How Hard Is The Cape Brett Lighthouse Hike? (My Experience)

Tristan Balme how hard is the cape brett light house hike

I highly recommend the Cape Brett Lighthouse Track – It’s one of the best hikes I’ve ever done, but its also remote, challenging, and incredibly barren in the winterless north.

The Cape Brett hike is classified as ‘advanced’ on the Department of Conservation website and for good reason. The walk is 16.3km each way along undulating ridge lines, with constant ups and downs, and little protection from the elements. The hut is also known to often not have water, so you’ll need to pack in enough for 2 days. That said, if you pack well and take your time, I believe this is one of the most epic hikes in Northland.

But is it as hard as everyone say it is?

In this guide, I’ll share how i found the Cape Brett hike and give some recommendations on how hard it is, and what to watch out for when you tackle it.

Read more: In this article, I share my complete guide to the Cape Brett hike.

Where is the Cape Brett Lighthouse?

The Cape Brett Lighthouse is located in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. It is situated on the eastern side of the Cape Brett Peninsula, which is located at the end of the Oke Bay Track.

The starting point for the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike is at Rawhiti (Te Rawhiti Marae), which is located on the eastern side of the Bay of Islands. You can also start the hike from Deepwater Cove, which is accessible only by boat.

Here are the driving times to Cape Brett Lighthouse from nearby cities:

  • From Auckland: approximately 3.5 hours
  • From Russell: approximately 1 hour
  • From Whangarei: approximately 1.5 hours

History of Cape Brett Lighthouse?

The Cape Brett Lighthouse was built in 1908 and completed in 1910 to guide ships through the dangerous waters of the Bay of Islands. The lighthouse was manned for many years until it was automated in 1978. Today, the lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction and hiking destination.

The old lighthouse keeper’s accomodation has been refurbished into a department of conservation hut, called the Cape Brett Hut. It is available for overnight stays and can accommodate up to 23 people. It is recommended to book in advance, as the hut can fill up quickly during peak summer.

Tristan Balme Hiking past the cape brett lighthouse

Route Options

There are three main route options for hiking to the Cape Brett Lighthouse: from Oke Bay/ Te Rawhiti Marae, from Deepwater Cove via water taxi, or a mix of both. Each route has its own unique features and challenges.

From Te Rawhiti Marae / Oke Bay

This route starts from Te Rawhiti Marie and is approximately 16 km long. This route is the most challenging and takes around 8-10 hours to complete each way. The route is steep and rugged, with several hills to climb and descend. The trail is also quite exposed, so it is important to be prepared for changing weather conditions.

You’ll need a permit from the DOC website to access the first 10km of the track, from Te Rawhiti Marae to the Deep Water Cove turn-off as this part crosses private land.

From there, you’re back on DOC land and don’t need a permit.

From Deepwater Cove

The Deepwater Cove route is approximately 6 km long and takes around 4 hours to complete each way. This route is less challenging than full route but still requires a moderate level of fitness. The trail is well-maintained and offers stunning views of the Bay of Islands.

This cove is accessible by private boat or water taxi from Paihia.

A Mix of Both

For those who want to experience both routes, there is an option to hike from Rawhiti to Deepwater Cove and then take a water taxi back to Te Rawhiti marae. This route is approximately 22 km long and takes around 10-12 hours to complete, plus the time taken in the water taxi. This route offers a good balance of challenge and scenery.

Tristan Balme the trail head at cape brett lighthouse hike
Tristan Balme travelling along the ridgeline on the cape brett hike
Photo of Oke Bay – the start and end of the full hike
Tristan Balme deep water cove along cape brett

How Hard is the Cape Brett Lighthouse Hike?

The difficulty of the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike depends on several factors, such as your level of fitness, experience, and the time of year you visit. Here are some factors to consider:

My Take: I’m pretty fit and didn’t take much notice of the ‘Advanced’ rating on the DOC website. My mistake! This hike was hard going with a heavy pack on a scorching day and took me and my friend the best part of the full 8 hours. So my advice here is not to underestimate it.

For a Novice Hiker

For novice hikers, the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike can be quite challenging. The full route is particularly difficult, with several hills to climb and descend. The Deepwater Cove route is less challenging but still requires a moderate level of fitness.

That said, it’s only a 1 night hike and we’re talking generally mild northland conditions so you don’t need the best gear or the lightest pack.

My recommendation: I’d say this hike is a good option for novices, but maybe not if it’s your first overnight hike.

For Experienced Hikers

Experienced hikers will find the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike to be moderately challenging. The full 16km route is steep and rugged turning what would normally take 4-5 hours into closer to 7-8.

Recommendation: If you’re experienced you won’t have any issues here, but also don’t be cocky. pack well and leave plenty of time and daylight.

For Unfit People

For those who are unfit, the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike can be extremely challenging. The full route from te rawhiti s not recommended for those who do not have a good level of fitness, as it involves steep climbs and descents. You’ll also need to pack in your food and sleeping equipment so you’ll be doing these ascents and descents with a heavy pack.

Recommendation: If you’re not sure if you’ll be fit enough, i’d recommend taking the water taxi and starting and finishing the hike at Deep Water Cove.

During Peak Summer

During peak summer (December to February), the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike is often fully booked. This is the best time of year to do the hike (in my optionion) but you’ll be battling the heat and sun. Be prepared for 30-degree-plus days and little sun shelter. Also be prepared for there to be no water at the hut, so bring enough for both days hiking, cooking, cleaning, and drinking.

