Cape Reinga in New Zealand
Let’s face it; the vast majority of travellers who visit New Zealand have not even heard of Cap Reinga. Let alone those who will have the motivation to go there. This well-known Cape Reinga is nevertheless a wonder to discover. It has all the charm you can ever imagine; a superb road to get there, splendid landscapes all around, different activities and a very special atmosphere.
I have just returned in October 2017 from a 3-week New Zealand road trip where we had planned in our itinerary on the North Island of New Zealand to spend a few days in this place. We wanted to enjoy this not yet very visited place, compared to the very touristic areas of Rotorua, the Tongariro or the Bay of Islands.
This Cape holds a particular meaning for Maori people who believe that the souls of the dead rise up to Cape Reinga to reach the Beyond. In this article, I present the different things to do and see on Cape Reinga.
As a good self-respecting geographer, I have to add a few sentences on geography! The Cape Reinga is located in the far north of the North Island of New Zealand. The most closely populated area, the city of Kaitaia, is located more than 100 km to the south. The tip of the Cape symbolizes the separation between the Tasman Sea (to the west) and the Pacific Ocean (to the east). Since 2007, the site has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
Cape Reinga: what to see and do?
I would honestly advise anyone wishing to visit the North Island of New Zealand to go and visit Cape Reinga. At the end of the article, I will explain how to get there, via which routes and the other alternatives. In the meantime I will introduce you to 5 interesting things to do and see there.
1 - Drive on the Ninety miles beach (90 miles beach)
You’re going to say, “You can drive on the beach?” Yes, the experience is possible on this beach on the west coast of Cape Reinga where driving on the beach is allowed under certain conditions. You can enjoy this splendid beach for dozens of kilometers while driving at full speed. It’s still limited to 100 km/h (60 mph) but that’s not bad for a beach, huh?
To avoid any trouble, I would still recommend that you follow recent tracks and avoid getting too close to the water with your vehicle! Also be careful with the tide. I’m telling you this because you’ll be surprised to see a few cars completely silted up on the beach. It’s probably better if you can avoid it.
In theory (no, I mean in reality), very often it will not be possible to drive your rental car on the beach (it will be written in the contract). If you are willing to take the risk, think beforehand how costly the trip could become… The ideal situation would be to have your own 4×4. Moreover, for those who are looking for a van or camper van for their road trip, I often recommend this site.
However, there is another possibility. You can take a tourist bus from either Kaitaia or the Bay of Islands (Paihia). You will then have the opportunity to discover the entire beach with explanations in English about Maori legends.
2 - Enjoy the road to Cape Reinga
Yes, it may sound silly to say, but honestly, the road to Cape Reinga from the city of Kaitaia is really beautiful and worth the drive. Of course, you don’t have 45 other choices, since there is only one road to Cape Reinga.
During our visit to the Cape, we arrived in the late afternoon, with a wonderful light for photography. At times, you get breathtaking views of the sea and the vast green expanses as far as the eye can see, all filled with cows and sheep. This place breathes authenticity as we are far from the tourist spots of the country.
3 - Observe the Cape Reinga lighthouse
This is obviously one of the main reasons why people go to Cape Reinga. The imposing lighthouse, built in 1941, overlooks the sea and the ocean that are raging against each other.
The lighthouse is easily accessible from the parking lot, about a 15-minute walk away. Everything is perfectly organized, to tell you, I walked down with my baby and met other people with strollers….
At the point, explanations of the encounter between the ocean and the sea are given, as well as Maori legends of the area. In any case, the view over this horizon is quite wonderful and dreamers will love to let their long-lasting gaze lie for long minutes while contemplating the open sea.
Access to the lighthouse site is free of charge. However, you can’t go up in it!
4 - Surfing on the sand dunes of Te Paki
Who would have thought that there was a real desert in northern New Zealand, in the middle of Cape Reinga? Well, I give you that it’s certainly not the Sahara but when you go up to the Cape, you will see on your left a sign “Te Paki Sand Dune”.
Access is free and is by leaving the main road to Cape Reinga. This is a bit of the attraction of the region with the “Ninety miles beach” mentioned above. This area is actually a large dune area, quite impressive to look upon. They are as far as the eye can see or almost. The highest ones reach almost 150 m high!
In the car park, you can rent body boards and slide down the dunes. The whole thing is a very nice thing to do. However, you’ll surely eat a lot of sand when you get to the bottom of the dune.
Take advantage of the area to climb to the highest point and admire an impressive view of Cape Reinga and the Tasman Sea.
5 - Hiking in the Cape Reinga area
Finally, the last thing I definitely recommend is to go hiking around the cape. You will find lots of hiking trails that start from the lighthouse parking lot. Others start in Tapotupotu Bay, the beautiful bay where we camped for two nights.
From here, you can reach Sandy Bay, a superb sandy beach known in the area. Other walks that last from 1 to 2 hours start on the edge of this bay and lets you have spectacular views of the cliffs and the bay.
How to get to Cape Reinga?
It all depends, of course, on where you are coming from.
If you are looking for cheap flights from the US or Canada, I mention the good deals in my article on the travel budget to New Zealand (as well as an idea of the costs in the country for those preparing the trip).
For more details, I advise you to look on this site to compare and find the cheapest flights from the USA to New Zealand. For Canadians, you can find flights from $900 through this site.
We were coming from Auckland personally. Coming from the South, there are three possibilities:
- The first is to take Route 1 (main road) and go straight up to Cape Reinga. This is not the most ideal route, even if it is the shortest. It will take five and half hours from Auckland to do about 420 Km. With stopovers, allow at least day’s drive,
- The other possibility we had considered was to go through the city of Dargaville, on the west coast, to see the great forests of Kaori with its thousand-year-old trees, especially the famous Waipoua Forest. This route allows you to split the road in two and spend the night somewhere in the middle. We had slept at Trounson Kauri Park, a little south of Kaori Forest. It takes 3 hours to get there,
- Another alternative to cut the road in half would be to stop at the Bay of Islands on the east coast. It is also about a 3-hour drive to get there.
Importantly, it is strongly recommended to refuel and eat in the town of Kaitaia, the last city in Northland. A small gas station is located around the village of Houhoura in case.
I had personally rented a car via this great site that compares with a large number of brands. There are amazing prices
Where to sleep in Cape Reinga?
There are several possibilities of accommodation in Cape Reinga, many people have recommended to us the camp site located at Tapotupotu Bay. You can access it on the right a few kilometers before arriving at Cape Reinga. Looking for more information about Camping in New Zealand?
Don’t expect luxury here, it’s a basic DOC campground. So it’s a dry toilet, a cold shower, and that’s it. All for $6 per person, which is really cheap. We spent two nights in this beautiful place. It is the perfect place to discover the region in 2/3 days. Please note that the campsite can get full quite quickly during the touristy season. There were still a lot of motorhomes, even though it was almost out of season. I therefore advise for you not to arrive too late to choose your place.
For people who are not camping or in a camper van, I recommend 3 different accommodations in the Cape Reinga area.
Pukenui Lodge Motel
It is an ideal place to stay on the drive to Cape Reinga. A beautiful large room and a warm welcome!
Have you ever been to New Zealand, have you ever visited Cape Reinga? How did you find the place?
So, I hope that this article on Cape Reinga inspired you to go there. It’s worth it, despite all the hours to travel there and back. If you would like to see some more opinions on the site, don’t hesitate to check out Tripadvisor.
See you soon,