If there’s one especially goosebump-inducing, sentence-stealing location in New Zealand, Cape Reinga takes the cake. As the northernmost point of Aotearoa, it’s a place where oceans collide and, according to Māori culture, where spirits leave this land. It’s popular with visitors, but when the people go home, this wild and windswept cape is guarded solely by a lonely lighthouse and an ancient pohutukawa tree.
Standing at Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua in Te Reo Māori), watching the water of the Pacific Ocean meet in a dance with the Tasman Sea, the presence of the wild is dominating and undeniable. It’s a dramatic, explosive place to be on a stormy day, but when it’s fine, the Three Kings Islands are visible on the horizon. The northernmost point of New Zealand is pretty special, and this goes far beyond the view.
So why is Cape Reinga important?
For Māori, this place, which is known as Te Rerenga Wairua, is the most spiritually significant location in New Zealand. It’s where souls leave this land and begin their journey to the afterlife, or Hawaiiki a nui. According to mythology, the lone, ancient pohutukawa tree (which is thought never to have flowered in history) is their last leaping point, and they stop at the Three Kings Islands for one last look at land before continuing their journey. Te Waiora-a-Tāne, or the ‘living waters of Tāne’, is a spring in the hillside, and thought to be where the spirits are cleansed before they get on their way.
How did Cape Reinga get its name?
The Reinga part of the name means ‘underworld’ in Te Reo, while Te Rerenga Wairua translates to the ‘leaping place of the spirits’. This is a special place, and whether you consider yourself spiritual or not, it’s hard to deny the significance of the land beneath your feet.
What is Cape Reinga known for?
While it’s the mighty presence of the land, sea and distant islands that takes center stage at Te Rerenga Wairua, the Cape Reinga lighthouse is a sight in itself. Set spectacularly against an expanse of ocean at the tip of the North Island, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga has earnt itself a regular spot on many a postcard and Facebook DP.
The Cape Reinga lighthouse was actually built to replace the lighthouse on nearby Motuopao Island, which could only be reached by flying fox when the seas were rough.
What should I see at Cape Reinga?
While the cape itself is mindblowing, it’s also set in the far north, an incredible part of New Zealand that many people travel to see all on its own. The subtropical area is home to breathtaking coastline, ancient Kauri forest and an supposedly ‘winterless’ climate. This may not be entirely true, but the weather is (usually) superb.
From the cape, find wild and glorious beaches down both the east and west coast of Northland, with bright blue waters and golden sands. To the west, Ninety Mile Beach spans all the way down to Ahipara in the haze of the Tasman Sea. The east coast is sprinkled with gorgeous coves and beaches to explore, with some of the most remote campsites in New Zealand set right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Two of the most magical beaches in the area, and the closest to the point, are Spirits Bay and Tapotupotu Bay. Great to visit for the day, but best to stay for a night or three. If it’s remote spots with unspoiled wilderness you search for you, you’ve hit gold. Spirits Bay is a long (not Ninety Mile Beach long, but long) bay with a Department of Conservation campsite a little way back from the beach. Tapotupotu Bay, in comparison to Spirits Bay, is only a little cove, but the bay packs in the charm with a campsite almost directly on the water.
The sand dunes at Te Paki stream are a popular spot to visit in the area, too. Take one of the Cape Reinga tours, which boosts visitors up the beach in a 4×4 bus, up the Te Paki stream and over to see the sand dunes. They’re cool to see, but even better to fly down on a sandboard, which is totally an option. The tours can usually be organized from Kaitaia, Awanui and Ahipara.
For those who like to travel au natural, the 48km Te Paki Coastal Track is a chance to see the full magic of the far north area. Walk along the beaches and coast-hugging track, and camp at tiny sites on the beach, Crusoe-style. With that self-sufficient travel style in mind, summer is definitely the best time of year for this one.
How do you get to Cape Reinga?
For the ultimate salty adventure, take the popular drive up Ninety Mile Beach, flanked by the pounding surf of the Tasman Sea to your left and endless sand dunes to the right. The beach is actually an official part of State Highway 1, and the sand is really firm, which means most cars can handle it, but the exit at Te Paki quicksand stream can be dodgy and this adventure is better suited to four wheel drives. Ninety Mile Beach has seen plenty of 2WD missions pulled off, though, so if you’re going for it, don’t let us take the wind out of your sails. The spot to access Te Paki stream from Ninety Mile Beach can be relatively hard to find, so ask locals along the way.
If you’d prefer to keep the sand for your toes and the road for your wheels, take the regular State Highway 1 route up to Cape Reinga.
How do I get from Auckland to Cape Reinga?
From Auckland, head north and follow the road all the way to the end. For those without wheels, you can organize a bus or tour from the big smoke.
How long does it take to drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga?
The drive takes just under 6 hours, although if you decide to drive along Ninety Mile Beach (which begins at Ahipara, in Northland) leave extra time for stopping and stoking out on the fact that you’re driving up the beach.
How far is Auckland from Cape Reinga?
All up, it’s a 418km journey to the tip of the island, with plenty of things to visit along the way. Northland is a remote place, too, with the closest town to the cape being Kaitaia, 100km to the south. An experience not to missed if you’re taking the tour up from Auckland is Waitangi, where New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. Learn a thing or two about the country’s history, which, while young, is fascinating, and take a tour of the treaty grounds. For their opening hours, check their website or whack a search into Google.
How far is Cape Reinga from Coopers Beach?
Cooper’s Beach is another popular spot in Northland, which makes for a great base if you’re exploring the area. It’s an hour and a half from the cape.
Can you drive up to the Cape Reinga lighthouse?
Nope, and trust us, it’s better that way. This is a sacred space, and cars being able to charge right up to it would utterly ruin it. Being such a popular location with travelers, the walk is a brilliant way to meet interesting people, share stories and get a bit of exercise, too.
How long is the Cape Reinga walk?
The walk down from the carpark at the end of the road to the lighthouse is just 300m, and with views like this, it may just be some of the best ten minutes of your life.
Are dogs allowed at Cape Reinga?
No. Nothing personal against your pooch – the place follows the principal of toitū te whenua, or leaving the land undisturbed.
Is it worth going to Cape Reinga?
If you’re coming to New Zealand, you’re crazy not to visit this majestic place. Did we mention you can drive up the beach?