Difficulty Factors

Here are some factors that contribute to the difficulty of the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike:

Difficulty FactorDescription
DistanceThe distance of the hike depends on the route you choose. The full route is approximately 16 km, while the Deepwater Cove route is approximately 6 km each way
DurationThe duration of the hike also depends on the route you choose. The full route takes around 8-10 hours to complete each way, while the Deepwater Cove route takes around 4-6 hours.
HillsBoth routes involve several hills to climb and descend. The Marae route is particularly steep and rugged.
WeatherWeather conditions can change quickly on the Cape Brett Peninsula. It is important to be prepared for changing weather conditions and to bring appropriate gear.
Water SupplyThere only water along the trail is at the Cape Brett brett hut and is rainwater collected from the hut roof. This often runs dry during summer, so it is important to bring enough water for the entire hike.
TerrainThe terrain of the Cape Brett Peninsula is rugged and exposed, with several hills to climb and descend.
SeasonsThe best time to hike the Cape Brett Lighthouse is during the late summer (February to April), when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.
Tristan Balme ending the cape brett lighthouse hike at the lighthouse

Distance

The distance of the hike depends on the route you choose. The full route is approximately 32 km return, while the Deepwater Cove route is approximately 12 km.

Duration

The duration of the hike also depends on the route you choose. The full route takes around 6-8 hours each way, while the Deepwater Cove route takes around 3-5 hours each way.

I was doing the hike with a friend (so we were a group of two) and took almost the full recommended 8 hours. TBH i thought we’d move a bit fast but the hills and the heat got to us.

Hills

Both routes involve several hills to climb and descend. The full route is particularly steep and rugged.

I consider myself reasonably fit but struggled a lot more than i thought i would. depending on the weather some steep sections are very slipper (from either mud or dust) so be careful and wear good shoes

Weather

Weather conditions can change quickly on the Cape Brett Peninsula. It is important to be prepared for changing weather conditions and to bring appropriate gear.

When I did the walk it was blisteringly hot. I was very thankful for my wide brimmed hat and had packed enough clothes to cover up from the sun.

Likewise, i’ve heard of people getting caught in high winds and driving rain, so always pack warm and wet weather clothing just in case.

Water Supply

There is no water supply on the Cape Brett Peninsula, so it is important to bring enough water for the entire hike.

Cape Brett hut has rain water collection from the hut roof, however, in summer this is known to run out quickly.

When I did the hike there was no water at the hut. We packed 4L each, but had drunk most in the first day.

The second day we were VERY thirsty!

Terrain

The terrain of the Cape Brett Peninsula is rugged and exposed, with several hills to climb and descend.

Seasons

The best time to hike the Cape Brett Lighthouse is during the late summer (February to April), when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.

Seasons are a factor to consider because they can affect the weather and the number of hikers on the trail. When I hiked the Marae route during the late summer, the weather was mild and pleasant. There were also fewer hikers on the trail, which made it easier to find quiet spots to rest and enjoy the scenery.

Tristan Balme the doc hut at cape brett
Tristan Balme Cape brett hut by cape brett lightouse
Tristan Balme doing the cape brett hike
Tristan Balme cape brett hut at sunrise
Tristan Balme cape brett pano

6 Tips to Make Your Cape Brett Hike More Enjoyable

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Cape Brett Lighthouse hike:.

1. Pack Smart (and Light)

It is important to pack smart and bring only the essentials for the hike. Make sure you have enough water, food, and appropriate gear.

2. Stay Hydrated

There is no water supply on the Cape Brett Peninsula, so it is important to bring enough water for the entire hike.

3. Cover Up from the Sun

The Cape Brett Peninsula is quite exposed, so it is important to protect yourself from the sun. Wear a hat, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing.

4. Book for Late Summer

The best time to hike the Cape Brett Lighthouse is during the late summer (February to April), when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.

5. Be Prepared for Changing Weather

Weather conditions can change quickly on the Cape Brett Peninsula. It is important to be prepared for changing weather conditions and to bring appropriate gear.

6. Take Plenty of Photos!

The Cape Brett Peninsula offers stunning views of the Bay of Islands. Be sure to bring a camera and take plenty of photos!

Cape Brett Lighthouse Hike FAQ:

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike:

Q. How Long Does the Cape Brett Walk Take?

A. The duration of the hike depends on the route you choose. It’s usually done as a 2 day one night hike. The full route takes around 8-10 hours each way to complete, while the Deepwater Cove route takes around 4-6 hours each way.

Q. How Hard is the Cape Brett Walk?

A. The difficulty of the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike depends on several factors, such as your level of fitness, experience, and the time of year you visit. The Department of Conservation website rates it an ‘advanced’ hike and having walked it myself (whilst being pretty fit) would agree that it’s a difficult walk.

Q. How Do I Get to Cape Brett Lighthouse?

A. The Cape Brett Lighthouse is located in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. The best way to get there is by car to the trailhead, and then walk the 16km each way trail to the lighthouse. Alternatively, you can catch a watertaxi to deep water cove and walk the remaining 5km, or, if the tides allow it, taxi to an old concrete peir at the bottom of the cliffs below Cape Brett hut.

Q. When Was the Cape Brett Lighthouse Built?

A. The Cape Brett Lighthouse was built in 1910 to guide ships through the dangerous waters of the Bay of Islands. It was decomissioned and automated in 1978.

Q. How Much Does it Cost to Go to Cape Brett Track?

A. The cost of the Cape Brett Lighthouse hike varies depending on the route you choose. the hut pass is $15 and the track permit is $40. If you take the Deep Water Cove route, then you’ll save $40 on the permit but will need to pay at least $40 – $200 for a water taxi (dependingof course on how many people you share the boat with).

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