Where Seas Collide and Souls Depart - a Pilgrimmage to Cape Reinga and back

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January 8th 2017
Published: January 10th 2017
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Where Seas CollideWhere Seas CollideWhere Seas Collide

Linda with both the Cape Reinga lighthouse and the meeting of the waters clearly visible behind her
Two days after spending Christmas with my family in Brisbane, Linda and I hopped on board a flight from Coolangatta to Auckland for our long-awaited holiday to New Zealand. Not only would this be Linda's first time ever in New Zealand, but it would be my first visit to the country in 33 years - having previously visited with my family whilst still in pre-school.

Given the outstanding success of our previous road-trip holidays on both the West and East Coasts of Australia, it was no surprise that we had decided to hire a campervan for our exploration of New Zealand – which we had booked no less than sixteen months in advance, in order to take advantage of a ridiculously cheap deal from Wicked Campers (ie 75 days with full accident cover for less than $3000)! Of course in accepting our unbelievably cheap quote way back then we had ignored the wise old adage that states “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is”...

So we really shouldn't have been surprised when - after having assumed everything was in order for over a year and proceeded to book our flights and accommodation for either end
One Tree HillOne Tree HillOne Tree Hill

Otherwise known as Maungakiekie, one of countless volcanic plugs scattered throughout Auckland
of the trip - we received an e-mail from Wicked in October stating that not only would the depot in Auckland not be open on the 2nd of January (when we were due to collect our van), but that the price outlined in our booking confirmation (for which we had paid a $500 deposit 13 months earlier) was wrong, and that instead of $2900 the rental price would in fact be over $8000!!!

Needless to say this set in motion a furious chain of phone calls and e-mails which ultimately resulted in an apology from Wicked for the mix-up, and an assurance that in fact our booking confirmation would be honoured in full! We collectively breathed a sigh of relief... until five days later when I suddenly received an e-mail out of the blue stating that our booking had been cancelled altogether! Sure enough, when I tried to log into our existing booking – which had remained in their system throughout our ordeal of the previous week – there was no longer a booking in our name! Queue another flurry of angry phone calls and e-mails...

Eventually after e-mailing the owner of the company directly, I received a
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Pohutukawa tree on Takarunga / Mount Victoria, with the Auckland skyline in the background
phone call and follow-up e-mail from his son, once again apologizing for the mistake and assuring me that a new booking had been issued that honoured all of the details contained in our original booking. By this point we didn't know whether to laugh of cry... though it did motivate us sufficiently to come up with a back-up plan in the event that we were unable to secure a campervan in New Zealand – a three-month backpacking trip through South East Asia instead! It also motivated us to head straight out to the Wicked Campers depot on our second day in Auckland (four days before we were due to pick-up our campervan) just to get some sort of reassurance that there would in fact be a campervan for us to collect (and for the price that we had originally been quoted). After that all we could really do was cross our fingers and hope for the best...

So having spent an enjoyable five days in Auckland, during which our time was split between exploring the city and stocking up on supplies for the road-trip (based on a list of essential items that Linda has diligently kept and refined ever
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Whangarei Falls, at the end of the Hatea River Walk
since we flew blindly into our first road-trip almost three years ago!), we finally collected out campervan - without incident - from the Wicked Campers depot on Monday 2nd January. The third and final installment of our road-trip trilogy had begun...!

After encountering very little traffic on our way out of Auckland, we were dismayed to then come suddenly grinding to a halt about thirty kilometres north of the city centre on the main highway north – though I use the term 'highway' loosely, as the reason for the gridlock turned out to be the narrowing of the road from two lanes to one for north-bound traffic at a tunnel... and this was on a short section of toll road for which we'd had to pay for the privilege!

