At the top of New Zealand is a place where two worlds collide. According to Maori legend, Cape Reinga —Te Reinga in Maori – is where spirits of the recently deceased make the return journey to Hawaiiki, the traditional Maori homeland.
New Zealand flax plants line the walkways and frame thousands of photos taken by the 120,000 visitors who flock here every year. They are drawn by the spiritual importance of the area and also the undeniable beauty. The Cape’s white lighthouse overlooks long stretches of dunes and series of waves crashing onto the yellow beaches.
On calm days a single white line zigzags through the blue waters beyond the lighthouse. This line marks the meeting place of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
To get to the Cape you can either drive up from Paihia on your own or you can hop aboard a bus tour from the same town. The drive is long and the Cape’s lack of accommodation forces visitors to make the trip up and down the Aupouri Peninsula in one day, an unappealing prospect for most drivers. It’s a tour bus operator’s dream.
But the ugliness of Cape Reinga, the bus-sized parking lot and its constant rumble of engines, is also what makes the area a remarkable tourist destination. Because despite the hoards of people there are no fast food chains or stores at Cape Reinga. In fact, aside from toilets and a drinking fountain, there is nothing to oblige tourists, nothing to suggest that it might be a remarkable sight at all.
In this way, Cape Reinga set the tone for our trip in New Zealand, a country that fights to preserve its natural treasures at the same time as it encourages the world to come see them. It was in this country that we walked up to the foot of a glacier, stumbled upon the world’s rarest penguin, and shared the beach with sea lions. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, Cape Reinga: