60. A Walk in the Far North

From Mangonui and Coopers Beach (Doubtless Bay) we headed directly for Cape Rēinga, the northern most part of NZ. Since then we have been all around the Far North and back down into Northland, enjoying every moment of it’s beauty. Our biggest problem has been poor wireless internet access so I was unable to keep up with blogging, hence a big catch up now. (Might take a few days as the outdoors keeps calling AND the sun is shining).

The phone companies are trying to put in more cellphone towers around Northland and the Far North but there seems to be quite a bit of local opposition. It’s a real dilemma as I’m sure better internet access would improve the lives of folk living up here, but how can it be done without literally having a tower on your backdoor step? – it’s pretty populated in places here, and is a relatively small land area.

I will have to cover more ground in these blogs with fewer photos as I’m running out of space on my wordpress site. I realise now that I needed to pace the photos more carefully throughout this year of travelling – another one of my yikes moments.

As far as I can make out, you can call the Far North by that name, or by Muriwhenua (meaning ‘the end of the land’, also the collective name for about six local iwi), or by Te Hiku o te Ika (‘the tail of the fish’ – referring to the famous legend of Maui fishing up the North Island). I get confused over Māori names sometimes, and suspect that I am hearing different names for the same place; possibly due to different iwi using their own terminology.

This is us driving through Te Paki, a fantastic area of reserves, not far from Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Rēinga.
The soils everywhere are red and hugely attractive. They come from ancient marine volcanic activity, old sea floor, that’s since been pushed up and shunted over. The plant life around here is influenced by serpentine contained in these volcanic soils. Much of this area is also built of sand that once blasted out of central North Island volcanoes (recent, two million years ago). Over time, the sand has washed along the coast, building up and up. Te Paki was once an island, but the sand has built up so much that it’s bridged the gap to the rest of the North Island.
Trapping is undertaken throughout the Te Paki reserves to protect the insects, snails, geckos and skinks along with plants that have existed since the region was an island; these can be found nowhere else in NZ.

In the background of the photo above, you can see the giant Te Paki Sandhills.
This is Motu-o-Pao or Cape Maria van Diemen. The English name came from Captain Abel Tasman, who named it after the wife of the governor of the Dutch East Indies. Tasman didn’t actually make a landing here but continued sailing on down the coast.
I’ll walk over this headland in a few days.
The working lighthouse at Cape Rēinga. You can see the arch in the sea where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet up, creating turbulent water. Even further in the distance, but visible, is Manawatāwhi or the Three Kings Islands. Minerals are found there that date to one billion years of age – some of the oldest crystals of NZ. Māori occupied the island for many years, finally leaving it about 200 years ago. A Maori chief, Rauru, once swam the 15 kilometres to this island, pronouncing himself exhausted on arrival! This reminds me of the Marlborough Sounds near Nelson, where Māori would sometimes swim long distances – not everyone could have a waka/canoe I guess.
A solitary Tecomanthe vine (Tecomanthe speciosa) was found on the island, and due to that single plant it’s now cultivated in lots of other places in NZ. The islands are a protected site that are kept pest free due to the creatures and plants that live and grow there, that, like the ones at Cape Rēinga, are found nowhere else in the world.
This current, fully automated lighthouse was built in 1941, replacing the first one that was erected in 1879. The last ship that sank near here was the coal-carrying Kaitawa in 1966, with all 29 sailors on board drowning.
Cape Rēinga is an area of great significance to Māori belief systems, and people without exception are requested not to eat or drink here, or to walk down to Te Rēinga.
This point is Te Rēinga, where people are requested not to walk. Māori believe when they die that their life force jumps off this point to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. Way down by the sea you can just see a kahika tree (pohutukawa) which is named Te Aroha; the life force is said to step down the roots of this tree and fly off across the ocean on its journey.
In the distance lies Hikurua or Surville Cliffs, the very northern most point of the North Island. This can only be reached by boat or on a walking track.
We drove downhill to Tapotupotu DoC campsite where we stayed for a few days, passing over more of the lovely Te Paki landscape.
You can just see our tiny white streak of a caravan on the grass to the left of the photo. Tapotupotu is a large camping area and it sounds as though it’s quite full in the summer. If you follow the bay inland, you reach a gorgeous patch of mangrove swamp with a boardwalk running through it, which in turn leads to a walking track that ultimately stretches the length of the northern coast.
One evening a Chinese couple drove their campervan in to the DoC camp for the night. They charged up their phones using our generator and kindly gave us some Chinese packets of food to say thanks (of course, they didn’t have to do this). Our communications were conducted largely by non verbal signals as we can’t speak any of the Chinese languages and their English was very patchy. The packets are fascinating me, even now weeks later, and I have no idea what they contain.
Newsflash! I just sent photos of the packets to my old school friend, who says they are vegetarian and she’s pretty sure one’s tofu (the red one) and one’s fig (white). So I opened them. Both are unlike anything we’ve tasted before so it’s being good for us to try something new. The tofu one is very spicy; the fig one is very sweet. They are not a food you can eat lots of in one go, so we are going to eat a few each day to make them last.
These are more shots of Tapotupotu Beach, lots of nature to observe, birds and plants and shellfish and rocks…
We saw our first northern banded rails on this beach. They seem bigger and lighter in colour than the southern ones.
We also found pieces of volcanic pumice on the sand along with seashells.
On the Cape Rēinga headland at sunrise, lighthouse shining white against the dark bush.

