If you’re local to Auckland and looking for a convenient fishing escape off the beaten track, you'll struggle to do better than Mangawhai.
Less than an hour and a half’s drive from the big smoke of Auckland, set against a backdrop of captivating sand dunes and the deep blue yonder lies a magical slice of white-sand coastal paradise.
But enough about the scenery; the real reason to hook up a boat and head to Mangawhai is, of course, the fishing. Its handy location puts epic fishing destinations like the Mokohinau’s, the Hen and Chicks and Sail Rock all within reach of the mid-sized trailer boat fleet. Who needs steak when you can dine on snapper, crayfish, kingfish, kahawai, trevally and gurnard to name a few.
As I’ve been lucky enough to have family with holiday homes in this magic spot so I’ve been able to enjoy more than my fair share of good times and good fishing over the last few decades. When I was handed the keys to a brand new Mazda BT-50 GLX double cab and asked to tow a boat somewhere fishy, only one destination came to mind.
A great day for it
Having heard my cousin Mike “Skitzo” Kitson was heading out fishing from Mangawhai that weekend I unabashedly invited myself along. Being a good sort, this wasn’t a problem for Skitzo and less than two hours later I found myself loading my abundance of fishing gear into his well-equipped Surtees 610 Gamefisher.
When combined with Skitzo’s impressive arsenal we had enough gear on board to sink a lesser vessel. Feeling suitably prepared for anything, the Surtees was hooked up to the trusty Mazda BT-50’s tow ball and we headed for Mangawhai Heads at the leisurely hour of 11am – to coincide with the tides of course.
Mangawhai's one of those places "you always meant to visit".
But, we couldn’t head out without first picking up the bloke who’d introduced us to Mangawhai’s magical charms in the first place - Skitzo’s father, “Fossyl”. Thankfully Fossyl only bought one rod.
We made our way to the sheltered estuary where the three-lane, all-tide concrete ramp and complimentary floating pontoon made for a laid-back launch with ample parking for the truck and trailer.
As the wind died out completely, the lure of flicking a soft-bait out became overwhelming. A few casts with a 5/8 ounce jig head and 5 inch Berkley Gulp jerk shad in Sapphire Shine saw a couple of blue cod and a lone gurnard added to the menu.
We enjoyed the scenery and good-natured banter while huge schools of bait fish sought refuge beneath the boat. It was certainly an encouraging sign that we were in the right spot, but strangely there were no kingies or kahawai out for a free feed. The six-foot mako shark that showed up a short time later soon solved that riddle.
With Sail Rock’s sailing ship-like silhouette rising steeply out of forty odd metres of open ocean to stand 138m tall above sea-level, it’s a prime hunting ground for hungry pelagics. Many a good kingfish have been caught around the island and surrounding pins as well.
Despite the steely eyed mako’s interest in our catch a few friendly prods with the net handle soon saw him looking elsewhere for afternoon tea. With enough to feed our families for a few days last bait was called with just enough time to get home for our fish dinner.
A big south-westerly blow overnight meant the bar was pleasantly flat and with the residual 10 knot SW forecast due to die out and clear blue skies overhead, we were certainly going to enjoy the adventure – whether we caught fish with all those rods or not.
The offer to test drive the big red Mazda BT-50 GLX initially presented me with a convenient excuse to escape. It’s fair to say I actually felt guilty as I loaded up the fishing rods, strapped the chilly bin and tackle box into the tray and closed the tail gate, but living in a converted tin shed with my wife, two young boys and a puppy, while waiting for a house to be built, meant luxuries like privacy and quiet were distant memories.
The guilt trip was short-lived once I climbed into the spacious double cab, pressed the start button and shifted to drive. Residing deep in Auckland’s wild west meant the back road through State Highway 16 was the shortest and by far the most suited route to the BT-50’s skill-set.
With the 3.2 litre common-rail turbo diesel offering 147kw of power, 470Nm of torque and a six speed automatic transmission there was plenty underfoot as I happily weaved my way through the scenic, yet hilly route.
