The Cape Brett Track may not be one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks, but it’s still a great walk nonetheless. This hike is ideal for people of a moderate to advanced level of fitness looking for a perfect one or two-day tramp, with plentiful scenic views, wildlife photo opportunities, and an optional overnight stay.
Walking Cape Brett: An overview
Where is the Cape Brett Track?
Cape Brett can be found in the Bay of Islands, just northeast of historic Russell. The famous Cape Brett lighthouse – the finale to the walk – sits at the end of a peninsula that juts out of the bay, near the town of Rāwhiti.
How long is the Cape Brett Track?
About 16.5km, or 8 hours walking. Given the track has many steep sections, it may take longer than expected.
Can Cape Brett be hiked in one day?
Yes, but part of the journey will need to be skipped. Hikers hoping to visit the Cape Brett lighthouse in one day can either:
- Start at the trailhead in Rāwhiti, walk to Cape Brett lighthouse, then turn around and walk back to Deep Water Cove, taking a water taxi from there back to Oke Bay. This is just over 20km/12 miles of walking.
- Water taxi into Deep Water Cove to start the trail, then walk to and from the Cape Brett lighthouse. This is about 8km/5 miles of walking. Visitors can jump on the Sea Shuttle water taxi at Paihia, Russel or Oke Bay. Tickets are around $50 per person, and the boat can carry 20 people.
How difficult is the Cape Brett Track?
This track has been classified by the NZ Department of Conservation (DoC) as an Advanced: Tramping track. Specifically, that means the “track is mostly unformed, may be rough and steep.”
“It’s a challenging hike,” a DoC spokesperson told us. “People need to account for distance as well as the elevation changes. The difference in elevation makes the walk more challenging than most.”
When to visit Cape Brett
Officially, Cape Brett is open all year. That said, due to the nature of the walk – especially as it gets tricky around Deep Water Cove – it can get much more difficult in the rain, and therefore it is advised to use caution before venturing out on a wet day.
- Seasons: Being the Southern Hemisphere, summer starts in December, while winter starts in June.
- Temperatures: Temperatures are relatively warm all year round. Summer sees highs in the mid-20s, with winter highs sitting around 15-16 degrees C. Winter lows can drop to 10 degrees C.
- Weather: The average rainfall here is 1,575mm annually, with Nov-Jan the driest months and June-Aug the wettest.
- Sunlight: In the warmer months the sun typically rises after 6am and sets not long before 9pm. As it gets colder, the sun will rise at 7:30am and set around 5:30pm – making the track more difficult to achieve in a single day.
How to access the Cape Brett Track
Where do I start the Cape Brett Track?
The Cape Brett Track begins in Rāwhiti, a charming beachside township about 234km (145 miles) from central Auckland, or 31km (19 miles) from Russel. Visitors can also come from Paihia by either driving there directly via Waikare Road (54km/33 miles) or hopping on the Opua vehicle ferry to Okiato, which cuts about 20km/12 miles from the journey.
Fullers Opua ferry:
- Operates 6am to 10pm daily (last ferry at 9:50pm in the reverse direction).
- Price starts at $13 for a car and adult, one way. EFTPOS is available on board.
Where to park your car
You have two options for parking your car. First, you can park at 253 Rawhiti Road – a small grey cottage about 50m back from the road. There is an honesty box here ($5) for the safe parking of your car.
Alternatively, additional secure parking is available at Hartwells, Kaimarama Bay, at the end of Rawhiti Road. There is a small fee for use of this car park.
Cape Brett Track fees
There is a fee to access the Cape Brett Track. This is a maintenance fee that DoC uses to fix and maintain the portion of track crossing private land between Rāwhiti and Deep Water Cove.
- Adult: $40
- Child: $20
Trampers can book online here at the DoC website, or by popping into the Bay of Islands i-SITE Visitor Centre in Paihia.
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Key sights along the Cape Brett Track
An overview of the sights and sounds
One of the key draw cards that brings people to Cape Brett year after year is the plethora of coastal and forest views. The Bay of Islands feature some of New Zealand’s most spectacular, dramatic panoramas, and to see it from an elevated position amid native bush and the sounds of birdlife? Astounding.
“The views are outstanding at the high points,” says Luxury Adventures’ Tony Townley. “And the beginning of the track boasts (in my opinion) one of the best beaches in Northland: Oke Bay.”
“One minute you’re either walking beside the sea or taking in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, then the next you’re deep in Northland native bush with all the sounds, smells and bird life that accompany it.”
DoC and the local iwi (Māori community) have been doing a lot of work on the peninsula to clear it of pests and allow the native flora and fauna to regenerate, bringing new life to this already stunning area and protecting its precious birds, such as kiwi.
“The solitude of the walk stands out most to me, especially for the fact that there was so little sign of humanity when I walked the track,” says hiker Max Adagio. “I saw only one other tramper on the entire hike out, very little boat traffic, and most of the islands that far out are uninhabited and unmarred by man-made structure (as far as I know). This lets the sea and landscapes speak much louder for themselves, without distraction.”
