Alvah Simon's Blog: There she blows

23:51, Aug 16 2012
What better way to take in the beautiful views?

In recent blogs I have discussed the excruciating hard work and endless series of tough decision you had to make to purchase and prepare your sailboat for safe and comfortable cruising. You are finally ready, and the last decision you have to make is the fun one - where do we go? In spite of the bookshelf full of world cruising narratives, most sailors are content to explore their own back yard, and will probably never get more than a few hundred miles from home. If you live on the coast of California, that doesn't leave you many options. But here in New Zealand, you can hardly go wrong whichever way the wind blows you.

From Auckland you can escape to the serenity of Waiheke Island and be back home by nightfall. For a longer haul you can catch a westerly to the spectacular Barrier, then south to the Mercury Islands. If you fancy a tropical cruise you can head north along the coast through Kawau, Leigh, and on into the Whangarei estuary. Further north yet there may be, if this is possible, too many anchorages to choose from - Bay Of Islands, Whangaroa, Cavalli Islands- the blessed litany continues to the Cape.

But you only have so many nights available, so you pour over your nautical charts, judging each anchorage by multiple criteria. Does it offer good protection from prevailing wind and waves? Is the holding ground good? Is it accessible to normal cruising routes? Is it usually crowded? Does it offer beautiful scenery? Is it convenient to shore? Are there hiking trails? Is the fishing and diving good? Is there anything of specific geographic or historical interest?

There is one anchorage that ticks all these boxes and a few more. Whangamumu is truly a jewel in the crown of Northland's many fine anchorages. The keyhole entrance protects it from all but a direct northeasterly wind. When cruising north from Auckland it is strategically located just five miles beneath Cape Brett. If the wind is blowing from the north or westerly quadrants, rounding Brett into the BOI can be a hard slog. Whangamumu is a perfect place to hole up until conditions ease.

Once inside that narrow entrance you will find good anchoring depths throughout, plenty of swing room for numerous vessels, and reliable holding ground. There is good beach combing, and a well-marked natural hiking trail that leads from the head of the bay over the saddle to intersect the Cape Brett trail, or carry on straight to the Rawhiti Road. The native bush is lush and the bird-life prolific. The fishing and diving off the entrance rocks should keep the larder full.

But of special interest, to the north side of the bay you will find the historic remains of an old whaling station. Although whaling here was believed to have begun in the mid-eighteen hundreds it wasn't until 1893 that records officially show the three Cook brothers, George, William, and Herbert, shifting their whaling operation from Outu Bay to Whangamumu. Theirs was the only whaling station in the world that used nets as their principal means of catching whales. A long and strong net was stretched between the mainland and, you guessed it, Net Rock to ensnare passing leviathans. The station averaged up to 20 whales a month well into the 1930s and operated until 1940, relatively late by global standards.


With the decline of whale numbers and a waning market for their by-products the facilities closed and gradually fell into ruin. Whatever one might think about commercial whaling, just like the extensive kauri logging, it is an undeniable and integral part of New Zealand's and specifically Northland's history. D.O.C. has made recent efforts to preserve the remnants of that heritage by clearing the area around the ruins and gradually introducing interpretive information.

Apparently Whangamumu's popularity extends much further back in time, for this peninsula is home to at least 40 known prehistoric sites. 

When your active day is done, you can sit back in the cockpit, adult beverage of choice in hand, and to the sound of gentle lapping against the hull survey some of the prettiest scenery the North Island has to offer. That afore-mentioned shortage of nights aside, don't be surprised if it suddenly occurs to you that you might just want to spend an extra one here.


Alvah Simon

Boating NZ