Driving north from Auckland, Highway 1 (SH 1) is a fairly unremarkable stretch of road until approximately 30km north of Wellsford where it reaches Brynderwyn and winds its way up and over the Brynderwyn Range. This ridge, while not an official boundary, marks for us at least, the beginning of ‘The North’ and we’re always filled with a sense of excitement when we catch that first glimpse of Bream Head from the top of the pass as it means we’re off to do something exciting.
As you get closer to Whangarei and start to make out the detail of Bream Head and nearby Mount Manaia you may well be saying to yourself ‘That looks interesting, I wonder if I could climb those mountains? The good news is yes you can, and if you’re in the Whangarei area with time on your hands, you definitely should. While both Bream Head and Mount Manaia are accessible, Bream Head and a visit to Ocean Beach is more of a day affair whereas Mount Manaia is a fairly quick climb, but you better like steps, and lot’s of them.
The track which starts near the Mt Manaia Country Club on Whangarei Heads Road, about 30 km east of Whangarei, is only 3.5 km in total from the car park to the summit and back. It’s very well formed and easy to follow, and you can expect to take 2 – 3 hours. That said, it seems to be a popular jogging spot with locals and who can blame them – it beats spending 2 hours on a step machine in the gym staring at the wall or a TV screen. However, being popular with both locals and visitors means that the track can get fairly busy so our advice would be to tackle this early. Not only is it cooler, but you’ll also get to enjoy a spectacular sunrise if the weather’s as good as it was on the day we climbed the mountain.
For most of the track you’ll be climbing steadily through regenerating bush with only the occasional glimpse of the views about to unfold. But once you reach the first of the rocky outcrops and emerge from the bush you’ll finally get to see how high you’ve climbed. The track continues along the ridge until you reach a final set of wooden stairs which will lead you on to a viewing point for the final big reveal with panoramic views of Whangarei Harbour to your west and Bream Head to the southeast. In the far distance you’ll also see the jagged outline of Taranga Island, part of the Hen & Chicken group of islands. Interestingly, all of these peaks including Mt Manaia are the remnants of a large volcano estimated to have been some 50 km in diameter. It’s a little hard to imagine, but you’ll get a sense of scale when you’re up there.
For most, the rocky viewpoint is as far they’ll go, but if you like to explore and have a head for heights there is in fact a ‘hidden’ path which continues further along the ridge. We won’t give away too many details and spoil your adventure but the photo below gives a little hint of what to expect as you continue along the ridge. Enjoy, but be safe.