New Zealand Walks: Walk­ing over is­lands of de­sire

Fin­gers of land reach out from sprawl­ing Urupuka­puka Is­land.

Walking New Zealand - - Con­tents - Web­sites: www.newzealand.com/int/bay-ofis­lands. www.bay­ofis­lands.net/ex­plore/mo­tu­aro­hia.

Beau­ti­ful is­land’s float on a sil­ver sea in an aquatic play­ground and walk­ing won­der­land that Cap­tain Cook called the Bay of Is­lands.

‘The big­ger the waves, the the bet­ter the buzz,’ de­clares the self­as­sured, skip­per of the big, bright cata­ma­ran crowded with ea­ger pas­sen­gers wait­ing for a thrilling ride. He deftly guides the pul­sat­ing mon­ster to­wards the fa­mous Hole in the Rock in North­land’s premier at­trac­tion, the beau­ti­ful Bay of Is­lands.

I’m far less op­ti­mistic about our prospects of ‘thread­ing the nee­dle.’ The sleek, fast cat is ris­ing and fall­ing on the crest of huge Pa­cific swells. Very dis­turbed waves are slosh­ing around the Hole in the Rock and a back­wash is threat­en­ing to push us off course.

The en­gines roar at full power as we blast our way into the yawn­ing cav­ern at the base of Piercy Is­land. Squeals of de­light rise up from the pas­sen­gers, echo­ing around the vaulted roof of the cave. The cat pow­ers out into the open sea with a re­sound­ing ‘Vroom’ and a shower of spray.

The skip­per grins, pas­sen­gers look shocked, then re­lieved and ap­plaud the feat of sea­man­ship. For me, it’s a dra­matic ini­ti­a­tion to the bay and its blessed is­lands that I want to ex­plore on foot.

The Bay of Is­lands is a com­plex net­work of river val­leys drowned by ris­ing seas as the last Ice Age thawed out around 10,000 years ago. The 144 is­lands are ex­posed hill­tops washed over time to bare rock on their jagged edges, rang­ing from 208 hectare Ura­puka­puka Is­land to rock reefs large enough to hold a colony of black-billed gulls.

Cook was en­tranced by the pro­fu­sion of shel­tered bays and in­lets of abun­dance of­fer­ing, ‘ev­ery kind of re­fresh­ment.’ He named the bay pre­cisely as he saw it in 1769; a ‘Bay of Is­lands.’

Piercy Is­land, with its fas­ci­nat­ing drive-through cave, is just one is­land gem in this glo­ri­ous sub­trop­i­cal bay. Six main is­lands dom­i­nate the east­ern side and of­fer won­der­ful cruis­ing, div­ing, fish­ing, camp­ing and hik­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for out­door lovers. Most are pub­lic re­serves man­aged by the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion with open pub­lic ac­cess.

is also known as Rober­ton Is­land. The Maori name trans­lates into ‘the is­land to be de­sired.’ It has a nar­row isth­mus in the cen­tre adorned with two pris­tine blue la­goons, and en­tic­ing beach, su­perb wildlife re­serve and plant­ings of 10,000 trees.

It can be ac­cessed by wa­ter taxi, kayak and jet-ski or pri­vate boat. A well-marked track to­wards the west­ern end of the main beach, Twin La­goon Bay, climbs to an el­e­vated pa site com­mand­ing a 360 de­gree view of the sur­round­ing bay. Trans­port op­tions can be ar­ranged at the Pahia i-SITE of the Rus­sell in­for­ma­tion of­fice.

Cook’s Cove com­mem­o­rates the En­deav­our’s an­chor­age by the is­land. Mrs Rober­ton farmed the is­land in 1841, as­sisted by Thomas Bull. Bull badly treated

his farm­hand, a 16-year-old Maori named Maketu. The tragic re­sult was Maketu’s mur­der of Bull and the en­tire Rober­ton fam­ily.

The grim his­tory is to­tally out of char­ac­ter with to­day’s in­ef­fa­bly beau­ti­ful shel­tered south­ern bay and its su­perb snorkelling trail set in a nat­u­ral crys­tal­clear la­goon.

Mo­tu­rua Is­land is a pic­ture of bliss­ful seren­ity sur­rounded by lu­mi­nous clear blue wa­ter, so trans­par­ent that it seems to merge with the sandy seabed.

The pretty an­chor­age called Hon­ey­moon Bay is a favourite among vis­it­ing yachties.

Pre­his­toric Maori lived well on the is­land, which has 27 recorded ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, in­clud­ing head­land de­fen­sive pa sites, shell mid­dens, gar­dens, ter­races and pits.

Three years af­ter Cook an­chored here, French ex­plorer Mar­ion Du Fresne set up a re­fit­ting base with a forge, tree-felling camp and hospi­tal for three months of ship re­pairs. Ini­tially he re­ceived good co­op­er­a­tion but later mis­un­der­stand­ings over Maori pro­to­col and tapu laws led to a sour­ing of re­la­tions and Du Fresne and 24 of his crew were killed.

The French sacked the pa and sailed away, leav­ing a claim to the land of ‘France Aus­tral’ in a bot­tle buried next to Waipao Stream. The bot­tle has never been found. The claim is in­valid as it post-dates Cook’s procla­ma­tion of sovereignty over New Zealand.

To­day, most of the is­land is a pub­lic re­serve and a 2.5 hour easy hik­ing track goes right around it avoid­ing the pri- vately owned ar­eas. The track passes through re­gen­er­at­ing stands of manuka and kanuka- a lush habi­tat that at­tracts North Is­land robin, fan­tails, sil­ver eyes, finches, tui and spot­ted kiwi.

