I am often without words to describe Northland, NZ, so let’s take it from the top.
The Aupouri Peninsula caps Far Far North with glorious east/west beaches, and Cape Reinga at the tip. Bay after bay is a picture-book spot for a swim, walk or picnic.
Halfway, on the east side, you’ll need sunglasses to offset the brilliance of Rarawa Beach with its near-pure white silica beach that squeaks with each step. Push on…because you want to get to THE TOP.
First Glimpse at the Top
Near the road’s end, a view to Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes, the spit, and the sea. The lighthouse awaits.
Where the Seas Collide
Far below, the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean swirl and slam together.
Drawn to the Lighthouse, a NZ Icon
First used in 1941, Cape Reinga Lighthouse (Te Rerenga Wairua) towers above the swirling seas.
Cape Reinga and The Spirit Tree
The Māori word Reinga, means ‘underworld’, and ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, means ‘the leaping-off place of spirits’. Both refer to the Māori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. For Māori, Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand.
Below the lighthouse on a rocky point survives a lone weather-beaten 800 year-old pōhutukawa tree (barely visible in the first photo). The tree is the jumping point for the spirits departing Aotearoa (NZ), descending to the watery underworld (reinga), and ultimately their spiritual ancestral home.
Te Araroa “The Long Path“, 3000 km walk
Below the lighthouse is Te Araroa “The Long Path”, the terminus of a 3000 km (1864 mi) track from Bluff, South Island to Cape Reinga, North Island. Some stretches are rough and undeveloped; I reckon it’s a challenge – it takes 4 to 6 months to tramp, end to end.
A fun book about Te Araroa is The Pants of Perspective (link) by Annie McNuff who RAN it. I traced her steps on the stunning Te Werahi trail leg below the lighthouse. WOO HOO! (ok…it was less than 4 km, I would have continued…but high tide rushed in.)
Te-Paki (The Sun) Giant Sand Dunes
Desolate, gorgeous 400ft high dunes span 6 miles of coast and hill country. We watched people laboriously pull boogie boards up the dunes, teeter over the top and zoom down. (The down part looked fun. The climb? Well, it started to rain….)
Drivable 90 Mile Beach
Along the west side of the cape is 90 Mile Beach – a beach AND State Road (at low tide). Actual distance, 55 miles. Named by settlers who thought horses could travel 30 miles/day over 3 days, not accounting for slow travel on sand.
Rental car companies prefer you not to drive the motorway. We gave it a go at sundown.
“Fun but dangerous….Beware of“
- High tide
- Sand holes (hitting one can flip your car)
- Tidal sweeps (waves can advance quickly and catch your car)
- Run-off channels (appear after rain, hitting one can unexpectedly break an axle)
- Slippery plankton build-up (causes loss of control)
Trip details – We spent two nights in Kaitaia (Air BnB), and we still felt rushed. Outstanding Wineries along the way: Karikari Estate, Dancing Petral.
NEXT POSTS – More Winterless North
Ancient kauri forests, unbelievable trees, hundreds of islands, waterfalls, beaches, and wine…and of course, sheep.
Click HERE to read the previous post: Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Far North