Cape Reinga – The Top of Middle Earth

Cape Reinga Landscape
Cape Reinga – The Top of Middle Earth

Falling into a mundane routine occurs so gradually you don’t even realize it’s happening. Waking up, going to work, making dinner, watching Netflix, sleeping, and then getting up the next day to do it all over again, for months at a time. Even J and I, who have spent a huge amount of time and money to be able to live abroad in a place where boredom was supposed to be a thing of the past, get caught up in the rut because, well, it’s easy.

Pulling yourself out of it takes planning and motivation, so when I saw I had 3 days off from work in the middle of the week, my brain began to form a plan to seize this opportunity and explore this beautiful country we now call home. J suggested Cape Reinga, located in the far North of New Zealand and I wholeheartedly agreed it was a fabulous idea.

The total distance from Auckland to Cape Reinga isn’t that far if you’re thinking in terms of Alberta driving times the way I’ve been conditioned to for most of my life. Driving 421km on the flat prairies means it will take you about 4 hours (without snow), which is easily doable in half a day.

Auckland to Cape Reinga Drive Time
It doesn’t look far but it’s a long drive to the top of NZ.

In New Zealand though, the same distance will take you nearly 6 hours of full on focused driving on winding, narrow roads. You can forget the cruise control as there is no more than 400m of straightness on any road at any given time. This drive is not to be underestimated but I’m sure people do all the time.

A good option for us was to use the little coastal tourist town of Paihia, located on NZ’s east coast on the Bay of Islands, as our base camp and cut the driving time to Cape Reinga in half. It was still going to be 6 hours of driving in one day, but that was a much more manageable number.

The morning of our excursion to the top of NZ, we actually left the hotel in Paihia BEFORE our target time, which I’m sure has never happened in the history of our travels, and possibly our relationship. We were so excited to get the day started and get on the road, we were well on our way before the sun came up.

Misty Drive Cape Reinga
Misty Morning in Northland

About an hour later though, coffee and food became a requirement and we made a quick stop at the Baker Man Cafe in Awanui where breakfast consisted of a meaty steak and cheese pie with a mug of fabulous NZ coffee. Pies are a big thing here in NZ and they are amazing. Imagine thick slices of steak smothered in gravy and gooey cheese, all wrapped in a pastry shell. A good pie is heaven on a plate, and this one was angelic.

With food in our bellies and coffee coursing through our veins, we were back in the car making a straight shot to the top of New Zealand.

The landscape along the way changes every few kilometers as you slowly wind your way up and up though seaside towns, over hills, and across farmland. There are native forests, planted forests, and those iconic flat topped NZ hills that the cows love to climb to the top of.

The further north you go, the more sparse civilization becomes, until you don’t see any houses at all, just wide open landscape and the occasional campervan with wide-eyes tourists looking for the same thing you are. This is how you know you’re coming to the end of the line.

Cape Reinga New Zealand
Nothing but ocean and Australia lies beyond that beach.

The last bit of the drive curves around the bluff and you get a sneak peak of what you’ll see on the other side. There is a pullout on the side of the road but don’t bother with it. The views are much nicer once you get to the Cape itself.

Cape Reinga is a special place for a few reasons, not the least of which is its location. While technically not the northernmost point in NZ, it is the furthest north you can drive. When you arrive at Cape Reinga, all you see is ocean and sky (with a couple islands in the distance). Other than that, it’s just a sea of water between you and Russia.

Signpost Cape Reinga New Zealand
Which way to Canada?

While staring out at the deep blue sea, I wondered how many people had been to the northernmost point of Canada, and I’m guessing it’s not many.

Cape Reinga is also the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, a line you can actually see as the two massive bodies of water collide, creating turbulent waters, rogue waves, and brilliant hues of blue and green. To see them interact is a thing of beauty, and J and I took the time to sit and watch the swirling waters, enjoying this very special moment.

Meeting of Tasman and Pacific Cape Reinga
Beautiful but volatile: where two great bodies of water come together.

Spiritually speaking, Cape Reinga is the most important place in Maori culture as it is where, after death, all Maori spirits travel to. The spirits descend the roots of the pohutukawa tree to the sea below, traveling underwater until they reach Three Kings Islands, and emerge onto the highest point, Ohaua. Here the spirits bid their last farewell to the living world and return to their ancestors. Whether you believe in that kind of stuff or not, Cape Reinga will definitely make you feel something.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reinga Lighthouse and the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

The lighthouse here is in full operation and has been since 1941. It is the first light in New Zealand sailors see and it is controlled via computer in Wellington, a city located over 1,000 km away. Prior to 1987, the lighthouse had a keeper who maintained the massive 10m high structure.

If you have time and are feeling up to it, there are lots of hiking tracks around this area, long and short, or campsites if you don’t feel like driving all the way back and want to enjoy this amazing area for a bit longer.

Tapotupotu beach area Cape Reinga
There’s a camping area here at Tapotupotu and lots of coastline to explore!

We drove down to the Tapotupotu camping area where we wandered the beach and tidal pools during low tide. It’s not a great swimming beach due to the rips and volatile waters, but it’s pretty cool to explore.

Exploring tide pools cape reinga
Looking for treasures in the tide pools.

J and I were here in the off-season (first week of March), and amidst Coronavirus travel restrictions, so it wasn’t too busy. During the peak of summer and tourist season though, I’m guessing it gets busy so visiting early to try and avoid the crowds would be a great idea. And give yourself time to slow down and enjoy this beautiful place!

Clear water tidal pools cape reinga
Clear water makes for beautiful photos at the tide pools.

Have you been to Cape Reinga in New Zealand? What did you think?


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