Nearest town: Tolaga Bay, 2km North
Type of track: there and back
Official distance: 5.8km
Official time: 2.5 hours
Jenny’s time: about 4.5 hours
Toilets: at the wharf 200m from the carpark, and the website says there’s one at the cove but I don’t remember it!
Tips: The track is closed for lambing from August 1 to Labour Weekend (end of October) every year.
“Ahhhhh!” Splat. “Oooof! Aw, shit,” I said, as I went down, feet flying out from under me on the downhill slope, sliding on the slippery mud that lay beneath the thin wet grass.
I sat in the mud, moisture soaking quickly through both my pants and my underwear and making my bum very cold and wet.
The cows nearby stared, and I swear the corners of their mouths were twitching, as if they were trying to hold back their laughter. And why wouldn’t they have a good chuckle at this intruder to their paddock who’d gotten what she deserved for wanting to hike on such a drizzly day?
I got up, carefully, not wanting to fall again. At least the mud was, well, mud, and thus very soft. My bum didn’t even hurt.
I realized that brushing the mud off myself with hands covered in the stuff wasn’t going to do me any good, so I gave up and continued cautiously down the hill to the carpark so I could change my pants.
The Cook’s Cove Walkway was deserted at this time of year, the chilly grey weather of late July turning people off driving the hour from Gisborne to come here. It was one of the most quiet and peaceful places I’ve ever been.
In the summer I can imagine the Cook’s Cove Walkway would be busy, the short but steep trail constantly trodden by people drawn to this site that is not only stunningly beautiful but also historic, named after Captain James Cook after he stopped in Tolaga Bay to resupply his ship in October of 1769.
The resident cows stared me down as I climbed steadily up the winding track through the farm and over the hillside to the lookout point, with spectacular views of the cove. Cheeky old me escaped the barrier to get views back down into Tolaga Bay, but be very careful if you do this! Those cliffs are high. Keep a tight hold of small children up here.
Descending from the lookout I was entranced by the gorgeous trees lining the track, their bare arms reaching haphazardly to the sky, tiny silvereyes playing amongst them. Then, emerging into a small clearing, some fantails followed me down the track like tiny, playful but skittish puppies. A yellowhammer perched on a tree, then closer to me on a stump. A few European goldfinches hunted for worms in the grass. The birder in me was thrilled.
There’s plenty to explore in Cook’s Cove, starting with the ‘hole in the wall’, a small cave going right through the cliff. At low tide it’s easy enough to climb over the rocks and logs and go through the hole to Tolaga Bay on the other side, although it’s not possible to go any further. Shags (cormorants) hang out on the rocks here.
Sign boards here and further into the cove tell about Captain Cook’s visit to Tolaga Bay. In 1769 there were an estimated 1200 people living in the Tolaga Bay area, and unlike in other places in New Zealand, the interactions between the crew of the Endeavour and the local Maori were quite positive here.
Following the track up the hill at the back of the cove, I passed a small pond and then found the Cook memorial and a spectacular view of the whole area.
Back down in the cove itself, I spotted a heron perched on a log in the middle of the sandy delta created by a stream that runs through the fields to the ocean.
I approached carefully, quietly, taking just a couple of steps at a time, then stopping to take a couple of pictures before advancing again. It was important not to alarm him, wanting to get as close as possible for that ultimate close-up bird shot while still being ready for his inevitable take-off.
And he did take off, settling on a log a little bit further away, and on the other side of the stream that I could not cross without getting my feet wet. Smart bird.
But then another one joined him, soaring in while I was examining the photos I’d already taken, sneaking onto the same log so that when I looked up I was surprised to see that my single heron had doubled.
I looked around, and still there were no other people around to disturb the birds. I was free to sneak up on them as many times as I wanted, happily stalking the birds until I got that perfect shot.
And you could, too.