Mo­tukiekie Is­land, is a small, pri­vately owned and op­er­ated is­land. The east­ern side of­fers a fine an­chor­age. Nor­folk pines and other ex­otic trees pro­vide a pleas­ing con­trast to the in­dige­nous for­est that dom­i­nates the land­scape.

How­ever, there is no pub­lic ac­cess to the in­te­rior and boat own­ers are re­stricted to a land­ing be­low the high wa­ter mark for a land­based lunch stop with no pets or fires al­lowed.

Urupuka­puka Is­land is the bay’s most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion. The is­land is just 7.3 kilo­me­tres from Pai­hia but feels much more re­mote. For boat own­ers, the se­cret is to pack food, drink, rug and sun um­brella, sit on the pure white sand and con­tem­plate what a won­der­ful place this is.

I have en­joyed some stun­ning sum­mer days on the is­land walk­ing to Par­adise and En­tico Bay to the west and Urupuka­puka Bay in the east around some of the 13.5km of coast­line. My ab­so­lute favourite panoramic look­out in the Bay of Is­lands is reached by an easy 10 minute climb to a prom­i­nent hill­top above the wharf at Ote­hei Bay.

Amer­i­can writer and sports­man, Zane Grey was in­vited to come to the al­most land­locked Ote­hei Bay in 1926, where he es­tab­lished his wilder­ness camp and set world records for big game fish. His book Tales of the

An­gler’s El­do­rado was a best seller. Urupuka­puka has three camp­sites avail­able and a camp host is on-site from 22 De­cem­ber to 20 Jan­uary each sea­son. There are show­ers at Ca­ble Bay and Urupuka­puka Bay but not Sun­set Bay and liq­uid or LPG gas cook­ers must be used. There is cell­phone cov­er­age around the is­land.

Fullers Great Sights, the Ex­plore Group and South Pa­cific Sail­ing pro­vide stopovers in Ote­hei Bay on their Hole in

the Rock cruises. Ex­plore of­fer a li­censed cafe, kayak hire, Maori cul­ture tours, his­toric walks and a $20 roundtrip ferry ser­vice for sum­mer campers. Other sail­ing, dol­phin watch and cruis­ing com­pa­nies call in from time to time, mak­ing Ote­hei Bay pretty much the so­cial cen­tre of the bay.

Wae­wae­torea Is­land has a land­ing place in the form of a cres­cent-shaped bay with a spot­less golden sand beach. It’s an ex­cel­lent base for walk­ing, swim­ming and snorkelling.

From the is­land’s sum­mit you look out on an idyl­lic pic­ture post­card scene that em­braces the en­tire bay and ex­tended out to Cape Wiki­wiki, Cape Brett and the dis­tant hori­zon.

At all points of the com­pass there is a dream­like vi­sion of ver­dant is­lands float­ing on a placid sea. Toy sail­boats drift silently over sparkling wa­ters. It is rather like watch­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity scene in an aquatic par­adise of the imag­i­na­tion.

Di­rectly be­low the Wae­wae­torea sum­mit are rock-strewn coves whose mir­ror-smooth wa­ters shine like metal­lic sil­ver in a scene of ut­ter peace and seren­ity. Look­ing out over the vast ar­ray of is­lands it would be hard to vi­su­alise a more beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion for the birth­place and cra­dle of New Zealand as a bi-cul­tural na­tion.

Okahu Is­land, just a stone’s throw across the chan­nel from Wae­wae­torea, of­fers some pro­tec­tion for the other five is­lands in the ar­chi­pel­ago from northerly winds. Its south­ern bay is shel­tered and pro­vides ex­cel­lent snorkelling amongst a high di­ver­sity of reef fish species. In Au­gust the cute lit­tle blue pen­guins nest hap­pily in dark caves. There are no walk­ing trails on this is­land as it is pri­vately owned.

Okahu and the other is­lands are part of Project Is­land Song, the Bay of Is­lands restora­tion project. The aim is to main­tain the is­lands as pest-free sanc­tu­ar­ies in or­der to rein­tro­duce lo­cally ex­tinct na­tive an­i­mals and plants and recre­ate New Zealand as it was orig­i­nally, a pris­tine, un­touched land of birds, de­void of preda­tors.

What­ever part of the mag­nif­i­cent Bay of Is­lands you choose to walk around, the abun­dance of na­ture and pro­lific wildlife will sur­prise you the mo­ment you step ashore. Terns will dart and dive above the shore­line and black-backed gulls keen over­head. The na­tive bush will be cool, still and silent save for the ci­cadas chirrup­ing their vi­brant sum­mer song.

The com­bi­na­tion of lush, green for­est and breath­tak­ing views over the wa­ter, make one re­alise what a huge va­ri­ety of land­scapes there are to take in. I can’t imag­ine just how many in­ti­mate bays and shel­tered coves with bis­cuit­coloured sands there must be along the 800km con­vo­luted coast­line, but I know ev­ery one is worth ex­plor­ing.

Op­po­site page above: ‘Thread­ing the Nee­dle’ is al­ways a thrill at Piercy Is­land. Above: Pai­hia Wharf is the launch pad for is­land walk­ing vis­its. Be­low right: The in­ter­est­ing Project Is­land Song dis­play in Ote­hei Bay.

Above: Wae­wae­torea’s hill­top vis­tas have a semi-trop­i­cal ro­man­tic qual­ity.

Abovve left: Model map of track net­work on Urupuka­puka Is­land. Above right: Sign­post at the track en­try point on Urupuka­puka is­land. Be­low left: Ote­hei Bay has ex­cel­lent ca­ter­ing fa­cil­i­ties for walk­ers.

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