Sadly this was a sign of things to come, as for the next hundred kilometres or so we would be slowed to a crawl every time a two-lane section of road came to an end and the traffic was forced to once again merge back into one lane. We couldn't help coming to the conclusion that traffic would actually flow faster if the road was just one lane wide
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Sea Arch through which we passed on our way into South Harbour in the Poor Knights Islands
all the way - rather than constantly switching from one lane to two and then back again - but then who are we to judge?!? In any case, our 180km journey from Auckland to Whangarei turned from a two-hour cruise to a three-hour crawl, but at least we finally had the campervan in our possession!

The next day we were up early and on the road by 7am for the short drive east to Tutukaka, where we were booked on a dive trip to the Poor Knights Islands about 20km offshore. With the islands themselves being off-limits to anyone besides scientific research teams - a result of their being considered 'tapu' (forbidden) by the local maori – and the waters around the islands having been declared a marine sanctuary around twenty years ago, the entire eco-system is virtually untouched. And with steep cliffs punctuated by countless spectacular sea arches dropping down into sparkling blue water teeming with marine life, the Poor Knights are a spectacular sight both above and below the water.

For our first dive site the captain chose Middle Arch, where an impressive sea arch sits in a sheltered cove filled with small jellyfish-like invertebrates. Not
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Just one of countless sea arches in the Poor Knights
only were we treated to sightings of venomous scorpionfish, various eels, large and brilliantly-coloured nudibranchs and a visit from a stingray early on; but we also had the unique opportunity of 'surfacing' to breath in a small air pocket contained in the roof of an underwater sea cave, 8 metres below the surface of the sea!

During our surface interval we passed through the channel between the two main islands before cruising straight through a spectacular sea arch in the appropriately-named Tunnel Island on our way into the protected cove of South Harbour, where we were able to dive the incredible Blue Mao Mao Arch - apparently rated one of the ten best dive sites in the world by no less an authority than Jacques Cousteau! With swaying meadows of kelp leading to an ethereally-lit archway about 16 metres deep (with a further 8 metres of the arch lying above sea level) the dive was truly an unforgettable experience – like swimming through an underwater cathedral with blue stained-glass windows!

Back on the boat we negotiated the rising swells for the 45-minute crossing back to the mainland, before Linda and I hopped back into the campervan for the

Linda getting acquainted with our campervan at the holiday park in Paihia
looping, twisting coastal drive between Tutukaka and Matapouri, passing beautiful secluded coves and sweeping bays backed by small coastal settlements as we went. An hour or so later (with Linda having slept most of the way) we arrived in Paihia – the gateway to the ever-popular Bay of Islands.

Finding ourselves a grassy campsite at a holiday park beside the wide expanse of the Waitangi River, we decided a lazy morning the next day was in order to recover from our dive trip, before booking ourselves on a four-hour boat cruise through the Bay of Islands for the afternoon – or at least we thought we had booked a cruise for that afternoon, until we got to the pier in Paihia only to discover that the receptionist at the holiday park had booked us onto a cruise for the following day by mistake, and there was no possibility of us getting onto the boat we were supposed to have been on as it was by now fully booked!

Thankfully some quick thinking by the crew managed to get us onto a different boat doing basically the same cruise, with the only difference being that this other boat wasn't
Island Bay in the Bay of IslandsIsland Bay in the Bay of IslandsIsland Bay in the Bay of Islands

Lapping up the views on Urupukapuka Island - moments before I realized we were already six minutes late for our boat's departure...
licensed for dolphin viewing. Nevertheless we gratefully accepted the offer and were soon heading out into the bay, with it's myriad islands reminiscent of some sort of sub-tropical Whitsunday Islands. Soon enough we were disembarking the boat at Otehai Bay on Urupukapuka Island (the largest island in the bay), for some time ashore that would allow us to take in the view from a hill above the bay.

