Five surprising things noted about Cape Brett Track

Cape Brett Track is a 16km one-way bush-and-cliff affair in the Bay Of Islands, with a DOC hut and lighthouse perched at the peninsula end, near the factually-named ‘ Hole In The Rock’. I recently took on this monster tramp with maps guy Scoot and my sister Sarah. Back when we were roasting in all that heat, we packed-up and trekked out to the hut for a night and returned next day.

Here’s five surprising things I noted about Cape Brett Track:

– So much forest! Bloody trees, obscuring all the ocean views. I thought the pioneers cut them all down for houses and masts?
– There’s no boot cleaning stations, despite some tracks leading to kauri. Help slow kauri dieback and clean your boots elsewhere before you go. Trees are good!
– How many climbs there are and how steep some of those climbs are. The coast is supposed to be flat!
– The time needed for those last “3km”. “Seriously, we’re going down there to come up again?”. I suspect it was more like 3.5km, maybe 3.6…
– We saw lots of people walking AWAY from the hut into the forest at the end of the day. Ghosts?

Top tramp, expect to be challenged, book before you go

Take a car-less adventure into Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges

Edit: this article pre-dates the rāhui placed on the Waitakere Forest area by Te Kawerau-ā-Maki. Please respect the rāhui.

My first solo mission into the Waitakere Ranges was around Easter 2010, but I lived on the border of the park. Since then, and since moving closer to the city, I’ve undertaken two more trips to sleep in Auckland’s stunning native bush.

Taking the train from the city to Swanson (this tends to speed things up to allow an overnight trip), the start of the ranges and their walking tracks is only a couple of kilometres from the train station. Here, I began two overnight adventures into the park, staying at both Opanuku Pipeline and Pae O te Rangi campgrounds.

1. Opanuku Pipeline Campground

In the winter month of June, I walked Swanson Pipeline Track through the tunnel and joined Opanuku Pipeline Track at the Watercare station, camping the night at Opanuku Pipeline Campground. It’s around 90-120 minutes walk over a mostly easy track, with some occasional testing gradients. Occupying the site where a couple of streams converge, the campsite’s small and flat, slightly damp, but perfect for an overnight stay, away from the gross grey grind of the central city. Here you can lay your head next to the sound of running water, take a walk along the track to the sounds of the bush at night and, if you rise early enough, make the walk on the other side of Mountain Road to Fairy Falls.

Campground facilities stretch as far as a chemical toilet, and tiny information board. Water must be obtained from the stream and boiled before use. There is nothing else here, so don’t show up expecting cafe and dairy.

The following day, I packed up and walked the track back to Christian Road. For a change in route, I took the road back to Swanson. The train had me back in the city in under 24 hours.

Campsite: Opanuku Pipeline Campground
Cost: $8 per person, per night (at time of writing, check Auckland Regional Parks site for latest prices and bookings)
Nearest station: Swanson
Do: take stove, gas and supplies for the duration of your stay. Pack in rubbish and carry it out
Watch: some of the slippy mud and steep grades on Swanson Pipeline Track

2. Pae o te Rangi Campground

The lighter evenings of spring increase one’s walking range, so you can reach further into the park for a camp. Instead of heading through the tunnel on Pipeline, I took the right fork and headed up Peripatus Track. A long and tough ascent awaits those wearing a heavy pack, but the steepest sections are stepped and boardwalked. It can get muddy in the wetter months, so be prepared to trek through some soggy and slippy sections before you reach Scenic Drive at the summit.

On the road, I opted to take a right, for approximately 1km to Pukematekeo for a view back towards the city. Pukematekeo Track then descends the western side of the ranges, through more slippy mud, towards Waitakere Golf Course and car park of the park’s Cascades area. From there it’s under an hour along Whatitiri Track, featuring stream crossings and beaut waterside views, until you reach the Pae o te Rangi camping area. Be careful not to miss the start of Whatitiri Track – if you’re on the Auckland City Walk, you’ve missed it and need to head back to the car park.

Again, this is a basic campground, with toilet and boil-first taps, though also offers some wooden picnic benches and makeshift seating. There’s also, amusingly, a Frisbee/Disc Golf Course right next to the campsite.

To return next morning, I trotted down through the Frisbee Golf Course and farm and out onto Te Henga Road at the car park. From there, I threw a right up Bethells Road, over the bridge and up the hill towards Waitakere. At Waitakere Station, an hourly (on weekends) bus returned me to Swanson Station, where a train delivered me back to the city, again all in under 24 hours!

Campsite: Pae o te Rangi Campground
Cost: $8 per person, per night (at time of writing, check Auckland Regional Parks site for latest prices and bookings)
Nearest station: Swanson (Waitakere will be if ever trains return there!)
Do: take stove, gas and supplies for the duration of your stay. Pack in rubbish and carry it out
Watch: Pukematekeo Track has some incredibly steep and muddy sections in the wetter months, take care with that heavy pack on your back!

