Driving up, or down, Ninety Mile Beach is an amazing experience. As I said previously, I did it in March 2002 with mum and dad on an organised day trip from Kerikeri. Barry wasn’t bothered about doing it; he’s always looking for ways to save our pennies/cents! The beach is actually a recognised highway with the normal rules of the road applying. Apart from if you don’t follow the packed sand below the high tide mark, and verge into the soft above high tide level, it’s extremely likely you’ll be marooned. Understandably it’s generally best to make sure the tide is going out before you begin!
Where Spirits Soar
We chose to drive up State Highway 1 instead. Unfortunately, you can’t see any glimpses of Ninety Mile Beach driving that way to Cape Reinga. We expected a long, straight road, so were surprised there were many twists and turns. It doesn’t take too long for there to be a few cars behind, waiting to pass when you’re driving a campervan! Fortunately, there were frequent stopping places to pull over and let the speedier cars pass.
One essential stop on the way up and back down again was a fresh fruit ice cream (and lots of other things) shop – ‘Houhora Honey Bees‘. We parked for one on the way up – Barry had pineapple, and I had boysenberry. Delish! On the way down we had a paua pie as they’d looked rather tasty. It was one of the best pies I’ve ever tasted, eaten in a stunning location at Houhora Heads. The pastry was almost as divine as our surroundings. I took the chance to buy a massive pot of their local honey too – only 1kg for $15. Amazing value!
Anyway, I’m digressing! After the ice cream pit-stop, we carried up to the magnificent Cape Reinga Lighthouse. It’s at this point of the Far North (not quite the most northerly point of NZ, that’s ‘North Cape’ a short distance away) that the South Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. The ‘collision’ caused is a sight to behold with rolling waves crashing as the two separate vast bodies of water join.
The walk to the lighthouse from the car park has been massively improved since I last did it with mum and dad. It’s a fair distance; they were amazing to do so much when they were here. Dad was almost 82, and mum nearly 69. Crikey. That’s only eight years older than I am now! How scary.
According to Maori legend, at death, the spirit soars up to the gnarled 800-year-old pohutukawa tree at a promontory adjacent to the lighthouse. It’s said this tree has flowered only once – or not at all depending on what you read. The spirit descends through the tree to the underworld via the roots, then heads ‘home’ to Hawaiki.
If you look at the image above, the tree is on the promontory on the right.
We’d intended staying the night right by a secluded beach at the DOC campground at Tapotupoku. An idyllic spot. But dammit there was no Internet signal and I had three work calls scheduled. So we had no choice but to head back to the main Highway where Barry discovered a perfect parking place at Te Paki Reserve.
Ah well. People may think we’re both bumming around with lots of cash. Nothing of the sort! I’m still working (just enough for what we need, and no more thank you!), and whoopee Barry will be getting his NZ pension on 6th December. He’s recently had confirmation his application has gone through successfully.
Sand Dunes Everywhere
We’d intentionally parked by the road to Te Paki Sand Dunes. Oh my goodness these truly are spectacular! I fondly recall boogie boarding down one in March 2002 – when I was a mere 42 years old. I didn’t risk it this time, my body is too old and precious to risk injury. If you ever visit and want to experience the thrill, there’s a large truck renting boards out so no need to cart your own there.
Walking UP the dunes is a killer for your calves! But undoubtedly worth it for the views and surreal feeling of being surrounded by mountains of sand. And although you COULD walk to the beach, it’s a heck of a distance. Two hours each way apparently. Unsurprisingly we didn’t’!
We were still up one of the dunes when it suddenly rained, so we took a swift exit down a dune – almost running but managing to remain upright!
We toyed with visiting Spirits Bay after leaving, but felt that making NZAreandare negotiate a twisting 16km gravel road, there and back, wasn’t worth it.
Lunch Spot Paradise
As I said above, we made a slight detour to Hauhora Heads to eat our paua pie – what a luscious lunch spot. I had a paddle in the crystal clear waters, imagining how the coastline would soon look covered in crimson pohutukawa flowered trees. There’s a massive campground here, with what looks like many static vans. It’s got a place to launch small boats and safe, shallow water ideal for young children. On my paddle, I was childishly happy to spot a couple of scallop shells underneath a large pohutukawa tree overhanging the ocean.
Not long after leaving our breathtaking lunch spot, a rather different sight came into view – it triggered memories of the hilarious ‘cowtastrophe on the cut‘ debacle during lockdown! Especially seeing their pelvises jutting out of their rears. You’d have to watch the live video on our Facebook page I suspect to understand what that’s all about.
“Stick closely behind me“, the man in the quad bike instructed Barry. I was a little freaked out by the cows weaving in and out frantically – seeing the gun strapped to the quad bike gave a bit of reassurance. Poor cows!
Descendants Of The Fallen Policeman
On our way north, we spotted a rather unusual building with two towers. We didn’t stop. However, on reading the book ‘Explore New Zealand: Over 60 Scenic Driving Tours‘, that I’ve had since 2002, I read this was the ‘Ratana Church’ at Te Kao. So we purposefully looked out for it and stopped. We were overjoyed to discover its doors unlocked so we could visit. We took off our shoes before entering.
The twin towers represent the sons of Wiremu Ratana, a famous Maori faith-healer and Maori activist who founded the church in the 1920s. The sons were named Alpha and Omega, after the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
We believe that Sargeant Matiu Ratana, shot dead in Croydon recently, was a descendant of this whanau/family. It felt appropriate to visit and pay respects to his memory. What a tragedy – how on earth was it allowed to happen? I hope the root cause is found, and such a tragic event doesn’t happen again.
Houseboats & Tales In The Fish Tail Of New Zealand
We continued southwards to Awanui, at the east side of the end of the North Island fish’s tale. If you’re unfamiliar with Maori legends, myths and stories, Māui hooked the North Island from the sea much to his brothers’ surprise:
“But the brothers only laughed harder so Māui clenched his fist and hit himself hard on the nose. His nose bled and Māui covered his hook with his own blood. Māui then stood at the front of the canoe and whirled his line above his head as he recited his karakia. He spun his line out to sea, the line sunk deep to the ocean floor, down into the depths of the domain of Tangaroa, and instantly the hook was taken.”Maori Myths, Legends & Contemporary Stories: https://eng.mataurangamaori.tki.org.nz/Support-materials/Te-Reo-Maori/Maori-Myths-Legends-and-Contemporary-Stories/Maui-and-the-giant-fish
I recommend reading the stories I link to if you have a few minutes. I have such a fondness for them, developed over the last 19 years.
As we turned to the east towards our next destination, Barry spotted a familiar, fond and missed sight – not something we’d associate with NZ …
Most unusual indeed. However, I’ve got an inkling the ‘Captain’, who is now calling himself ‘The Chauffeur’, is loving seeing his birth country anew on land in a campervan.
Here’s his superb photographic perspective of the Far North so far. From our walk at the Ahipara end of Ninety Mile Beach, to Awanui. Be prepared to be astounded by overwhelming beauty …
(Click on an image to view as a gallery)