Having been told to be back at the boat by 3:15pm, and thinking that it was by now only 1:50pm (though a later check of my camera would reveal it was in fact already 2:30...) and that we therefore had close to an hour-and-a-half on the island, Linda and I set off to hike around and over a couple of prominent hills overlooking the bay. Strolling contentedly barefoot over the grassy hills, we were in no particular hurry to get back to the boat until I happened to ask Linda “what time do you think it is? I reckon it's about 2:45pm.” After Linda guessed that it would be 2:50pm, I glanced at my phone to see who was closer... and discovered to my horror that it was in fact already
Crossing the Finish LineCrossing the Finish LineCrossing the Finish Line

Linda frantically trying to catch up before our boat's overdue departure!

Seeing that the boat was still tied up at the pier way down below us, we sprinted as fast as our legs would carry us (whilst I waved madly in the direction of the boat, shouting “we're coming!”) as memories of the captain telling everyone before disembarking “if you aren't back at the boat by 3:15pm, don't worry – we'll be back tomorrow!” came flooding through our heads! Thankfully though the captain did wait for us, and as I came racing along the pier ten minutes after the boat had been due to depart (with Linda doing her best to keep up despite her considerably shorter legs!) I was greeted with a round of applause from a large proportion of the other guests on board the boat... though whether this was born out of good humour or annoyed sarcasm I couldn't quite be sure!

From Urupukapuka Island we set off towards the outer extremity of the Bay of Islands alongside the Cape Brett Peninsula, where we stopped off to check out the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula before passing though the famous Hole in the Rock in nearby Motukokako (Piercy Island) – in much the
Hole in the RockHole in the RockHole in the Rock

Motukokako (Piercy Island), just offshore from the tip of the Cape Brett Peninsula
same way as we had passed through Tunnel Island in the Poor Knights the day before! Heading back through the Bay of Islands we watched some gannets diving for fish, before Linda and I hopped off in Russell (directly opposite Paihia on a nearby peninsula) for a wander around the oldest town in New Zealand, before taking the short ferry ride back across to Paihia.

Thursday dawned bright and clear, so we packed up and hit the road early for the long(ish) jaunt north to Cape Reinga, situated at the very tip of the hundred kilometre-long Aupori Peninsula. And while the drive there wasn't particularly scenic or interesting – more winding and annoyingly slow – leaving us to wander whether it was actually worth the effort at all; any doubts were soon extinguished the moment we turned off the main road just before Cape Reinga and first laid eyes upon Tapotupotu Bay, where a Department of Conservation campground lay just metres from a beautiful sandy beach enclosed by rugged headlands, with a picturesque stream flowing into the sea at one end of the beach. If there is such a thing as a sub-tropical paradise: this was it!

Sub-tropical SplendourSub-tropical SplendourSub-tropical Splendour

Linda taking a rest on the trail up from Tapotupotu Bay
sooner had we claimed a campsite than we were sticking the swimmers on (or 'cossies' in Kiwi parlance) and making a beeline for the beach – though having needed both a 7mm wetsuit and a 5mm hoodie for our dive trip to the Poor Knights Islands only a couple of days previous, it was with some trepidation that we ran headlong into the water... and with good reason! Without the aid of rubber wetsuits the 20-degree water temperature was a little more than we could bare at first (I know that makes us sound like pussies, but bear in mind that until recently we were living on the Sunshine Coast where the water temperature never gets below about 23 degrees even in winter!), until about five minutes in when we started to go numb and were thus able to enjoy the experience! Only later did we realize the water in the river was about five degrees warmer...

After a green salad lunch we decided it was time to stretch our legs properly, and so we set off along the Te Paki Coastal Pathway towards Cape Reinga. Climbing steeply the trail soon had us out of breath, though this was
Where Souls DepartWhere Souls DepartWhere Souls Depart

The rocky outcrop (with lonely pohutukawa tree) below Cape Reinga, at New Zealand's north-western-most point
a small price to pay for the incredible views we had looking back towards the beach at Tapotupotu Bay; and before too long the views opened out in the other direction towards the cape itself. After skirting along the crest of a ridgeline we dropped down into the neighbouring Sandy Bay, before climbing steeply once again to eventually reach the top of a hill overlooking the lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

