Published: March 6th 2010January 9th 2010
Cape Reinga is located on the Aupouri Peninsula at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island. The nearest town is more than 60 miles south.
This end-of-the-earth point is a very special place for the Maori people. "Reinga" means "Underworld" in Maori. Cape Reinga is also called "Rerenga Wairua" which means "the leaping-off place of spirits". The Maori believe that it is here where souls depart this earth for the next world. Quoting wikipedia: "According to mythology, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife in the spiritual homeland of Hawaiki, using the Te Ara Wairua, the 'Spirits' pathway'. At Cape Reinga they depart the mainland. They turn briefly at the Three Kings Islands for one last look back towards the land, then continue on their journey."
What a peaceful way to go.
Unfortunately for us, Cape Reinga is a bit tough to reach. Famous (but misnamed) 90-Mile Beach (it's only 58 miles, or 88 km, long) stretches up the west coast of the Aupouri Peninsula towards Cape Reinga. It is a popular tourist spot but can only be visited on tours - a long 10-hour tour on a bumpy bus (probably with crying kids). The easiest way to get to Cape Reinga without seriously breaching your rental car contract is to pop on to one of the tours. We decided to appreciate this spiritual center from afar.
Instead, we drove to the lovely little town of Kerikeri, which (lucky Kerikerians!) contains the Kerikeri Bakehouse. The KeriKeri Bakehouse houses many gastronomical delights and is, hands down, the best bakery that we've had the pleasure to encounter in our five months of travel. We picked up sandwiches for lunch and drove over to a local park for a hike to a waterfall.
At the falls, we ate our sandwiches and watched a woman who had crossed the stream above the falls and was sitting at the edge on a large rock, holding a large bunch of bright pink balloons. She sat perfectly still for a very long time and then stood and released the balloons. As she crossed the stream on her way back, we said hello and found out that the balloons were in memory of her young niece who had just passed away in Australia. She couldn't afford a plane ticket there and so was honoring the girl's memory with the balloons.
Neither of us are what we'd call religious but it is easy to feel very spiritual here and connected to the community. And so we said a small prayer for that little girl on our way home.