Deep Water Cove
Deep Water Cove is a little off the track for anyone coming up from Rāwhiti (a 1-hour side trip) but well worth it for a break before hitting the harder portion of the Cape Brett Track.
This pristine cove is perfect for a swim or for snorkelling, although you’ll have to watch out for incoming water taxis.
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Views to Motukokako Island (Piercy Island)
Motukokako is also known as Hole in the Rock island, a popular spot for boat tours in the Bay of Islands area. It is said that this was the first landing place of the canoe Tūnui-a-rangi, which brought the Ngāi Tāhuhu tribe to the Bay of Islands before it moved on to Ngunguru and Whangarei.
You can see Motukokako from the track’s highest point, just before it descends towards the lighthouse.
Historic Cape Brett Lighthouse
The lighthouse at the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula is the climax to the whole event. First built in 1910, more than 100 people looked after this station over its lifetime – including keepers, weathermen, butchers, gardeners, postmasters, painters and carpenters. It was decommissioned in 1978, although a replacement light still functions to this day.
The peninsula, known as Rakaumangamanga in Te Reo, is also of particular significance to Maori history. The cliffs were used by the earliest sea voyagers to guide them to safe harbour in their new homeland – light reflected off the crystalline rocks, acting as their own version of a lighthouse.
Remnants of the old lighthouse village can still be seen around the area. The DoC hut is one such piece of history!
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Cape Brett Hut
Cape Brett Hut, beneath the lighthouse, is an old keeper’s cottage that has been converted into a DoC hut for travellers to stay overnight. While this is an interesting site in its own right, make your way to the water just beneath it for another ocean view and potentially a snapshot of seals lounging about the rocks.
“Once you get down to the lighthouse keeper DoC hut,” Adagio said, “definitely go down to the water for a gander at the sea life. Seals were there when I stayed, and you’ll have a snapshot of the edge of the Bay of Islands in your mind for the rest of your life, guaranteed.”
What facilities does the Cape Brett Hut have?
- Cooking: There are three two-burner gas units
- Sleeping: The hut has 23 bunk beds, each with a mattress.
- Toilets: There are toilets here, but they’re non-flush toilets.
- Water: The hut has a rainwater supply tank and therefore may have running water when you arrive. That said, it is untreated and not suitable for drinking unless boiled first. In a period of drought, this supply may be exhausted. The DoC website will let you know if this is the case before you start your walk.
How do I stay at the Cape Brett Hut?
You’ll need to book in advance, which can be done when you get your permit to walk the track itself.
- Adult (18+ years): $15 per night.
- Youth (11-17 years): $7.50 per night.
- Child/Infant: (0-10 years): Free.
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Sunset and the night sky
While the sun might set on the opposite side of the country to Cape Brett Peninsula, those staying at the DoC hut overnight can still witness a spectacular change of colour in the sky on a nice clear night. In fact, Townley told us he felt that these sunsets were “incredible.”
And remember – given that you’re out at night with no major townships around, don’t forget to look up for a horizon to horizon view of the Milky Way galaxy and all its stars.
What to pack for the Cape Brett Track
All the typical hiking essentials are just as essential for Cape Brett. Food, water, appropriate clothing, your camera, and anything you’d want to have overnight at the hut.
In addition, absolute must-haves for walking Cape Brett in particular are:
- Good hiking boots: You absolutely must have shoes with decent grip in case any part of the track is slippery when wet.
- Extra drinking and cooking water: There are no water taps along the track and as mentioned the water at the Cape Brett Hut is not treated, and therefore not suitable for drinking. All visitors are advised to bring ample water for their drinking needs, or else to boil the hut’s water before consuming. It’s all the more important that you bring plenty of water if the hut’s water supply is running low or has run out completely.
- Swimming gear: From Oke Bay to Deep Water Cove, there are plenty of opportunities to swim on the peninsula and if you’re hiking on a hot day, you’ll be glad of the dip.
- Snorkelling equipment: Both Townley and the DoC spokesperson we spoke to recommended snorkelling at Deep Water Cove, so some goggles and snorkel are a must.
Final tips for walking Cape Brett
- Avoid the rain: Due to the steep nature of certain parts of the track, it can get slippery when wet. Generally you should always try to avoid tramping in the rain.
- Clean your shoes: Kauri dieback disease – which is infecting some of NZ’s most precious native trees – is spread through the soil. Scrub soil off your shoes and gear before you go, and use a DoC hygiene station when you enter and leave the track. Please always stay on the track, as walkers going off the beaten path can spread the disease further.
- Don’t bring your dog: This track is not dog-friendly.
- Don’t bring your bike: This track is also not mountain bike friendly.
Take safety precautions: This is a long hike for a single day, so you’ll need to take precautions. “Establish your time frame and also your fitness level in order to decide on how much of the track to walk,” says Townley. When you know what you want to walk, make sure you bring good boots and lots of water, and ensure you can complete the track either before the sun sets, or the last ferry departs.