Despite its size the BT-50’s handling and fuel economy was impressively car-like with minimal body roll through the hang-on-tight corners approaching Wellsford. Even the GPS voice guidance system exhibited good manners as it directed me to “please turn left” - if only the kids were that polite.
On arrival at Mangawhai the reversing camera took the guesswork out of hooking up the boat, and while the loaded Surtees 610 Gamefisher’s 1500 odd kg tow weight was never going to trouble the BT-50’s 3500kg braked allowance, the big red ute was easily up to the task.
The 4wd double-cab model I was rolling also had a few tricks up its sleeve for added peace-of-mind with a load in tow. Enhanced safety features like Trailer Sway Control, Electronic Brake-force
Distribution, Roll Stability Control, Hill Launch Assist and Hill Descent Control are all welcome additions to reduce the stress that often accompanies towing, launching and retrieving a boat.
As we un-hooked the boat back at Skitzo’s bach and divided up the catch I knew I’d thoroughly enjoy the drive home too.
Reading the signs
The original plan was to head to the Mokohinau’s, but a congregation of bird life around Sail Rock and corresponding snapper sign on the Furuno TZ Touch at the 50m mark, saw us stop to fish our feet first.
I find being prepared is the key to getting one up on your mates early. While Fossyl and Skitzo were cutting baits and unravelling their ledger rigs my bright orange Daiwa Pirate 80g slow-jig was already halfway to the bottom. As it hit so did the first 45cm snapper and I revelled in the moment of having the first one in the bin, knowing full well my glory would be short lived.
As expected Skitzo and Fossyl’s heavily weighted Black Magic Snapper Snatcher ledger rigs (baited with half a pilchard) soon found favour with the snapper as well. And so on it went for the next few hours as we drifted the area between behind Sail Rock towards the Hen picking up fat pannies at a steady rate.
Despite having the least amount of gear Fossyl took out the honours with a solid 4kg specimen. Although nothing notable was caught they were all of great eating size and the measuring stick was rarely needed. Apparently Fossyl caught the most fish as well but that subject’s still being debated.
Time well spent
Having left West Auckland just after nine and arriving home with a chilly bin full of fish on ice by dinnertime, it's certainly a top way to spend a Saturday. Not to mention that catching a feed of fresh fish amongst spectacular surrounds with good company being pretty magic too.
Setting the bar
When heading out from Mangawhai there is of course the Mangawhai bar to factor into the equation. Luckily its east coast locality means it’s open for business most of the time. Like any bar, however, the mood can change quickly so good preparation and lifejackets are essential. Get a good grip on the day’s weather forecast and tides before crossing. Be wary of any winds with east in them and keep a close watch out for surfers paddling out too.
If the bar’s too rough all is not lost as it’s less than an hour’s tow to either the sheltered surrounds of the Whangarei Harbour or over to the Kaipara for some west coast action.
Tips from the archive
With far too many fishing spots out of Mangawhai to visit in one day here are a few tips from the archives of fishing-trips gone by:
1.Sand dunes – over the summer months the seemingly barren sea floor straight out from the sand dunes can lure a surprising number of snapper. Use your sounder and, if possible, delve into some local knowledge for clues to the depth range that’s fishing well at the time.
2.Sail Rock – If you look at the marine chart you’ll see why Sail Rock is a pelagic playground. It’s well worth a deploying a livie or jig towards any likely sign or simply trawling a Rapala around.
3.The Hen – it gets deep pretty quickly around Taranga Island, aka The Hen. But if you inspect the chart there are a couple of shallower patches of reef around. Using the tide and a good berley trail to your advantage while targeting these areas will often pay dividends. Crushed mussel berley (available from fish shops) works really well for targeting deeper areas too.
4.The Chicks – One of my all-time favourite spots for stray-lining with large areas of reef and foul connecting the islands. Berleying up a storm and drifting back lightly weighting pilchards and squid down the trail has proved very effective. Strong leaders are a must to avoid heart-breaking bust offs.