Having a whale of a time on the Whangamumu Track

Luckily for us, New Zealand has a plethora of short walks that criss-cross public land. The Department of Conservation and regional councils maintain these walks and you can find them pretty much anywhere around the country. On a recent trip to the Bay of Islands in Northland, we walked on one such track to Whangamumu Harbour and its old whaling station.

The trailhead is on Rawhiti Road, about half an hour’s drive east of Russell in the Bay of Islands (see map below). You can park on the side of the road as we did, or for a small fee the property next to the trail offers secure parking.

Whangamumu Scenic Reserve Track

Whangamumu Scenic Reserve Track

The walk to the Old Whaling Station, located inside Whangamumu Harbour, takes about an hour (the Department of Conservation always overestimates the times a little bit!). The first part of the track heads through a regenerating wetland and climbs the hill away from the road, and you quickly become enveloped in New Zealand bush. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the beautiful song of native birds such as the tui.

Walking through New Zealand bush, Whangamumu

Walking through New Zealand bush, Whangamumu

Because mountain bikes are also allowed on the Whangamumu track, there are no steps, so it can be tough going grinding up the hill to the top, especially on a hot, humid day like we experienced! But once you get there, a spectacular view over the harbour and down the east coast awaits you. The rest of the track is downhill to the water, so the thighs get a bit of a workout, but the reward of gently lapping water on a nice beach is all worth it.

The old whaling station is a further five minute walk along the beach and up and over a small headland to the next bay around. Many relics remain in the bay from the station that operated from 1893 to 1940, including a rusting steel boiler, concrete vats, and a ramp from the sea where the whales were dragged up into the station to be butchered. Whangamumu whalers caught about fifty humpback whales per year, and it was the only whaling station in the world to catch whales by net.

It was quite surreal standing in a place with such a horrific history, and seeing the information boards with photos of huge whale carcasses taken from the same perspective. Quite creepy really. After seeing humpbacks in the wild off the coast of Massachusetts last year, we couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to kill such magnificent creatures.

Humpback whale at Gloucester, MA

Humpback whale at Gloucester, MA

Shaking off dark thoughts of the past, we hiked back to the main beach and had a nice picnic lunch under a huge pohutukawa tree. These massive, gnarly native trees are dotted along the coast of the top half of the North Island, and have brilliant red flowers at Christmas-time (hence their nickname, New Zealand’s Christmas Tree). After a rest and a feed we headed back up the hill the way we came. It was seriously humid so we were nice and sweaty by the time we reached the top!

Back down the other side to the car took no time at all, and a well-earned cold beer was had upon our return to our holiday home. The Whangamumu Track is by no means a difficult walk, but it’s enough to get the blood pumping on a steamy summer day in the Bay of Islands. If you’re super keen, you can tack the walk onto the popular Cape Brett Track, an arduous 16 km, 8 hour walk along the length of nearby Cape Brett Peninsula.

We’ll save that for another time!

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