Legging it to the Lighthouse at Poutu

Yesterday (Tuesday) started out well. The sky was clear and the sun was out and the harbour was calm. This was the day we’d planned on doing the walk to the Poutu lighthouse. We’d been watching the weather forecasts and this had looked like the day. We were soon up and going – the walk is best done at low tide and the tides were just right as well. Clouds did start building up through the morning but the weather turned out good enough. We were away in the car by 9.30am for the last 20kms of unsealed road to Pouto Point which is a small settlement crammed onto the end of the ridge overlooking the entrance to Kaipara Harbour. Somewhere we saw the harbour listed as the biggest in the southern hemisphere. It’s over 60kms long at the wider harbour bits, and it’d be 100kms from Dargaville to Helensville both of which are on tidal bits of river at the north and south ends of the harbour. The harbour mouth is 8.5kms across. Poutu Point is at the end of the longest beach in the country stretching right up to Maunganui Bluff where we’d been a few days ago. It sweeps south right down Ripiro Ocean Beach to North Head at the harbour entrance and then turns the corner and goes east for about 15kms to Pouto Point. All up it is 100kms long. About halfway along the final stretch from the harbour entrance is the lighthouse perched up on top of a sand hill – not your average sand hill but this one is probably 100m above sea level. It is a three-storey wooden lighthouse built in 1884 to try to stop the ships wrecking themselves entering Kaipara Harbour. There are up to 150 shipwrecks thereabouts; it was a busy port and has a huge and treacherous bar guarding the entrance. Poutu Point itself had a signal station and wharf and serviced the lighthouse. There is a camp/park here by the hall that we’d thought about parking at. We realised that it was  lucky we hadn’t – it is on grass and wouldn’t be a good place to park even a car at this time of year. When it dries out it’d be a great spot, looking out over the harbour.

We set out on the 7km walk at 10.30am. At the point where the road goes onto the beach and we turn left to walk to the lighthouse; to the right there was a rock with seals basking on it. I saw the pups first as I went to climb on the rock to take a photo – there were three of them. Then the adult one woke from its snooze and stopped looking like a rock. It wasn’t pleased and we backed off and headed the way we were supposed to go. It’s best when the tide is low as this gives firmer sand for walking on. We had a head wind which stopped us getting properly warmed up. A couple of fishermen drove along the beach a few kms for a day of surfcasting. And somewhere out in the harbour we could see a fishing boat. Apart from that, we had the place to ourselves. We walked along the beach, and then we walked some more.

The Poutu Peninsula is said to be the best remaining sand dune environment left in the country. And at 600 hectares is the largest. DOC does its best to educate people to drive only on the beach below the high tide level to protect the fragile vegetation and the life that it supports. It soon became evident however that this is not an easy task. We could see motorbike tracks all over the place, including in some of the obviously more fragile areas. The tracks were from two and four-wheel vehicles.

At about noon the lighthouse finally appeared above us – phew. It didn’t look far but still took 15 minutes to climb up to. The sand was mostly compacted so the climb was easier than we’d anticipated. The building was locked but provided good shelter from the persistent wind. We sat in the sun enjoying the warmth and reflecting on the people who would have lived here to keep the light going until 1947. The lighthouse has a commanding view of the entire harbour entrance and the bar which stretched across most of the 8.5kms to the other side.

We headed back by 1.30pm and it took just as long to walk back. The wind had dropped and what breeze there was was at our backs. And the sunny intervals increased and it was a lovely afternoon. It was still 7kms back and we stopped somewhere along the way (one bit of beach looks much like another) for a snack. The seals were still resting when we got back to Poutu Point, and we were ready for a rest ourselves. By the time we got back to Kellys Bay and Suzi the day had clouded over – we’d had the best of the day when we wanted it.

We made a few cups of tea and did a few preparations for moving on. And later caught up on Coronation Street – oh oh………….

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