Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Ocean Beach

North from the cliff top at Ocean Beach

A view inland with the oil refinary in the distance

The site of the radar station

Sylvia’s Comments

After a rainy night the day looked quite fine and we got some views across the bay to Marsden Point, the location of NZ’s only oil refinery, and where we had driven yesterday. Our drive today would take us along the Heads Road, which winds its way passed picturesque bays and coves until it reaches the heads at the harbour entrance some 22 miles away. On the way we passed the sheer rock outcrop of Mt Manaia, the tallest peak in the region at 1,445 feet, which dominates the McLeod Bay. The Lonely Planet describes the walk up this peak as a ‘lung and leg busting 1 ½ hours long, so as I said above, we drove passed it.

At Ocean Beach we walked along the beach and then decided to walk on the three hour twenty minute Bream Head Loop Track. We made a packed lunch and then we were on our way up what we thought was the path, only to find we were heading towards somebody’s home. We did a u turn and went back to look at the notice board again to find it was not very clear where the track began. Eventually we deduced it started by walking along the beach to the end of the bay. Well that is a good start. At the end of the beach we had to make a steep climb up the cliff, good job there was some views for us to keep stopping to look at. We eventually reached the top and could then follow the marked pole track over soggy grassland and going up and up.

After steadily climbing for approximately 30 minutes we arrived at the old radar station, a top secret instillation built here in 1942 to counter the growing threat of invasion by enemy forces. Similar stations were placed around the Hauraki Gulf as a first line of protection. The radar station was to be used in conjunction with a gun emplacement at the harbour mouth should any landings be attempted at Bream Head. This was the only structure visible from sea, the rest of the buildings were higher up away from prying eyes. Twenty five men ran the station, and the thought of having to climb up that hill to get to work would have been enough to put me off volunteering.

On a clear day the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula is visible from here, but not today. We had just got out our sandwiches when the rain started and we had to make a dive for cover in the nearby bush. The track continued climbing and now it was deteriorating to a muddy, steep track over tree roots, which we often used to haul ourselves up to the next level. We were now walking through thick bush, so even the reward of seeing some lovely views had gone. At times we found it difficult to find the path and on a couple of occasions we did wonder if we were still on the track. There were orange markers on the trees and we hoped this was the directional arrows but still had our doubts. In many areas where the pest control traps are set arrows are placed on trees to indicate where the traps are, and people have got lost in the bush following these signs rather than the track markers. (and there were plenty of traps about)

I was walking in front and could see it getting brighter ahead so thought we had nearly reached the top, and then we turned a corner and found another really steep bit over fallen rocks and tree roots. Tears were not far away and I just wanted to get down. It was at this point we contemplated turning around and going back the way we had come, but we knew how steep and muddy the path was behind us and kept hoping that we would soon be at the top. Eventually we found another path branching off and wondered if we were on the small detour to Bream Head as there were no signs indicating where we were. This is unusual for NZ as we have found the track information very good. We walked a little way along it and then decided not to continue as it was now raining heavily and time was moving on. We thought the dark would come in more quickly tonight and just wanted to get off this hill.

If we thought coming up was bad we were now in for a real treat in going down. We had to pick our way very carefully down the steep track made more difficult with the rain and mud. At one point I slipped and managed to wrap my arms around a tree to prevent myself coming down the hill the quick way. Good job I had the camera in my pocket as Jeff would have ensured he took an unflattering photo of me, clinging for dear life to a tree, before offering to haul me back up. Not long after this we could here human voices calling out so realised we must be nearly back in civilisation. We eventually saw a signpost at the bottom of a very steep slope and I had to restrain my self not to rush down just to see where we were. What a disappointment we got when the sign pointed to Peach Cove on one track, Peach Cove car park on the other and Ocean Beach (where we wanted to be) back the way we came. Had we missed the loop track taking us back to Ocean Beach car park?

We decided on the Peach Cove car park track as car parks are usually by roads and at least we could walk back on the road which must be easier. The other thing in its favour was it was still going down hill. The calling out had ended so once more we seemed to be alone on the hill. It was now nearing 4pm (it gets dark about 5.30pm) and a short way down the track we met a man on his way up. He asked us if we had seen anyone on the hill as a couple of his party were missing. We told him we had seen no one but had heard voices a while back. We then asked about the track we were on and where the car park was in relation to Ocean Beach. His reply was quite worrying as he said we had missed our turning and should go back up the hill until we found the sign for Ocean Beach and then follow it. He was a little patronising to us being on the hill with no map. We declined to take his advice and continued on to ensure we got off the hill. Eventually came to our first open spot for a while and with great joy looked out to get our bearings. There on the not too distant horizon was our van; it looked like we would not come out too far away from it.

This put a new spring in our soggy step and we continued on to meet a lady, twenty minutes later, heading up the hill, she was now looking for the man we had met earlier to tell him the two missing walkers had appeared. We were now entrusted to pass a message on to these people at the bottom of the hill as to where she was going. Eventually we emerged onto the road with no sign of any car park about. That did not bother us as we now knew where we were and had only a short walk up the road to reach our van. Once back in the car park we went to look at the walking track sign again to try and work out where we had gone wrong. To our great surprise we had not missed any track and had been on the correct track all the time. The car park we were in was also the Peach Cove car park and where we should have ended. As to our fellow tramper who had been disparaging about us having no map, if we had followed his advice we would have been walking back around the track the way we had come from, and spent at least an extra hour on the hill. What also surprised us that we had completed the track in the three hours and twenty minutes that it indicated, we thought we had been much longer than that. Looking back up where we had been walking, the hill was now shrouded in heavy mist and we were glad to be down safely. With hindsight perhaps Mt Manaia should not have been passed by after all!

We were surprised as to the poor signage on this track, usually at the start of each track there is an indication as to the fitness level required to walk it, if we had known what this one entailed we might not have attempted it. Also we felt it was a lot of effort for little return, once we left the radar station we did not get any views of the harbour and surrounding area. However we were glad to be back even if somewhat damp. After changing out of our wet clothes we drove back along to Parua Bay and then took the road to Patuau South, a small community the other side of the peninsula, at the mouth of the Pataua River.

We found a very large campsite called Treasure Island which seemed apparently deserted. We drove around to look for a site we could use, it was mainly grass sites and with all the rain we knew we would get stuck if we went onto them, let alone mess up the grass. Eventually decided to stay on the wide road way and run our power cables across to the connection. We felt that there would not be a rush of people turning up for sites tonight. Apart from one residential caravan this big site was empty. I would imagine if we came back in January it would be a totally different story.

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