Cruising Guide: Whangarei
Cape Brett to Leigh
A well developed maritime service industry has made Whangarei a popular stopover for overseas vessels and home to an interesting selection of maritime eccentrics.
They wash up around the freshly gentrified town basin and marina where waterfront cafes offer the newly arrived traveller a fine opportunity to sit back with a coffee and soak up the right sort of salty demeanour. The few vessels that operate out of the town basin have an 8 or 9 mile cruise up the harbour to get to Marsden Point, the oil refinery that marks the entrance to the harbour.
Heading South along the fairly featureless sweep of Bream Bay takes the sailor past Mangawhai Heads and on to Cape Rodney and Leigh, some 25 miles away. There is a wharf, a store and a pub at Leigh, but the harbour can be subject to swells and is not an ideal place to stay for too long. Leigh's greatest attraction lies under the water around Goat Island - a rocky outcrop on the northern side of Cape Rodney. It was here that New Zealand's first marine reserve was established in 1985 and it has become home to an extraordinary variety of very contented and friendly sea life.
Due north of Cape Rodney, some 15 miles seaward from Whangarei Harbour are the Hen & Chicken Islands. There is deep water all around these rocky wildlife sanctuaries and their bird population produces an excellent dawn chorus for those lucky enough to make it out there for sunrise. Heading back North along the coast the towering cliffs of Bream Head give way to Ocean Beach and Ngunguru before tackling the rather dramatic entrance to Tutukaka Harbour where a large marina is the base for a substantial sport fishing and diving industry.
Fuel and water are available on the outer jetties, while the Game Fishing Club provides meals, refreshments and memberships to anyone seeking to reel in a record. From Tutukaka north, the coast is an ever-changing parade of headlands, beaches and little bays offering wonderful lunchtime anchorages for fishing, diving or just soaking up the sun. The harbours of Whangaruru (inhabited) and Whangamumu (uninhabited) both have good shelter in the right conditions, and at sunset the place to be is Cape Brett. Cape Brett is the gateway to the Bay of Islands - a wild, magical place at the end of a steep and rocky peninsula complete with a story book lighthouse. The famous "Hole in the Rock" - a popular Bay of Islands tour destination - is out here, but in the evenings with the sun setting and only the fish and thousands of seabirds for company it is a truly magnificent place.
Perhaps the biggest attraction of the Whangarei coastline are the Poor Knights Islands. Famed for their crystal clear water, they lie some 10 miles off the coast and attract a steady stream of divers. Several scheduled trips run daily from Tutukaka, with many others providing services to order from Bay of Islands and Whangarei. An ex NZ navy vessel, the Tui, was sunk off the Whangarei coast to add a wreck dive to the region's attractions.