At the tip of New Zealand lies an ancient Pohutukawa tree and a lonely Lighthouse overlooking the meeting of two powerful seas. The Pacific Ocean and the Tasmin sea collide in a spectacular show, neither giving an inch to the other. Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) is the northernmost tip of New Zealand that is available to the public. North Cape is further but is a scientific reserve. Cape Reinga is the end of the road for you, baby.
It is believed that the Pohutukawa tree that lies at the tip of the cape is over 800 years old. According to Maori legend, this tree is where the deceased Maori travel to leap from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. This makes Cape Reinga the most spiritually significant spot (the three s’s) in New Zealand.
Kupe, known as the great navigator, is said to have discovered the Far North when he thought he was heading towards a whale. In fact, he was travelling towards Mount Camel in Houhora. Kupe’s crew, upon landing, settled from Cape Reinga to Parengarenga Harbour.
Cape Reinga lighthouse
One of the most famous lighthouses in New Zealand, Cape Reinga lighthouse is also one of the most important. It stands at 10m in height on the edge of a steep rocky cape 165m above sea level and watches over the Tasman Sea (to the west) and Pacific Ocean (to the east). The light can be seen 49 km out to sea and is often the first light in New Zealand that sailors see.
The lighthouse originally stood upon Motuopao Island from 1879 but by WWII it was realised that this was the wrong location to protect ships from passing through the dangerous and turbulent waters. The glasshouse and light mechanism on top of the lighthouse were removed and placed at the new lighthouse standing place at Cape Reinga. The remains of the original lighthouse still lie at the northern edge of the island.
Cape Reinga lighthouse was the last watched lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. While today it is run remotely by computer from Wellington, it was watched by a keeper until 1987.
How to get to Cape Reinga
You can get to Cape Reinga several ways.
- The northernmost town of Kaitaia is still around 100kms south of the Cape and takes about an hour and a half each way to drive. This used to be even longer, the road used to be unsealed for the last 19kms but is now sealed. From Auckland, it is roughly a 5 hour drive.
- Guided coach tours depart from Kaitaia and Pahia daily, traveling via 90 mile beach.
- Try the Dune Rider, this unique way of seeing Northland will take you along 90 mile beach and to the Cape Reinga lighthouse, with a sand dune boogie board stop on the way.
- Scenic flights also depart from the Bay of Islands which take you to the Cape and along both coasts.
Know before you go
- Being a sacred site, eating is not permitted at Cape Reinga. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for a picnic.
- Dogs are not permitted.
- From the carpark it is about a kilometer walk, there is not a lot of shade along the way so make sure you pack some sunscreen and sunnies for the short jaunt. It is not a difficult walk, even small children can manage it easily.
- Be prepared to share the views with throngs of people. This is a popular tourist spot for both overseas travelers and locals.
My friend, Michelle (from Walking on Foreign Chels) and I took her children up to Cape Reinga from Whangarei one sunny summers day. It proved to be a full day trip as we underestimated the time it would take us to get there. Luckily we had plenty to keep us and the children occupied from beautiful scenery to ponder over, car games, sweets and loud music to
drown out the kids sing to.
There are plenty of picturesque rural towns breaking up the long winding roads and as you travel along the coast there are plenty of islands to awe you. That part of Kiwiland ain’t called the Bay of Islands fo’ nothin’.
The lazy walk to the lighthouse winds along the cliff giving you stunning views as far as the eye can stretch. The meeting of the two seas is perfectly visible with each ocean a different colour. Dramatic scenes play out as the waves crash into each other. The Tasmin Sea and the Pacific Ocean seem locked in an eternal battle for ground. Neither can be claimed victorious, both equally stubborn.
Cape Reinga is a popular spot for both tourists and locals, especially now that the road has been sealed. It is well worth the trek up the country to experience the spiritual wonder. Plus you get to take the obligatory tourist snap underneath the road sign pointing out how far away New York, London, Sydney and other such places are. It really does feel as though you are at the bottom of the world when reading the signs.
I love the Maori culture, history, and legends. Cape Reinga is one of the most significant places in Aotearoa. We are pretty lucky really to be able to experience it.
If you make a day of it you can explore more of beautiful Northland and the Bay of Islands. We stopped off in Kaitaia on the way home and had fish and chips (fush n chups, check out how to speak Kiwi) on the beach which ended the day splendidly. (Except for Michelle’s oldest daughter getting stung by a bee. But that could happen anywhere. Honestly).
Where is a place that is special to you? Let me know in the comments.
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