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At the tip of New Zealand lies an ancient Pohutukawa tree and a lonely Lighthouse overlooking the meeting of two powerful seas. The Pacific Ocean and the Tasmin sea collide in a spectacular show, neither giving an inch to the other. Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) is the northernmost tip of New Zealand that is available to the public. North Cape is further but is a scientific reserve. Cape Reinga is the end of the road for you, baby.

The History

It is believed that the Pohutukawa tree that lies at the tip of the cape is over 800 years old. According to Maori legend, this tree is where the deceased Maori travel to leap from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. This makes Cape Reinga the most spiritually significant spot (the three s's) in New Zealand.

Kupe, known as the great navigator, is said to have discovered the Far North when he thought he was heading towards a whale. In fact, he was travelling towards Mount Camel in Houhora. Kupe’s crew, upon landing, settled from Cape Reinga to Parengarenga Harbour.

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga lighthouse

One of the most famous lighthouses in New Zealand, Cape Reinga lighthouse is also one of the most important. It stands at 10m in height on the edge of a steep rocky cape 165m above sea level and watches over the Tasman Sea (to the west) and Pacific Ocean (to the east). The light can be seen 49 km out to sea and is often the first light in New Zealand that sailors see.

The lighthouse originally stood upon Motuopao Island from 1879 but by WWII it was realised that this was the wrong location to protect ships from passing through the dangerous and turbulent waters. The glasshouse and light mechanism on top of the lighthouse were removed and placed at the new lighthouse standing place at Cape Reinga. The remains of the original lighthouse still lie at the northern edge of the island.

Cape Reinga lighthouse was the last watched lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. While today it is run remotely by computer from Wellington, it was watched by a keeper until 1987.

How to get to Cape Reinga

You can get to Cape Reinga several ways.

  • The northernmost town of Kaitaia is still around 100kms south of the Cape and takes about an hour and a half each way to drive. This used to be even longer, the road used to be unsealed for the last 19kms but is now sealed. From Auckland, it is roughly a 5 hour drive.
  • Guided coach tours depart from Kaitaia and Pahia daily, traveling via 90 mile beach.
  • Try the Dune Rider, this unique way of seeing Northland will take you along 90 mile beach and to the Cape Reinga lighthouse, with a sand dune boogie board stop on the way.
  • Scenic flights also depart from the Bay of Islands which take you to the Cape and along both coasts.

Know before you go

  • Being a sacred site, eating is not permitted at Cape Reinga. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for a picnic.
  • Dogs are not permitted.
  • From the carpark it is about a kilometer walk, there is not a lot of shade along the way so make sure you pack some sunscreen and sunnies for the short jaunt. It is not a difficult walk, even small children can manage it easily.
  • Be prepared to share the views with throngs of people. This is a popular tourist spot for both overseas travelers and locals.

Our experience

My friend, Michelle (from Walking on Foreign Chels) and I took her children up to Cape Reinga from Whangarei one sunny summers day. It proved to be a full day trip as we underestimated the time it would take us to get there. Luckily we had plenty to keep us and the children occupied from beautiful scenery to ponder over, car games, sweets and loud music to drown out the kids sing to.

There are plenty of picturesque rural towns breaking up the long winding roads and as you travel along the coast there are plenty of islands to awe you. That part of Kiwiland ain't called the Bay of Islands fo' nothin'.

The lazy walk to the lighthouse winds along the cliff giving you stunning views as far as the eye can stretch. The meeting of the two seas is perfectly visible with each ocean a different colour. Dramatic scenes play out as the waves crash into each other. The Tasmin Sea and the Pacific Ocean seem locked in an eternal battle for ground. Neither can be claimed victorious, both equally stubborn.

Cape Reinga is a popular spot for both tourists and locals, especially now that the road has been sealed. It is well worth the trek up the country to experience the spiritual wonder. Plus you get to take the obligatory tourist snap underneath the road sign pointing out how far away New York, London, Sydney and other such places are. It really does feel as though you are at the bottom of the world when reading the signs.

Final Thoughts

I love the Maori culture, history, and legends. Cape Reinga is one of the most significant places in Aotearoa. We are pretty lucky really to be able to experience it.

If you make a day of it you can explore more of beautiful Northland and the Bay of Islands. We stopped off in Kaitaia on the way home and had fish and chips (fush n chups, check out how to speak Kiwi) on the beach which ended the day splendidly. (Except for Michelle's oldest daughter getting stung by a bee. But that could happen anywhere. Honestly).

Where is a place that is special to you? Let me know in the comments.



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The tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga

20 thoughts on “The end of the road – Cape Reinga, New Zealand

  1. That photo with the lighthouse oeeking at some distance is awesome.

    I read that dogs are not allowed in the area, and New Zealand is one of the countries that are super strict about the import of foreign species as they might impact the countries ecology (thinks about pests that may come with animals or invasive plant species).

    • No, dogs are not allowed in the area or in many of our national parks and walks unless they are avian aversion trained (trained to stay away from birds)

  2. New Zealand always fascinates me. I know it has many landscape resemblances with Canada, but each country is different with its culture, people and history. Perhaps someday would like to travel there. So many places, so little time. Love your stunning photos. Jem, Thank you for the blog!

    • I hope you manage to make it over here one day ☺️ I’ve heard NZ is very similar to Canada in terms of landscape too

  3. I’ve been to a couple of locations where oceans and seas meet; Kanyakumari in India, where Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian sea meet as well as Cape Point in South Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Cape Reinga seems every bit as impressive as these two. I especially enjoyed the historical reference at the beginning and the photos of the small lighthouse.

  4. I have always heard such wonderful things about New Zealand, it is at the top of my must travel list! Now to sort out enough time to go – not really a week holiday from Canada 😉 Loved this post and learning about the Maori culture. Adding Cape Regina to my travel planning list!!

  5. Is there any place in New Zealand that ISN’T jaw-dropping?! Plus, the history and significance here is wonderful. Would love to visit… now if only we could find affordable airfare…. 😉

    • Haha that’s the hardest thing, is finding the right airfares. Especially as NZ is so far away! I love the history and culture of our wee country 🙂 thanks for readin’!

  6. I was in New Zealand for 2 weeks and yet, there were so many places that I could not make it to. But it is one of my top 3 favourite countries in the world, out of the 35 that I’ve been to now. Cape Reinga lighthouse looks particularly mesmerizing, I love such places. Walking to the lighthouse located on top of the cliff, with the blue sea set in the background or catching a sunset at such a place is such a great thing to do. I love all your pictures!

    • Oh I love that NZ is in your top 3! Makes me a very proud Kiwi 😉 It was a wonderful experience, especially seeing the meeting of the two seas. Thanks for readin’ and for your kind comments 🙂

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