Story: Northland places

Page 17. Bream Bay and environs

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Bream Bay

Expanse of water on the Northland coast south of Whangārei and within the tribal area of Ngātiwai. The 495-m bluff of Bream Head at its northern end marks the entrance to Whangārei Harbour. It is the final prominence of a 10-km range that forms one of the country’s most striking coastal skylines. Bream Tail marks the southern end of the bay. North from Bream Tail the sweep of shore accommodates a succession of beaches – Langs Beach, Waipū Cove, and Ruakākā. The bay was named by Lieutenant James Cook in 1769, although it is likely the fish in question were actually snapper.

Mangawhai Harbour

Inlet 2 km south of Bream Tail. It is the estuary of the Mangawhai River. The beach settlement of Mangawhai Heads is adjacent, and the farming locality of Mangawhai is 10 km up the estuary and 14 km by road from a junction with State Highway 1 at Kaiwaka.

Hen and Chickens Islands

Group of islands 22 km offshore from Bream Bay. The largest and southernmost is known as Hen Island (Taranga). 385 m at its highest, it rises from the sea like a tall blue mountain. The surrounding waters are popular for scuba diving. The Chickens Islands (Marotiri) extend in a 2-km band from west to east: West Chicken (Māuitaha), Lady Alice (or Big Chicken), Whatapuke (Middle Chicken), and Coppermine Island. Sail Rock (Tuturu) lies 3 km south of Hen Island.

Named by Cook in 1769, the Hen and Chickens Islands were originally owned by the Ngātiwai people, but were purchased by the government in 1883. They were declared scenic reserves in 1920 because of their valuable plant and animal life. The islands are now the Hen and Chickens Nature Reserve, notable for their tuatara (lizard-like reptiles), seabirds and tīeke (saddlebacks). To protect endangered fauna and flora, landing on the islands is allowed only by permit from the Department of Conservation. The Canadian–Australian mail liner Niagara sank nearby in June 1940 after hitting a German mine.

Waipū stories

As a teenager, New Zealand writer Fiona Kidman lived for two years among the descendants of Norman McLeod’s followers at Waipū. Haunted by their stories, she later researched and wrote a novel which explores the lives of women in a moralistic community. The book of secrets (1987) won the fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards in 1988.


Township 2 km inland from Bream Bay, 41 km south of Whangārei. It was founded in the mid-19th century by Scottish settlers from Nova Scotia, led by the charismatic preacher Norman McLeod. Facing economic hardship in Canada, the group went first to Australia and then to New Zealand. In 1854 they secured land at Waipū, and were joined by more Scots from Nova Scotia and Scotland. Waipū commemorates its heritage through a museum, the Waipū House of Memories, and events such as the annual Waipū Highland Games which have been held since 1871. Waipū is now a farming centre.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland places - Bream Bay and environs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015