I awoke early after my night in Whangaroa so I could head straight up north to Cape Reinga, the “North of the North.” I fired up my trusty rental car and started my drive up the serpentine coastal roads towards the cape. On the way, I made a pit stop in the quaint fishing village of Mangonui, which is situated on the shores of Doubtless Bay. They get real creative with names here, and this bay got its name from Captain Cook, who remarked in his journal that it was “doubtless a bay” in 1769. They should have named him Captain Obvious.
I must admit, I agree with his assertion that it is most definitely a bay. Good call.
Not far from from central Mangonui, Rangikapiti Pa (a historic Maori settlement), provided a great vantage point to view the bay and Cape Reinga in the hazy distance.
As you can see, the sky began to look rather ominous, and I headed back to my car as raindrops started to fall. I drove through some heavy downpour as I neared the lower part of Cape Reinga, but luckily it let up pretty quickly, as weather in New Zealand usually does.
I knew from my research that the cape doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of food, gas and other necessities, so I stopped at “Ancient Kauri Kingdom” for some coffee, which is obviously the most important necessity. Ancient Kauri Kingdom is a weird museum/shop/cafe hybrid dedicated to New Zealand’s ancient kauri trees. Ancient kauri wood can be found buried beneath swamps and dates back around 45,000 years. Kauri trees still grow all around this area, and some of the oldest living specimens are thousands of years old.
The highlight, besides my coffee and a delicious meat pie, was getting to walk through a carved out kauri tree.
Onward and upward! I turned onto Cape Reinga’s one main road and started the windy drive north to the tippity top. I lost count of the one-lane bridges I had to cross and the endless, dizzying hairpin turns. My destination was the lighthouse at the top of the cape, which stands watch over sacred Maori land. After a couple hours, I made it to the end of the road and parked so I could make the trek out to Cape Reinga Lighthouse. To give you some perspective, here’s where I was on a map of NZ’s North Island.
And here’s the lighthouse at the very end of the road.
The Maori people believe that their souls come here after death on their journey to Hawaiki, the spiritual home. They descend the roots of an ancient kahika tree called Te Aroha, which clings to the side of a cliff overhanging the water. Visitors are understandably not allowed anywhere in the vicinity of the sacred tree. Te Aroha is on the promontory to the right in this picture, so the lighthouse is about as close as you can get.
The lighthouse itself has been there since 1941, standing guard over the treacherous coastline.
I had to get some touristy shots in front of the lighthouse and signpost. New Zealand really loves their signposts, which always serve to remind you how far out in the ocean you really are.
Check out that nice leg burn from the Bay of Islands.
Thanks, random dude on the left, for posing and looking so thoughtful while my picture was taken. I also like the guy on the far right who is chowing down on an apple and looking really intelligent in the process. In case you didn’t notice, the South Pole is far closer than Los Angeles.
Cape Reinga is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The two clash and form eddies and whirlpools, but it’s not as dramatic as you might expect, at least not when the weather is relatively calm.
Still, pretty cool to observe!
I headed up to another viewpoint to take in the dramatic scenery.
Another thing New Zealand certainly doesn’t lack is jaw-dropping cliffs.
When I got back to my car, I drove the only way I could. I had read about Tapotupotu Bay, NZ’s northernmost campsite, and decided to head there. It was a relatively short drive, although a good bit of it was on a windy gravel road descending to sea level.
I forgot to mention that this was the last day of the year, so I was choosing my New Year’s Eve location. New Zealand is one of the first countries to enter the new year due to its proximity to the International Date Line. We beat America to it by 18 hours. Hah!
Needless to say, Tapotupotu Bay didn’t disappoint. Here’s a view of the campsite from the beach.
I saw quiet a few washed up blue bottle jellyfish, which are pretty incredible to see up close. They use an air-filled sac to remain buoyant and their iridescent colors are eye-catching. In actuality, they are called the Portuguese man-of-war, and are not “true jellyfish.” Apparently, their stings are pretty damn unpleasant, but they’re beautiful to look at.
I walked along the beach and congratulated myself for finding perhaps the world’s best New Year’s Eve spot.
I climbed a hill overlooking Tapotupotu Bay for even better views of the beach and coastline.
I’ll leave you with one last picture from 2014.
I ended up making friends at the campsite from Switzerland, England, France and New Zealand. We rang in 2015 together and sheltered under a large canopy as the rain poured down. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to begin the new year than with a motley crew of new friends from around the world, in a place I’d never have dreamt I’d be a year ago. I know this coming year will be even more amazing than the last, and I just can’t wait for what’s in store.