Ask anyone who has traveled or lived in New Zealand, and they will tell you that there is something very special about the integration of the Maori culture into not only the Kiwi tourism industry, but also into everyday life. I personally find it fascinating how they preserve a lot of the Maori beliefs and traditions and share it with everyone who happens upon the land. Cape Reinga, the most northwestern tip of the North Island, is considered Maori sacred land, and also goes by the traditional Maori name of Te Rerenga Wairua which means ‘leaping-off place of spirits.’
This sacred land is believed to be the point at which the spirits of the dead travel to on their journey to the afterlife. According to Maori mythology, the spirits leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800-year old pohutukawa tree and descend to the underworld where they then return to their ancestral homeland, Hawaiki.
Not only does this sacred Maori land act as the place where the spirits of the dead depart the land, but it is also the point at which you can see the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. You can literally see the waters of the crystal blue sea to the west and the dark ocean to the east creating a tidal rapid – whereupon the two currents collide.
This magical and visually stunning location welcomes over 120 000 visitors per year and is roughly 115km north of Kaitaia. I recently was fortunate enough to play tour guide to my flatmate’s friend, Tiffany, who was on a quick visit to New Zealand from Canada and together we made the hour a half drive up to take in the beauty of Cape Reinga. I had made the trek once before, a year ago with a few friends, however the day was rainy and overcast and I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it. This time it was a beautiful crystal clear sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky. Tiffany and I left the flat in Ahipara, with a packed lunch and an iPod fully loaded with great road trip tunes. We shared in some great conversation and laughs on the hour and a half drive up to the cape.
For those who don’t drive or have access to their own car, there are plenty of tour companies that operate out of Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Bay of Islands that will bring you up to Cape Reinga. The different tours cater to different age groups and some even include lunch and fun activities, such as sandboarding and driving along Ninety Mile Beach. Tiffany and I had been tempted to hop on one of these tours, as there was a special on GrabOne, however, after much contemplation, we decided that we didn’t quite care to do the tour and were much more keen to do a trip to the cape at our own pace. For those who perked up at the mention of sandboarding, don’t worry- there are a few places along the drive up to Cape Reinga that advertise sandboard hires – so even if you do a self-drive trip, you can still partake in the awesomeness that is sandboarding.
Also, we had made a day trip out of our little mission, however, there are heaps of places that you can camp out – such as Spirits Bay (where I had camped out at the end of January), or Tapotupotu which are both rather close to the Cape and offer beautiful scenery to take in. There are also heaps of hiking trails around Cape Reinga – some short routes that take about 45minutes, and other long treks that can take up to 8 hours.
Both Tiffany and I were moved by the beauty and significance of the sacred land to the Maori people and spent nearly two hours reading the signs, snapping pictures and taking in the breathtaking natural beauty. If you’re in the Far North – and really, you NEED to put it on your New Zealand destination list – either jump on a tour bus or hop in your car and make a day out of checking out Cape Reinga – especially if it’s a beautiful sunny day. It does NOT disappoint.