Today I’m back on track, after a brief sojourn around some rather scenic toilets. By back on track, I am referring to the tale of my trip around Northland – the most northerly part of New Zealand’s north island.
Unimaginative name aside, this is a spectacular place. Stretching out above Auckland far into the Pacific and Tasman seas, this tip of land is home to massive Kauri forests, volcano remnants, sunken ships, enormous sand dunes and the spiritual end of the world.
In my previous post on the subject, I talked about the last surviving pockets of Kauri forest, where massive and ancient trees cling onto life. Today I’m moving further north, to the sand dunes of Te Paki, and the very far tip of Northland – Cape Reinga – where a very different type of tree clings on to life.
Sand dunes of Te Paki
Sand dunes appear to be a common theme at the tip of New Zealand’s islands. The south island had the spectacular dunes of the Farewell Spit. The North Island has Te Paki.
Situated at the end of the ninety mile beach (classified as a state highway, you’ve got to love New Zealand) Te Paki’s dunes certainly win when it comes to size. These immense golden monsters rise steeply out of the surrounding vegetation, and convey the somewhat disturbing feeling that you have become a being of ant like proportions.
Of course, this gigantic size has all sorts of benefits. First of all, just wandering around these dunes is fun. You can walk up them, and run down them. It’s dizzying stuff. Or, you can lose yourself completely, grab what appears to be a modified bit of plywood, and hurl yourself down them.
Whatever your particular pleasure, the Te Paki sand dunes are guaranteed to give you a good time. Even if you are just taking pictures.
Cape Reinga – the end of the world
Further north from Te Paki, and in fact, about as far north as you can go, is Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is not actually the most northern point of New Zealand’s north island. That honour belongs to the Surville Cliffs, some 30km to the east. However, they don’t have a handy road and car park for access, so for most people, Cape Reinga is north enough.
Cape Reinga is notable for a few things. First off, it has a rather fine example of a lighthouse. Regular readers will no doubt be aware of the importance of a good lighthouse popping up in my travels from time to time. Along with the lighthouse there is one of those handy signs that tells you quite how far away from everywhere else you are. When in New Zealand, you are generally a long way from pretty much everything else. Being at the far north makes very little difference.
As well as the lighthouse and the sign, Cape Reinga is where the Tasman and Pacific seas meet, clashing together as far as the eye can see.
And finally, to the Maori people of New Zealand, Cape Reinga is of tremendous spiritual significance. Because it is here that the spirits of the dead are believed to leave this world, and move on to the next – Reinga being the Maori word for underworld.
There is a tree, clinging improbably to the cliffs at the tip of Cape Reinga. It is lashed remorselessly by the sea. It has been clinging on in this fashion for over eight hundred years. And it is down the roots of this tree that the spirits of the dead climb as they descend to the underworld. Spine tingling stuff.
Around Cape Reinga there is endless scope for exploration. There are walks along spectacular beaches, such as the 12km long Spirits Bay at the other end of the Aupouri peninsula, of which Cape Reinga is the western end. There are camping spots galore, and, this being the warmest part of New Zealand, this part of the world is good to visit at any time of the year. We were there in winter, and as you can see from the photos, it was still happily warm.
Wrapping up our tale of north land will be our trip down its eastern coast, past bays of islands, a number of waterfalls (including New Zealand’s most photographed waterfall specimen) and, no doubt, musings on the weather, which was universally damp for that part of the trip. Until then