Island Escapes

Urupukapuka, New Zealand
35.2167° S, 174.2167° E

We have a lot of favorites in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, but Urupukapuka is the one place that had it all: protected anchorages, sandy beaches, and idyllic hikes. We’d been intrigued by the melodious name ever since we first visited the area during a week-long sailing reunion with friends, but had to take a rain check on the island on that occasion. Four years later, when we sailed all the way from Maine to New Zealand and made landfall in the Bay of Islands aboard our own sloop, Urupukapuka stood at the top of a very long must-see list.

Urupukapuka is one of those multi-armed, undulating islands that creeps this way and that, resulting in several excellent anchorages to choose from. The twin bays of Otiao and Paradise Bay provide good protection from anything but a strong southwesterly. The glorious scoop of Urupukapuka Bay provides protection from the north and west – not to mention the fact that it faces one of those postcard-perfect New Zealand scenes: a golden strip of sand at the foot of rich emerald slopes dotted with fluffy sheep. Like most of its emerald cousins in the Bay of Island, Urupukapuka is uninhabited – by humans, that is. It’s mix of grasslands and thick native vegetation are home to dozens of species of the birds New Zealand is famous for – like the tui, with its distinctive, gong-like call and tuft of white feathers on an otherwise black throat. You’ll also find thick stands of pohutukawa, a tree that explodes with red blooms just in time for Christmas.

Urupukapuka is also the biggest island in the Bay of Islands, which means visitors can stretch their legs on hikes ranging from one to several hours – heaven for sailors badly in need of a land fix after a long season crossing the earth’s largest ocean. The rolling terrain makes for a good workout, especially if you head to the remains of a Maori pa (fortified village) high above the spectacular cliffs of the northwest coast. Not far from the Otiao Bay anchorage, there’s even a duck blind from which to “shoot” the photogenic birds that come to sip and splash in the marshlands. Near Cable Bay on the southeast side of the island, we spent a hushed hour beside a protected Maori burial site that seems to look out over eternity.

During the summer, the bays are packed, but in the fall of our season in the land of the long white cloud, we had the place to ourselves. In fact, we spent most of our last month in New Zealand anchored in Urupukapuka Bay, happily working down our job list before heading out for another season in the tropics. After a quick run into nearby Opua or Paihia for parts and supplies, we’d turn around and head back out to the island paradise – a place we still visit in our dreams, now that we’re back to life ashore.

(This article originally appeared in Blue Water Sailing magazine’s January 2017 issue.)