While it may not be the northernmost point of the New Zealand mainland as commonly believed (that honour goes to the North Cape further to the east) Cape Reinga certainly occupies a special place in the hearts of all New Zealanders, and is particularly sacred to the Maori, for whom Cape Reinga (known as Te Rerenga Wainua – meaning 'Place of Leaping' - in Maori) is regarded as the place from which the souls of the dead depart the land of the living to begin the journey to their spiritual homeland of Hawaiki. Indeed clearly visible on a rocky outcrop down below the lighthouse - beyond which the waters of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide – stands a solitary pohutukawa tree, down whose roots the souls of
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Linda with the beautiful blue expanse of Hokianga Harbour as a backdrop
the departed are said to slide from this world. Those souls certainly couldn't wish for a more beautiful place from which to start their homeward journey.

The next day we headed off along the Te Paki Coastal Pathway in the opposite direction, though with a blanket of clouds overhead it wasn't quite as enjoyable as the trek to Cape Reinga had been. Nevertheless we enjoyed some impressive views of the coastline, and were amazed at how much wider the stream beside the campsite had grown in only a short space of time as we made our way back along the mangrove boardwalk at the end of our walk.

Bidding Tapotupotu Bay a fond farewell on Saturday, we set off back along the Aupouri Peninsula before continuing along the Twin Coast Discovery Route (which we had more or less been following ever since we left Auckland) down the western side of Northland, through what is known as the Kauri Coast due to the small but impressive patches of kauri forest remaining from pre-settlement days. A scenic car ferry service brought us across the shallow Hokianga Harbour, whose southern shoreline we then followed towards the harbour's mouth in Omapere –
God of the ForestGod of the ForestGod of the Forest

Tane Mahuta - the largest living kauri tree - in the Waipoua Forest
where a short walking trail led to South Head, with it's wonderful panorama stretching from the Tasman Sea around to the brilliant blue expanse of the harbour backed by a spine of rugged forested mountains.

Not far from Omapere we tackled the winding but scenic drive through Waipoua Forest, before setting out on a couple of short walks to check out the magnificent kauri trees for which this part of New Zealand is most well known. Only a short walk from the road stood Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) – the largest living kauri tree with a total height of over 50 metres, a girth of over 13 metres and a total volume of over 240 cubic metres! I've seen some big fig trees in the Wet Tropics of Northern Queensland and some truly massive banyans in Hawai'i, but never have I felt so completely dwarfed as I did whilst standing in awe in front of this true forest giant! A little further on we paid a visit to the second largest living kauri tree – Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) – and marvelled at the Four Sisters, where four giant kauri trees shoot skyward only
The perfect end to an amazing weekThe perfect end to an amazing weekThe perfect end to an amazing week

Looking out over Pine Beach campground at Lake Taharoa
metres from each other.

Eventually though we decided it was time to call it a day, and it was at this point that my pre-trip research on the Rankers website paid dividends, for after following a quiet side road for 10km we emerged at the spectacularly situated Pine Beach campground beside the beautiful blue expanse of Lake Taharoa. If ever there were a sight to save sore eyes after a long day of driving (we may have only gone 300km but it had taken a full five hours) then this was it – and unlike at the Poor Knights Islands or Tapotupotu Bay the freshwater lake was just the right temperature for an extended swim. Not a bad way to end our time in Northland at all really...

Additional photos below
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Blending into the landscape (sort of)Blending into the landscape (sort of)
Blending into the landscape (sort of)

The trouble-maker at our first overnight stop in Whangarei
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Riverside Wanderings

The Hatea River Walk outside Whangarei

Whangarei Falls
Middle ArchMiddle Arch
Middle Arch

Our first dive site in the Poor Knights Islands
The not-so-famous Hole in the RockThe not-so-famous Hole in the Rock
The not-so-famous Hole in the Rock

Looking back at Tunnel Island in the Poor Knights
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Aquatic Wonderland

South Harbour - site of our second dive of the day, the incomparable Blue Mao Mao Arch

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