Monday, October 14, 2013
New Zealand Diary - North to Cape Reinga
Friday, October 4, 2013
Our jet lag fairly overcome by a great night's rest, we strike out for our goal of visiting the northern most point of New Zealand. The point is known as Cape Reinga and there is a beautiful lighthouse there we plan to visit. The drive is just under three hours. Our host at Allegra House has given us a few hints of what to see that we hadn't already planned including a stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom to pick up our sandwiches for lunch.
The Ancient Kauri Kingdom is hard to miss. It's a huge building that houses a workshop and gallery featuring all sorts of things made from ancient Kauri wood. The wood was excavated from swamps on the North Island and is carbon dated to 45,000 years. It is the oldest workable wood in the world. Living kauri trees are among the oldest and largest trees in the world and are protected. The only wood that can be worked is the old trees that have been dug up from the swamps. Once finished, the wood has a beautiful grain and sheen.
We admire the works in the gallery and peek in at the workshop before going to the café to see if there are any sandwiches to be had. If we don't get something here, we're not sure we'll find lunch any where else. An egg salad sandwich appeals and so does a bottle of ginger beer that tastes a bit like ginger ale but with a much stronger ginger taste.
Brita, our host at Allegra, has told us to take a side road for a detour that will give us opportunity to see 90 Mile Beach. This beach is a bit like Daytona where cars can drive out onto it because the sand is so solidly packed. Even tour buses drive the beach! It can be dangerous though if you don't know what you are doing and it is tide dependent so if you aren't paying attention, you could be floating away into the Tasman Sea before you get to the next exit. The origin of the name is unknown since the beach is actually only 55 miles long and of course everything else is counted in kilometers.
We park just at the end of the entrance to the beach where the tracks of others can be seen heading north in the sand. It's as far as we dare go with our rental car. Bob takes off his shoes and walks out onto the beach and out to the water. He taunts me to follow but with a whole day ahead of us, I'm not keen on having sandy feet.
Back on the highway (a two lane twisting and turning road) we encounter lots of logging trucks. There are numerous forests in the area and logging is quite an export business. Lots of fields are filled with cattle and some sheep. We've been told that there are more sheep farms on the Southern Island.
Before long, we arrive at the car park for the Cape Reinga Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits out on a point and is reached by way of a very nice paved walkway that winds down to the water. Down is the operable word here and as I enjoy the sunny walk down my thoughts turn to what the walk will be like coming back up.
The landscape is green with sandy beach meeting blue, very blue water. Along the way are lots of signs giving information about old Maori legends. One sign points out a tree growing precariously out of a rock cliff below. The sign says it is an ancient tree that is known as a kahika, "It survives, as pohutukawa trees often do, in what seems impossible conditions--even a rock face lashed by salt winds."
The lighthouse is bigger than it appears from the top of the hill. It has set here since 1941 and is the first light that sailors see when arriving from the Tasman Sea and the North Pacific. It was automated in 1987 and is monitored from Wellington. The original light was replace with a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb that is powered by a battery charged by solar panels.
Trekking back up to the top of the hill and the car park, I am winded but satisfied to have made it standing. Shortly after pulling out of the car park, we turn off for Tapotupotu Bay. A small campground lies at the end of a long gravel road which winds its way down with hairpin turns. There's a very nice beach and several picnic tables where we find a nice spot to enjoy our sandwich and chips and ginger beer. This is what we enjoy so much about traveling on our own. No tour buses. No crowded bus stops for lunch. Just a handful of others who have escaped the mainstream and are enjoying a wonderful afternoon in a spot too pretty for words.
Time comes to navigate our way back to the paved roadway and begin our trip back south. But there are yet some spectacular sights to see along the way.