I left early one morning to walk the 30 or so kilometres from Cape Rēinga along the west coast to Te Paki Stream.
It was the most amazing walk…and I’m having the most amazing trouble limiting the number of photos to show the landscape off.
The track leads over headlands (Cape Rēinga, Cape Maria van Diemen and Scotts Point) and along beaches before dropping onto the final stretch of beach, being 90 Mile Beach, to the exit point at Te Paki Stream.
I walked on sand, rock and clay; and through head-high manuka bush and low-lying coastal bush. Parts of the track were slippery – where there was clay – and parts were steep, especially the part from Scotts Point down onto 90 Mile Beach which had set after set of steep stairs. There were railings too, so it wasn’t too bad
Looking from Cape Maria van Diemen towards Cape Rēinga.
Crossing the Cape Maria van Diemen headland
Looking towards Scotts Point, about to drop onto the next stretch of beach.
Variable (I think) oyster catchers.
There were plenty of interesting rocks and shells along the way, plus blue bottle jellyfish and bi-valves actively digging themselves into the sand.
The beaches were remarkably clear of rubbish – at one point I noticed a wee stockpile of litter, so guessed there’s someone cleaning up and carting it out.
Pied stilts, lots of them!
Walking over Scotts Point, through low coastal bush and taller manuka thickets.
There’s 90 Mile Beach. The steps down to it were steep.
Here I have reached the Te Paki Stream. A yikes moment – I hadn’t really checked out the exit point before leaving so overshot the stream by 2 kilometres until I saw a vehicle coming towards me. I flagged them down to ask and that’s when I learned that the exit point is the stream. They offered me a lift but their car was full of people and I was pretty smelly by then, plus 2 kilometres was nothing to walk back on nice flat ground. They met Kevin coming through the stream and told him what I’d done (great, how will I live that one down) – so he was waiting for me on the beach when I returned and drove us back through the stream to the main road. Talking to people earlier, Kevin learned that the stream is sometimes impassable, thankfully not today!
Driving through Te Paki Stream
At this point, while driving through Te Paki Stream, we saw two huge tourist buses and people sledding down the giant sand dune. Local tour companies organise these trips. It looked enormous fun!
While people are allowed in the stream and on this dune, they have to keep off the rest of the dunes so the insect, plant and bird life can flourish.

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