Urupukapuka. I looked at the word. Some part of my mind wanted to blank it out. Didn’t want to know about a word with that many “u”s in it. After years of playing Scrabble, Words With Friends, delving into cryptic crosswords and testing my etymology knowledge on anagrams, I’d decided that “u” was my least favourite vowel and second only to “c” as my least favourite letter, the latter because there are no two letter words containing “c”.
So it was that when I was talking to locals about it or trying to book a boat to take us out there, I started saying, “That island that begins with ‘U’”. After a couple of days I started to feel inadequate and decided to add the word to my vocabulary. Couldn’t be that hard, surely. No, it wasn’t. When you realise that the bulk of it is only the same two four letter words it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. In no time at all I was pronouncing it and flaunting it in conversation as if to show off my new found skill. I hoped the island would be the same when it came to walking.
There are three islands available to the casual traveller and Urupukapuka is far and away the most popular. Research had indicated that the trail was good, though the reviews were mixed and the eating house, the only one on the island, didn’t get rave reviews from hardly anyone. At least I was prepared for that.
We booked the day before we caught the boat; at least the catamaran ferry wasn’t as packed as the Russell boats, but it was still reasonably full as we departed the Paihia wharf under nine tenths cloud. While Lorraine thought they harboured precipitation, my take was that they’d burn off as they’d done the previous day.
That the skipper was a comedian became evident early and we looked forward to his occasional interludes. At one stage he remarked that the Duke of Marlborough, where we’d had a cuppa the day before, was the first licenced premises in New Zealand and that Russell was the first capital, though it was also known as the Hell Hole because of all the debauchery that was partaken in by the lads from the whaling fleets, and others. These days, he said, only nice people lived there. He was one of them.
From Russell it’s a long way to Urupukapuka, around ¾ of an hour, but the time passes quickly as you cruise past one picturesque island after another. Rocks jutting from the water, odd shaped trees, occasional lichen and, in front of every one, all manner of craft, with the accent on yachts, because this is their paradise. 100 sheltered coves, a lee shore around every corner, secluded beaches, for what more could they ask. I ponder the idyll of it and reflect that in two days the bad weather is supposed to roll in. I’m glad I’m based on shore.
Then we’re there, filtering down Otehei Bay to the wharf and everything is new to us as we embark. We’re fortunate that I’d asked the female attendant about tracks on the island and she’d indicated where the maps were and suggested to do the main loop (which was what we’d intended) but add in the Cliff Pa track.
So we trudged off past the eatery and around the back of the restaurant into a number of shacks and we had to ask a young man where do we go from here and he pointed us in the right direction. Apparently we’d come around the wrong side, but we weren’t the only ones. An effervescent American lady of Chinese extraction from Boston asked if she could link up with us because we had a map and knew where we were going, ha, ha.
Then we were at the start of the track, or should I say, tracks, because there were several in fact, but to access all of them you started here…..unless you had your own boat and could pull in anywhere.
The lady couldn’t stop chatting as we ascended the first hill and I guessed, correctly, that our association would be a brief one. We passed through the first gate and made a beeline for the second, our gaze fixed upon a sheep that was scratching itself against the adjacent fence. In doing so we completely ignored a marker post, one of many dotted around the island, and slipped through the second gate. Immediately after there was an intersection in the trail, itself only a mown path through luxurious paddocks.
Somehow it just didn’t seem right but the trail headed uphill, as I’d been told it would, so we must be going in the right direction. At the next intersection we took a 5 minute diversion to a lookout over a bay. While it was nice, nothing prepared us for the 360 degree panorama when we reached the top of the hill. The vastness of the Bay of Islands was apparent from here and our cameras happily clicked away. Then we referred to the map again. I saw people back from where’d come earlier and they were taking an intersection we hadn’t noticed. Immediately it was clear that we’d come the wrong way again but now, having our bearings, it suddenly became obvious. All the trails on the map fell into place.
So we had to backtrack and Chinese lady disappeared over the hill, never to be seen again. We’d only lost about 20 minutes so it wasn’t that bad and as we started the climb from the main intersection I remembered the lady on the boat had said it was a hike up the first hill, something I bore in mind as it ramped up more than a few degrees. It was time to give Lorraine a push or two as we laboured through the first bit of cabbage tree forest we’d come to.
