Is Cape Reinga worth the drive?
Three months in New Zealand sounds like an awesome lot, however upon planning my trip from Auckland (more or less) for the next few weeks to come, I realized that it was in fact, not quite enough. After I visited the Waitakere Ranges from Auckland, I drove up to Whangarei and Whangarei Heads, where I got lost on a hiking trail. From here the plan was to drive further up north to hike Te Paki Coast Track, a three day hike along the ultimate north of New Zealand. However I had been warned in Whangarei that some really bad weather was approaching the Northland region and as I didn’t want to spend more than three weeks on the North Island in total, I had to make choices. Waiting for the weather to pass and then hike Te Paki, or leave that idea and just skip it instead. After a good night’s sleep I made up my mind: I’d skip Te Paki yet would still drive all the way up to Cape Reinga, as this is the northernmost accessible point of New Zealand. Simply because I was very curious and really wanted to see it.
My journey to Cape Reinga
My journey to Cape Reinga starts in Whangarei. From here it’s a 265 kilometer drive to the ultimate north of New Zealand’s main land. After breakfast I load my camping gear into the trunk and take off for Kaitaia, a pretty depressing provincial town and the last real civilization before Cape Reinga. I almost choke when I have to pay 30 cents a liter more for my gas but not fueling up is not an option, from here I’ve heard there’s no more fuel available. I plan to grab a coffee at McDonalds but it’s insanely busy there and realize that the New Zealanders also have their vacations at the moment. I leave without the coffee and rush out of Kaitaia as soon as I can.
From Kaitaia the drive is still about one and a half hours up to Cape Reinga. Some 30 minutes after my departure from Kaitaia my cell phone service drops and the road slowly becomes more windy and quiet. Even though it was sunny when I left Whangarei and there were just a few clouds when I left Kaitaia, dark clouds are gathering above my head. Along the way I see some signs offering tours to Cape Reinga and sometimes a lonely farm. Other than that, the landscape looks quiet and isolated and I feel quite uneasy from time to time. As for other traffic, there’s cars passing by every now and then, but not a whole lot to be true.
Just before I arrive at Cape Reinga, I see the road to Tapotupotu Bay, which is where I’d like to camp for the evening. I doubt if I should drive to Cape Reinga first, however don’t want to risk the campsite being full and so I drive down to the bay where I pitch up my tent. It’s truly gorgeous and in all honestly, I don’t want to share it with too many people and so I hope that the visitors for the day will have left once I return from Cape Reinga.
About Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is the northernmost part of New Zealand within reach for tourists, but not the most northern point in New Zealand. This is Cape North, located some 20 kilometers east of Cape Reinga, but this is used for scientific research and not open to public. Cape Reinga is a sacred site to the Maori, you will find an 800 years old Pohutukawa tree and from here, the spirits of the deceased leave the mainland and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki.
Once at Cape Reinga, I’m a little scared by all the cars and campervans that are parked along the road, before having even reached the parking lot. Traffic controllers are trying to make everything run smoothly but I get quite discouraged straight away, as it seems like I’ve arrived at a total tourist trap. Eventually one of the traffic controllers directs me to a free parking spot, right in between two touring cars. Around me are some incredible crowds, varying from Kiwi to Russian to German and Dutch people. Wow. I didn’t expect it to be desolated here, but didn’t expect this many crowds, either.
By now, a thick sea mist has gathered around the cape and I cannot see more than some hundred meters away. The famous Cape Reinga lighthouse is not within sight yet and so I decide to toss some things into my backpack and start walking into that direction anyway. The walk to Cape Reinga is about 1 kilometer long and takes you across a wide and well paved trail, easily do-able for anyone. After a few turns I still can’t see much more than mist and tourists, but eventually the Cape Reinga lighthouse comes into sight. I just ignore the tourists for now.
It’s extremely windy yet not too cold. While I’m being run over by screaming kids and parents chasing after them, I start to feel restless. It feels like being in a Zoo on Sunday afternoon. I decide to head over to a piece of land and sit down in the grass, in order to relax a bit and push away my negative energy. The first few minutes it’s not working because even though I’ve closed my eyes, I still hear screaming kids and parents around me (‘do not go past that hill!’ ‘Please smile into the camera NOW!’). Eventually I succeed in closing my mind for this and to focus on the sound of the waves crashing into the shores below me. Seagulls are screaming away in the wind and slowly I start calming down. And eventually … the sun starts to shine a little.
