Posted by: scribe9 | February 18, 2010


I’m not referring to the New Zealand brand of ice cream, but the northernwestern most tip of the North Island, Cape Reinga. It’s neither the farthest north (that’s Surville Cliff on North Cape, 20 miles east) nor the farthest west (that’s Cape Maria van Diemen, 4 miles west). (Note on names: Cape Maria van Diemen was named by Abel Tasman of the Dutch East India Company for the wife of the governor general of Indonesia. Surville Cliff was named for the captain of the French India Company’s ship that sailed by a century later, at the same time as, but without noticing or being noticed by, Captain Cook of  the British Royal Navy.)

Cape Reinga is where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea crash into each other. According the Maori, the Tasman is the masculine and the Pacific is the feminine. 

The cape is tapu–sacred–to the Maori. Reinga is Maori for “departing place of the spirits,” and they’re said to leave for the underworld down the roots of this tree:

It’s a pohutukawa tree. Usually the trees bloom red in December (see, but this one is said never to have blossomed in the 800 years Maori have been here.

It’s not clear to me why the Tropic of Capricorn is a different direction than the equator.

Bluff is a small town near the southernmost tip of the South Island. It’s not the southernmost tip of the nation. To the south of it is Stewart Island, much smaller and lesser-known than the two main islands, but it’s reputedly great for outdoor recreation.

Returning north rapidly: offshore of Cape Reinga about thirty miles are the Three Kings Islands, named by Tasman two days before Epiphany, 1643. There are actually 13 islands in the group, and they’re beyond the main shipping lane between from Australia and New Zealand. The main lighthouse used to be on an island off Cape Maria van Diemen, but the water was so choppy and  it was so far from the road that they built a new one on Cape Reinga in 1940. It’s not very imposing, at 30 feet tall:

The lighthouse keeper left in 1987, and the light–a fifty-watt, solar-powered bulb enhanced by lenses–is now controlled from Wellington, 670 miles to the south.

We hiked over to the very nice, quiet Te Werahi beach between capes Maria Van Diemen and Reinga, where we happened on three gulls and these two oystercatchers:

We also saw a few crabs scuttling around the tide pools. Then we hiked back up the hill to the brand-new visitors’ center, with its signs in both Maori and English, and its fresh plantings of natives. The restroom was the biggest I’ve ever seen without sinks–water’s an issue, so they just mounted a lot of hand-sanitizer dispensers on one wall. The parking lot has to accommodate some fair-sized tour buses. which provide a popular day trip driving 90-Mile Beach from the largest nearby town one way and the highway the other, depending on tides.

We stuck to Highway 1. Its 25 northernmost miles are some of the best outside the cities–some stretches even have shoulders! and there are no hairpin turns!–although about two miles of it is terrible, still under construction. There’s a sign that says the last 21 km are unpaved, which they probably won’t change until later this year when the whole stretch is finished. About two miles are unsealed but tamped-down gravel, which is a good driving surface.

There are far more cattle than sheep up this far. Among the dairy cattle are some that are grayish-brown with black legs and bellies, and dark faces, that look as if they’ve been dipped in oil. They’re a New Zealand cross of Holsteins (which are virtually always referred to formally here, as Holstein-Friesians) and Jerseys. Among the beef cattle we saw reddish ones, which could have been any of a number of Scottish breeds, or this Bavarian one:

We went through tiny towns with empty storefronts, because who wants to patronize a little bitty two-by-four kind of store any more? We also passed this Anglican Maori church.

The churchyard tells the sad story of short lives common to members of one culture that got swamped by another.

Except for the picture of the calf, which is from the Gelbvieh Breeders Association of New Zealand website, all the photos were taken by Rick Wise, who never tires of the view of Shipwreck Bay.



  1. […] She’s taking photos approximately every 30 seconds. We’ll skip the photos of Cape Reinga, because it looked a lot better in the real February, and you can see it at […]

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