The Cape Reinga lighthouse! You don't get to go inside the lighthouse, which, as most of them are nowadays, is fully automated, but you do get beautiful views. Built on this exposed headland back in the early 1940's it looks out over the worlds greatest ocean, the mighty Pacific and must as a consequence take a thorough battering from the weather at times!
I think lighthouses are special, largely because of the places you find them and the vast view they generally afford, and the one at Cape Reinga is no exception.
It should be remembered that the Cape and the surrounding land is of great significance to the Maori people. As you stand at the edge of the Cape and look down to your right, you can see the beach where the spirits of the Maori dead are believed to depart for their ancestoral homeland. The area there is sacred (tapu), so you cannot climb down to the beach itself, but can enjoy the beauty from a respectful distance.
At Cape Reinga you can actually see the waters of the Tasman Sea collide with the mighty Pacific Ocean! Even on a calm day, like the one I enjoyed on my visit, you can see the churning currents meet, and on a wild day, the waters crash and hurl the waves high into the air.
I knew that geographically this was where the two waters met, but I wasn't expecting to actually see it happening! Fantastic!
Spirits Bay is a 15/20km drive from Cape Reinga, again along unsealed road. And once you get there, you will fall helplessley in love with this beautiful place!
A wide bay where the crystal waters of the Pacific wash against the shore. From a distance, the beach looks as though it is all fine white sand, and there is certainly plenty of it. But once you get to walk on it, you find it is the most delicate rose pink, made up from millions of fragments of pale pink shells.
It is worth noting that there is a very basic Department of Conservation camp site here, set back from the beach itself.
The Cape Reinga lighthouse was completed in 1941. The original lens was shipped from England and was used in the Motuopao Island in 1879. On a clear day the Island can be seen to the South West.
The lighthouse is 155 Meters above sea level. With the lighthouse standing 10 metres in height.
The beacon has since been changed to a less powerful beam and now runs off solar power rather than a diesel generator.
On the way from Cape Reinga to Ninety Mile Beach you pass through Te Paki and the giant sand dunes. There are a few walks to do but for the more adventurous there is boogie boarding!
You use a standard boogie board and you can control the speed by treating the undersurface with wax.
Boogie boards are supplied by the Dunerider group and there is a range of speeds from fast to slow. You get a lesson - don't put your hands out, pull up the front of your board, use your toes as brakes - and off you go. The hardest part is climbing up the dune to do it again!
Ninety Mile Beach starts on the west coast just south of Cape Maria Van Diemen and follows the Aupouri Peninsula. It is a popular fishing spot for those with four wheel drive vehicles but although it is officially a highway, you must take care as there is little beach at high tide.
To get on to the beach from the north you drive along the bed of the Te Paki stream.
No it is not 90 miles long but about 60 miles. As the story goes - it was once used as a stock route and took three days to travel. A horse could travel 30 miles a day. Maybe the horse was slower in the sand.
This is an amazing place even if you don't like history.
Imagine hundreds and thousands of years ago a cataclysmic event knocked down all the Kauri trees. They were then buried and preserved. Kauir trees produce sap if they sustain any damage and this hardens and falls off becoming buried in the leaf litter. The sap or gum became semi-petrified and the Mâori found uses for it including chesing and lighting fires. It became valuble to Europeans as an ingredient in good quality varnish. As the surface supply ran out people started digging for it - hence the name Gumdigger.
As the tale is told - the Gumdiggers used to wear Wellington Boots and they soon took the name Gum Boots as they are known in New Zealand and Australia.
Gumdigger Park has buried trees, a Gumdigger camp, lots of information and articles of Kauri wood and petrified resin (Copal or Kiwi Amber) for sale.
Just before the lighthouse you'll find the northern most mailbox in the country. Cards posted here receive a special Cape Reinga postal mark (see second picture).
Don't forget to buy cards and stamps beforehand and bring them, there are no shops at the Cape.
Depending on the tide, one of the activities popular on Ninety Mile Beach is digging for pipis. Do you use a bucket and spade - no you use your feet and toes!
Pick a spot where incoming waves cover and then recede. As the water covers your feet wriggle them into the sand - you will feel the pipis under your feet. On the next wave wriggle your feet under the pipis lifting them to the surface then as the wave recedes you collect them.
Easy! just make sure you have your jeans rolled way up!
You will see this beach and headland before you reach Cape Reinga itself, and a track will take you down to Cape Maria and loop back to the road along the prettily named Twilight Beach.
On the top of a windswept cliff is a 800 year old Pohutukawa tree. This dramatic landscape holds great spiritual significance.
The headland that is home to the Pohutukawa is known as "the place of leaping" in Maori mythology, where the spirits of the dead leaps off the headland, climb down the roots and descend into the underworld to return to their homeland of Hawaiiki.
For spiritual and safety reasons the area where the lighthouse stands is the closest you can get to this headland. The view however is definately worth the trip.
Next to the Cape Reinga lighthouse there is an AA (Automobile Association) road sign, dont worry you wont be run over by any cars. This sign points to far off cities and tells of the distance in miles and kms.
Strange to see a road sign without cars but trust a New Zealander to come up with it.
Cape Reinga Lighthouse is owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand. It was built in 1941 and was the last manned lighthouseto be built in New Zealand. It replaced the lighthouse on Motuopao Island near Cape Maria Van Diemen which was difficult to access. The lighthouse is now fully automated. Entry to the light is not permitted.
The walk to the lighthouse is considered an easy 10 minute walk but it is all downhill which makes quite a steep climb on the return tip. The track leaves from the visitor centre. The first photograph waiting for you is Cape Maria Van Diemen; then as you walk down the track you get glimpses of the lighthouse and views to the south east. One of the best views is 'The Meeting of the Seas' where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The conflicting currents create a noticeable line of breakers.
Due to the spirual nature of the cape for the Mâori it is requested that you behave in a considerate manner and refrain from eating while you are there. You are allowed to carry water.
The west cost decided it didn't want to be left out - it has a 'Hole in the Rock' too! Matapia Island is a solitary island off Ninety Mile Beach. It's notable feature is a 20 metre wide tunnel right through the island which can be seen from the beach.