Reaching the top was blessing, because I’d gotten the impression that this was the only major hill around the place and we’d climbed it. Everything else would be a breeze; except we’d soon after come upon another hill and then started descending rapidly, which meant only one thing, we’d have to go back up again at some stage.
The long descent would up at a beach and, referring to the map, we figured we’d gone the wrong way yet again. Lorraine no happy. Actually, I was disappointed as well. We met a family coming the opposite way along the beach and complained about the maps to them. We’d worked out that we were at Paradise Bay, some distance from where we’d hoped to be and we’d just added about an hour to our journey. The family indicated there was a sign not that far ahead and that would hopefully set us right.
And so it did, except that it clearly said “Entico Bay”, while our map said Otiao Bay and had “Indico Bay” written in brackets. Near enough, neither sounded remotely like Paradise Bay. Happiness reigned, we were on the right trail, even if the signs and maps were like an unanswerable puzzle.
We were climbing again, heading towards the recommended Cliff Pa loop and finding it about 10 minutes later. The sign clearly indicated where we were and we turned off with confidence and started heading seriously uphill again, a long, winding trail where the grass hadn’t been manicured for some time. As we gained height, more islands became clearly visible. It was beginning to be the most picturesque portion of the whole walk. In fact, over 1/3 of all photos I took this day were on this section.
The next thing you came to was a steep stairway descent that led to the cliff, the first of a few, only it would more accurately be described as a severe cleft in the rocks. Then you ascended once more to the summit of the cliff on the other side and here were vistas over the bay that exceeded anything we’d seen so far, though that hardly had seemed possible 10 minutes ago.
The climbing and steep downhills were relentless but the rewards were many as our shutters clicked obsessively in an effort to encompass all before us. This was also the most taxing of the entire walk, and that was saying something. At some point we agreed to stop for lunch, though it had only just gone 11. It was atop the final descent from the Cliff Pa Loop before you made your way up to the main loop again and, by the time we reached it, our bodies were sending clear messages that they weren’t entirely happy with the situation.
We still had about 1/3 of our drink supply as we moved up to yet again another cliff, every one seeming more dramatic than the last. At times the trail skirted with edge and when we were in the middle of a forest section soon after we stopped for a drink. As I sat down I had a dizzy spell. Though it lasted only 3-4 seconds it was scary. You couldn’t help but think what might have happened had I been adjacent to a cliff.
At the next intersection where the Pateke Loop meets the Urupukapuka Loop a decision had to be made. I was firm in my decision to go left, a seemingly slightly longer route but it took us over terrain we hadn’t been on before. Though this met with severe disapproval from the other member of our team, for once in our relationship I won out, despite continuing protests for the next 15 minutes.
This would take us past Urupukapuka Bay, one we’d overlooked briefly at the commencement of our journey. Luckily it was the right choice. There were other people for a start, two dads with their 3 young daughters were frolicking along the trail, much to our amusement because the track was riddled with sheep droppings and one of the bubs was barefoot and doing everything she could to avoid the trail. At the bottom of the slope leading to the cove was an unlimited water supply and I gleefully refilled our water bottles and we drank like it was our last on this earth. The joy of drinking plain water had never seemed so good.
Now there was but one hill and one member of our party was suffering as we approached the four hour mark. It seemed every part of her body rebelled against the thought that it had to go further as the sun came out and made us sweat even more, although that’s an area I excel in.
The blessed view of the café at Otehei Bay meant that we only had a relatively short downhill to go and the seats there had never borne two more overjoyed posteriors than ours I beg to suggest.
We had 1 ½ hours to wait for the ferry and as we downed our ginger beer/beer/salt and pepper squid/hot chocolate and magnum we gazed out over the delightful sands and regretted not having a pair of swimmers so we could be even more refreshed, as some others were.
Still, it had been a grand, if tiring, day, the rewards had been many and we had much to retell. We figured it ranked somewhere in our top ten day walks ever.