No trip to Northland, New Zealand's most northerly region, would be complete without a visit to Cape Reinga. As the northernmost point in mainland New Zealand, it is steeped in Maori tradition and has truly stunning scenery.
About Cape Reinga: Location and Geography
Cape Reinga is the most northerly accessible point of the North Island, although in actual fact North Cape (30 kilometers or 18 miles to the east) are slightly further north. It is of great significance to the Maori people and, despite its remote location, is a very popular tourist stop.
Location and How to Get to Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is just over 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Kaitaia and there are two routes to get there. The main highway goes all the way. The alternative route is rather exotic - it's along the stretch of sand of Ninety Mile Beach, which is accessible to vehicles between Waipapakauri and the Te Paki Stream. This is actually designated as an official highway although extreme care is needed and it is not permitted for rental vehicles.
Many visitors make a day trip to Cape Reinga from the Bay of Islands or Kaitaia as accommodation and other facilities are non-existent at the Cape itself and very limited from north of Kaitaia. There are also daily coach tours from the Bay of Islands and Kaitaia which also travel along Ninety Mile Beach.
In 2010, the last 19 kilometers of road to Cape Reinga was sealed, making the entire journey much more pleasant.
What to See and Do
The approach to Cape Reinga affords some spectacular scenery, with huge sand dunes and beaches visible on both sides of the road. The area around the Cape itself contains some quite unique flora and fauna, much of which is not found anywhere else in New Zealand. There are many walking trails and tracks and camping is popular in the area, especially at Spirits Bay and Tapotupotu Bay.
If you fancy a swim, Tapotupotu Bay is just a short detour from the main road. This small beach is one of the loveliest coves in the far north.
At Cape Reinga itself a lighthouse, built in 1941 and fully automated since 1987, is the most prominent feature and a well-known New Zealand landmark. From the lighthouse, there is a magical view of the meeting of the two oceans, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The swirling surf where the currents from the two collide is clearly visible. On a fine day, the Poor Knights Island group can also be seen some 55 kilometers (34 miles) to the north.
The area around the lighthouse has undergone significant refurbishment very recently and there are now excellent walking paths from the car park to the lighthouse lookout spot. Dotted along the track are several informative plaques which explain many of the natural and cultural aspects of the area.
Maori History and Significance
An alternative Maori name for Cape Reinga is Te Rerenga Wairua, which means "the leaping off place of spirits" and Reinga is itself translated as "Underworld". According to Maori mythology, this is the place where the spirits of the dead leave Aotearoa (New Zealand) and travel back to their homeland Hawaiki. The spirit leaves by leaping into the sea from a clearly-visible pohutukawa tree which clings to the headland below the lighthouse and is dated at being more than 800 years old.
Climate and When to Visit
At this latitude, the climate is mild at all times of the year. The only thing to watch out for is the rain; the driest months are October to March, but April to September can see some high levels of rainfall.
As you approach Cape Reinga you will be struck by the awe-inspiring and almost ethereal landscape and atmosphere. This is a remote and very special part of New Zealand.