Cruising Guide: Whangarei
Cape Brett to Leigh
Whangarei is a popular stopover for overseas vessels due to a well developed maritime service industry.
The town basin and marina greets traveller's with waterfront cafes and offers 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. New Zealand's first marine reserve was established here in 1985 and it has become home to an extraordinary variety of very contented 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.
On the outer jetties fuel and water are available while the Deep Sea Anglers 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.
The Poor Knights Islands are probably the biggest attraction of the Whangarei coastline. 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. A former NZ navy vessel, the HMNZS Tui, was sunk off in the Whangarei coast to add a wreck dive to the region's attractions.