Off to the Cape
After sitting like that for about fifteen minutes, I feel relaxed enough to walk over the the cape and the lighthouse. I start taking some photos of the Cape Reinga lighthouse and the road sign and walk over to the far northern point. Here, I stare into the depth below me. This is where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea gather and the water below me is simply spectacular. When looking to the left, I can see Cape Maria van Diemen, which received its name from Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. I want to hike over but I realize that it’s quite a far end and that I have not checked the tidal charts for crossing the estuary.
Eventually I decide to head back to the car and peace and quiet of the Tapotupotu Bay campsite. Maybe I’ll head back to Cape Reinga tonight in case the weather clears, maybe it’ll be a bit more quiet then. Once back on the campsite, the caretaker tells me that this night it will be starting to storm incredibly and that I have to secure my tent very tight. I make sure that the pegs are fully into the ground and steady the lines where possible. With an ocean view and Hiking Lonely Planet on my lap, I try to plan the days ahead. In the evening I take a short stroll on the beach, but it starts to rain a little and I feel extremely tired. After having been in New Zealand for about a week, the jetlag still hasn’t left my body.
Soon after it really starts to rain and I decide to put as much gear as I can in my car already, so that at least it’ll stay dry if the horrible weather as promised indeed decides to appear. Not a whole lot later I fall asleep, still wearing my clothes and wearing my contact lenses. I think I may need it.
Right in the middle of the night I wake up. The wind is howling around my tent and that weather warning was not just a fun joke. The rain pours down onto my tent and somehow the noise is too loud and I can’t get back to sleep anymore. My car is about 200 meters from where I’m camping and in my head I’m planning a quick departure as soon as it gets light. I sometimes slid away into dreamland for a little, but never really fall back asleep properly. And so once it’s light and it’s still raining like crazy, I decide to take a few runs back and forth between my tent and the car with my stuff. Breaking down the tent in a storm is an interesting thing to do especially when you’re by yourself, however within minutes I’ve thrown all the wet stuff into my car. Once behind the steering wheel I realize how soaked I am and start shivering. I want to get out of here as soon as I can, away from this end of the world and away from the land where the storm is chasing me. Away from all other tourists and away from the Maori legendary jumping point. And so I hit the gas for some hours straight and during the early evening I arrive back in Auckland, some 450 kilometers down south. Along the way it keeps on raining and as it turns out, the New Zealand North Island has been captured by a storm that lasts at least 48 hours and I’m right in the middle of it.
Is Cape Reinga worth it? Yes and no. I understand this may not be the answer you are looking for, yet I think you can probably decide for yourself whether it will be worth it for you to make the drive all the way up or not. Let me say that if there would not have been so many tourists I would have experienced Cape Reinga differently. In all honesty I just hadn’t expected that so many people would make the never ending drive up to Cape Reinga, because all in all it’s not a whole lot more than a lighthouse and a roadsign. Due to the big crowds I had difficulties feeling the magic of this place. Once I had managed to leave my negative vibes behind, it got a lot easier, although I’m sure it’s a stunning place when the sun is out and when there are few other people around. I felt a bit unlucky with the weather, too, which forced me to get back to civilization because spending three days in a tent in the middle of nowhere without anything around (no shops, hotels, restaurants etc.) and no mobile service is not my idea of a fun trip.
So if I found Cape Reinga worth it, is difficult to answer. The road up was long and sometimes a little boring, yet I think that due to the weather I may have gotten that feeling. If you don’t have a whole lot of time on the North Island, I’d definitely skip Cape Reinga and would try to enjoy other great places such as Taupo and Tongariro National Park. If you have all the time in the world, are not traveling in high season and the weather forecast looks awesome, then it may just as well be worth the drive …
Want to read more about my adventures while hiking in New Zealand? You may also enjoy the following posts:
– The best hikes in New Zealand
– Hiking on Rangitoto Island – a great urban walk from the city of Auckland
– The best Whangarei Walks
New here and curious who We12travel is? Go here to learn more! For a daily dose of outdoor & adventure inspiration, follow We12travel on Instagram and Facebook!
Thanks for sharing!