While preparing the itinerary for our trip to the North of New Zealand, I randomly found photos of Whangaroa Harbour taken from the top of Duke’s Nose. The views were fantastic with many hiking options, so I added Duke’s Nose trek to our list of things to do in the Bay of Islands region. We hiked all the way back to Totara and had a splendid day in this underrated region.

Distance: 7 km
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: moderate

Disclaimer: The hiking time and difficulty are based on our experience. We are experienced hikers with a good level of fitness, used to hiking long distances and scrambling. We possess good navigation skills and use a Garmin watch* with a GPS navigation map. Always check the park alerts and notes, as trail conditions change over time, which may affect the hike’s level of difficulty.

Whangaroa Harbour - Wairaku Track

Our plan was to drive to Totara North, catch a boat to Lane Cove, climb Duke’s Nose trek and hike back to Totara.

We initially wanted to do that in half a day, but I am glad we finally allowed more time for the walk as Duke’s Nose trek is so beautiful that it would have been silly not to take breaks to admire the views. It’s never mentioned in the best hikes of New Zealand, which makes it a quiet and peaceful place to admire the views.

Whangaroa Harbour, the start of Duke’s Nose trek

Whangaroa Harbour is not on the usual list of popular tourist New Zealand Northland destinations. After checking it out, I believe it is a hidden gem in the region. The scenery is outstanding with kilometres of wild, untouched land and spectacular cliffs. The woman we met at the Whangarei tourist information centre mentioned she likes kayaking in this area. We did not have time for that, but I have no doubt that it would be a great activity there!

We booked a water taxi from Totara North to Lane Cove ($20 per person, phone or text Tony on 027 680 5588). Exploring the harbour by boat was an amazing way to start discovering the beauty and the magnitude of the unspoilt harbour. Vegetation is very dense, and the few cabins we could see now and then were very isolated (no road – only accessible by boat). I was very excited to start hiking in such a remote and stunning area.

As we were approaching Lane Cove, Tony pointed to the Duke’s Nose overlooking the harbour: an easily recognisable rock that – from a certain angle – looks like the profile of a man’s face.

There is no wharf at Lane Cove, but we luckily got off the boat without getting our shoes wet thanks to Tony’s skills and the high tide. Then Tony went away, leaving us in the wild. We only met three other hikers exploring Duke’s Nose trek that day.

Duke’s Nose trek (also named Kairara Rocks hike)

Duke’s Nose trek is only 500m one way. More info on the track.

The route to Duke’s Nose starts just behind the hut. The forest is very nice, with big ferns and plenty of vegetation that we are not used to seeing.

Up to the bottom of the rock, it is not a hard walk although it gets very slippery after wet weather. The last 10 metres are much more challenging as it is very close to rock climbing up a cliff face, with a few metres at the beginning that are nearly vertical. It was harder than I expected, and I was glad I trained to fight my fear of heights.

The last meters to the top of Duke’s Nose are almost vertical

I clearly underestimated Duke’s Nost trek.

I had learnt during the past few years to control my height phobia, and this was a good exercise to measure my progress… Although the rock has cracks and bumps and there is a chain to make the climb easier, it was not simple at all with our big slippery hiking boots.

However, Duke’s Nose trek is worth the effort: I loved the feeling of accomplishment once I reached the top. What a great surprise to find a large and flat area up there! I was able to enjoy the 360° view without thinking too much about the height. The scenery of the harbour and the cliffs below us was breathtaking. We spent at least 45 min at the top, and I could have stayed a lot longer if I did not have in mind that our lunch was in the car…  parked approximately 3 hours from there!

View from the top

Going down was even harder than going up, not from a technical point of view but more from an “I-don’t-want-to-look-down” point of view, and because I did not want to abseil. In total, it took us 2 hours to return from Lane Cove (with many photo breaks and 45mn at the top).

Wairakau Stream Track back to Totara North Wharf in Whangaroa Harbour

6km one way. More info on the track.

After climbing Dukes Nose, we tramped Wairakau Stream back to Totara North wharf where we caught the boat in the morning – and parked our car. The route goes up and down, and the only difficulty would be to cross the stream without getting too wet. Waterproof hiking shoes* are recommended.

Crossing the stream

I loved this tramp for its diversity: we started with great views of the bay and then went through very different types of vegetation: fern forest, along the mangrove, across the stream, in a large grassy area… It was continuously changing!

It took us around 3 hours to go back to our car (again with photo stops and snack breaks).

Spend the night in Whangaroa

We didn’t have time to stay for the night, but it would have been lovely. There aren’t that many hotels in Whangaroa so make sure you book in advance. Click here to see availabilities*.

Where are Whangaroa Harbour and Duke’s Nose trek?

Whangaroa Harbour is located in the northwest of Auckland (4-hour drive), on the east coast of the Far North district, between Bay of Islands and Doubtless Bay.

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Eloise is the creator and writer of MyFavouriteEscapes.com. She writes about her experiences exploring exotic destinations and finding hidden gems closer to home. Her goal is to share tips and stories to inspire and encourage others to go on their own adventures. She loves outdoor and nature-based activities like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. She grew up in France and has lived in England and Turkey before calling Australia home for the past decade. So let's get ready for another adventure!

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