One of North Island’s more magnificent beaches, just far enough from mainstream traffic to remain pristine, lies in San Josef Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park. For those locals, who by some strange quirk of fate haven’t experienced this bay and for first-timer visitors, it is a “must-see”.
The road to Cape Scott leads off the main highway just before entering Port Hardy. To enjoy the journey on well maintained gravel road, give yourself an hour and a half to the beginning of a forty minute trail that is itself a unique experience through a variety of forest including old growth as well as salt marshes. This trail is well enough groomed to be wheel chair worthy but forbids bicycle travel; so being run over by a “bike jock” is not a concern.
With nearly two kilometres of beach, sand lovers and parents will be delighted with a hardly noticeable changing gradient. You need not worry about your five-year old suddenly disappearing in an abrupt undulation. For surfers a west wind provides some fairly decent wave action but does require getting way out there, particularly at low tide.
San Josef Bay has two very distinct beaches. The trail enters along the San Josef River on to the eastern beach. The hiker will see camping sites in the trees along this portion but if you camp here you will need your own water supply because the river water is usually brackish (mixed with sea water). For an extended stay a hike to the western beach is recommended, where a small creek with good drinking water enters near its eastern end. Hiking access to the western beach can be a problem if you’ve arrived at mid to high tide. The headland between the beaches does its separating job really well and you must get ready for wet feet or climb the steep trail, complete with rope and all, that leads over the abutment.
Like many North Island residents, San Josef Bay is one of those places I keep returning to, sometimes just for a day hike and a few quick sketches and, sadly, less often to camp and paint. Although I love walking the beaches barefoot and get salt water and sand between my toes, more often than not I am attracted by the variety of rock formations, the most familiar and famous are the hoodoos at the west end of the first beach. Often I arrive too late for easy access to the west beach so I end up painting these strange and lovely upright forms.
This painting, which I call “Second Beach, San Josef”, was done just at the beginning of the second beach while digging my nose into the cliffs and small caves that make up this part of San Jo. I got there by going around the headland at low tide without taking my boots off but got busy for too long on the other side and had to take the high trail over the top to get back home!
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