e.g. the All Blacks national rugby team) and the kiwi.
Back at the marina we are part of a community of stay-aboards, including several families. Most are here for the summer and plan to leave in the autumn, either to return to the tropics, or cross over to Australia. The kids are all skilled at small boat handling and unafraid of the water. This girl and her brother regularly row across the river between their family’s catamaran and the marina offices/laundry/showers and nearby playground.