Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Where the Spirits Head Home- Cape Reinga


From our camp at Tapotupotu Bay is was just a short 5km drive back up to the main highway and along to the Cape Reinga carpark. On the way we stopped at a lookout carpark. From the short walking track to the lookout platform the views looking south towards 90 Mile Beach and the top end of the Te Paki Sand Dunes are magnificent.

Cape Maria van Dieman (the western most point of the North Island) & Motuopao Island can be seen from the lookout platform.

Beautiful white sand Te Werahi Beach can be reached via a walking track from Cape Reinga, and in fact the coastal track along the sea cliffs and beaches from the Cape forms the beginning of the 3000km Cape Reinga to Bluff, Te Araroa Trail. Walking and tramping tracks of varying lengths also criss-cross from one coast to another through the surrounding conservation land.

This area is steeped in Maori tradition and it's good to be able to read about the history & Maori mythology on the display boards that are placed at strategic points at the lookouts and along the walkways. Sandy Bay (bottom left) was actually across the road from the lookout looking north east. I didn't know it when I saw this tiny beautiful bay but I was going to get up close and personal with it soon enough.

A benefit of staying close by was being able to visit Cape Reinga earlier in the day, long before the tour buses arrive, many from Paihia in the Bay of Islands, which is over 200km away. 

The carpark had only a handful of vehicles parked and the entrance to the walking track was deserted when we arrived and we also had the walk to ourselves as we set off down the 400m track to the lighthouse. Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of mainland New Zealand and from the walkway the 360 degree views are spectacular.

The Cape has certainly put on a stunning day for us; we had visited the day before but the sea fog was swirling about so we decided to head down to Te Paki Dunes instead. Another benefit of staying close by, mix & match to suit!

Once again there were plenty of information panels placed along the edge of the walkway; this one is about the Three Kings Islands which are an uninhabited group of islands that sit 55kms northwest of Cape Reinga. I love that the panel mentions my favourite vine Tecomathe, you'll recall I talked about it in the Tokerau Beach NZMCA Park blog; it's planted as a living fence along one of the park's boundaries.

And on a day such as this one, you can clearly see an outline of the Three Kings Islands on the horizon (click photo to enlarge). 

The view along Te Werahi Beach to Cape Maria van Diemen are even more spectacular from the walkway.

And here again is the view as seen the day before when the sea fog rolled in.

Many day visitors take the Te Paki Coastal Track down to the beach from here, some take a couple of days and walk to the Te Paki Stream; that's the stream we drove down when we visited the giant sand dunes. 

There are a few people around the base of the lighthouse but it's lovely to see that it's not too crowded. A visit to Cape Reinga is on many people's 'must do' list when they visit New Zealand and it's also on many Kiwi's lifetime bucket list so it's not surprising that it's one of out most visited tourist sites.

David takes some time out to check out the views and surrounding cliffs why I take photos. 

Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand for Maori. It is here that after death, all Maori spirits travel up the coast and over the wind-swept bluffs to the pohutukawa tree on the headland of Te Rerenga Wairua. 

They descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below. The spirits then travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands where they climb out onto Ohaua, the highest point of the islands and bid their last farewell before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki-A-Nui.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse; an iconic sight and one of the most photographed lighthouses in New Zealand.

From behind the rock wall on the narrow section of the track just before the lighthouse the sea cliffs drop away into the ocean swell below.

It's here that the Tasman Sea also meets the mighty Pacific Ocean, swirling whirlpools form as the opposing currents meet.

Today, the waters are relatively calm with just a few white caps indicating where the oceans join. Of more interest to the people overlooking the water is an idiot who has climbed over the wall and is slipping and sliding his way down a dirt track to take a selfie. He's being cheered on by his not so brave friends.

That's one more lighthouse photo for my collection and finally we have joined the travel dots for the length of New Zealand, from Bluff to Cape Reinga (including Stewart Island in case you're wondering)

And of course I bag another sign post too...

After a lingering visit and as more and more people arrive at the lighthouse- it would seem the early tour buses have arrived- we make our way back to the carpark.

I take a dirt side track up a small hill that overlooks the lighthouse and appears to be a popular detour. 

Once at the top I can see why, the views are of course spectacular but there's a small queue of people lining up to take selfies or have their photo taken by friends from this small point overlooking the cliffs and beach below. I think I just stumbled on a popular Instagram 'must have' shot.

I wait my turn and take a photo (no, not a selfie). From this vantage point I can also clearly see the Te Paki track running along the cliff edge.

I head back to the entrance and when I look back more people are taking the detour up the hill from the carpark side and I can also see that a wide bank of sea fog is rolling in from the west.

It's a bit of a shock when I walk back through the entrance to the carpark; where the heck did all these people come from! 

Being a sacred Maori site eating is not permitted in the Cape Reinga reserve and carpark. We drive back down the road until we find a small area off the road where we can eat our lunch. As the sea fog rolled in a giant bird rose into the sky. A very poignant moment at Cape Reinga where Maori believe the spirits of the dead travel to, on their journey to the afterlife.

'Where the Spirits Head Home'

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