These trips require everything need to be carried in a pack: tent, sleeping bag, stove, dinner and all the luxuries (energy snacks) you can muster. Walking fully packed requires a reasonable level of fitness, but that level can be acquired fairly quickly after you first start out. Comfort is key: if anything rubs or digs into an unusual spot, you could be left aching or feeling quite sore, so be sure you have the right fitting gear before you depart.

Although a rigorous experience to the inexperienced, the train service to Swanson really shows the Waitakere Ranges can be enjoyed if you don’t own a car. Sure, Piha and the other west coast beauty spots are further away and unreachable on foot in a day, but breathtaking scenery and lush bush lurks much nearer than you might think. Go explore and have fun!

Dunc’s Big Bike Ride – new map

Dunc's Big Bike Ride Map

When I set off from Mission Bay on ‘the big one’, I didn’t know about the certain intricacies involved with my Samsung (never again!) phone and getting it to record accurate GPS data (tip: some Shamsung models require you to have wifi on, as well as location/GPS settings, to accurately record – who knew?). Luckily I was paying attention where I was going each day and logged each trip manually, using Map My Run (MMR). This gave me fairly accurate distance data and is how I know it’s about 11,000km right around the islands.

The only trouble is downloading MMR’s data to sit on my bike ride map – apparently it really isn’t easy, since it doesn’t include the ‘time’ info. The map’s creators Scoot and Simon tried to simplify a way of plugging MMR files into the original map, but it’s proved faster for me to download these files, run it through Google Earth and chuck it onto my own Google Maps creation. Which is what I bring you here. For the very first time, a complete bicycle circumnavigation of New Zealand, in map form, warts and (some) mistakes and all!

It’s still a work in progress, I might get round to adding stage information and a few pics at some point as well. Enjoy!

Living car-less in Auckland

Opanuku Pipeline Campground

It turns out I’ve been car-less for over three years now. Don’t get me wrong, aside from the eight month bike adventure, I’ve had the use of a mate’s car (almost) whenever needed. But I haven’t owned one. I haven’t commuted in a car, I haven’t needlessly blocked up a car park trying to turn a giant car around and I haven’t run over anyone’s toes with a car. Just some of the things I don’t miss there.

I’m not anti-automobile, aside from their emissions. I can’t support the part of vehicles that literally pipes poisonous gas into the air and chokes school children. No matter how many wallies Amazon chuck on the internet to tell me that choking school children is a necessary cost to which the benefits far outweigh, I’ll never succumb to the exhaust pipe’s tantalising ways. I’m just not that way inclined.

However, I do see the benefit of the little metal pods. When driven respectfully and treated as a privilege, cars help us go many times our normal daily walking range. Far away ends of the country can be accessed in a matter of hours; a journey that would have once taken weeks. When adequately equipped and driven in the right direction, they can save lives. And I’m not going to deny that I made use of several vehicles during my monster bike ride. When the bike inevitably broke down, old el motorist was there to ferry me to the nearest bike shop and back. I’d still be out there somewhere if they hadn’t.

The truth, though, is a lot of us don’t need one. We’ve become accustomed to them, convinced we need one. Our very dependence on them drives us towards a deeper dependence on them, as inactivity leads to poor fitness which leads to poor health and heightened auto-dependency, the circle continues. Break the chain, if you can, when you can.

It’s actually not as difficult as you might think, either. Firstly, try to patiently walk yourself through the mindful removal of yourself from the driver’s seat. Think of your body and consider all it was capable of before we began down the evolutionary path of motoring. Then try to envisage what your strengths might be, if sagging into a springy seat for a few hours after work wasn’t how you travelled; climbing, running, swimming? Our muscles long to be used. Reconnect with yourself, appreciate your body and start dropping in little actions to show it.

While out walking the streets, I often notice the long lines of slow-moving vehicles. Cars are ideal for people who love queuing. Do people love queuing, though? Honestly? I find it funny when motorists complain about an “empty cycle lane”, while failing to see the greater problems a “full road” creates. The cyclists on the cycle lane have arrived already. Try distancing yourself from your habitual tendencies and see if there’s ‘another way’. Perhaps there’s a short journey you often make that you could sub-in a new form of transport for?

It’s unrealistic to suggest everyone gets rid of their car and to expect it happens overnight, but I believe a shift towards more thoughtful motoring is possible. A culture that considers driving as a privilege, not a right, stands to gain more collectively. Thinking outside the box before taking a journey can enlighten and result in some surprising and memorable adventures. You also see more, absorb more and learn more when travelling below 100km/h.

On my car-less journey, I’ve been on some incredible adventures in New Zealand, both in Auckland and beyond. Auckland’s Regional Parks are accessible by public transport, bike and on foot. And some of the national coach services allow you to travel in far greater luxury than your 1990 Speedwagon. From short camping treks in the Waitakere Ranges to a weekend cycle trip to Shakespear Regional Park and a full blown mini-break in Russell, it’s public and clean and healthy transport for the win.

We’re all at different points in our addiction, but as humans, we can all appreciate similar things. Saving money, better health, less stress, hassle-free parking, improved time-management and discovering new local spots are just some of the benefits you’ll stumble across once you begin the weaning process. Start planning that one kilometre walk that you’d normally drive today.