Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reigna is the northern most part of New Zealand. It’s where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and the home of many Maori legends. It takes a lot time to get there. It’s really out of the way but looking at the map we just couldn’t resist making this the first major stop on our campervan trip of New Zealand.
We flew in to Auckland, leaving Sydney at 8am and arriving around 11am. We’d booked our campervan with Apollo. We’ve tried various different campervan rental companies in Australia but this was our first time with them. The worst part about our experience was the wait at the office. We managed to arrive at exactly the wrong time and it took over an hour to sign the forms and actually drive away in the van.
The van itself was a Toyota Hitop. It’s got the standard mid range campervan layout. Bench and table area which converts to the bed at night. Pop top with extra bunk bed style sleeping area for a midget/child, microwave and fridge. There are cheaper options, from wicked or hippie campers, which don’t have the pop top or fridge but it was worth more paying a little more. In fact, the hire cost was one of the cheapest parts of the trip. For three weeks we paid 350 NZ dollars. This included a special offer giving us three weeks for the price of two. It worked out at around 16 dollars a day or $8 per person. In contrast, we ended up spending about $50 per day on petrol and when we weren’t freedom camping commercial caravan parks costs between $30 and $45.
We left the hire place around 1pm and our first goal was to take a quick look at Auckland then make as much distance northward as we could before dark. The annoying part about going up to Cape Reinga is that it’s on a narrow strip of land so you have to double back to carry on your journey around New Zealand. The idea was we wouldn’t bother stopping much on the way there and would take the slow scenic route on the way back.
On the first night we got as far as Paihai. It’s a pleasant little seaside town in the Bay of Islands. If you’re in a rush you can hire a helicopter from here to take you up to the cape. The funniest thing about this part of the trip was trying to pronounce the name of the town. Our efforts were met by quizzical looks from the locals and I still have no clue on the correct pronunciation. We started with something sounding like ‘Pie High’ which then evolved in to ‘Pee Hee’ which I’m sure isn’t correct either.
We stayed at the Beachside Caravan Park
for $30. It was a lovely waterside spot about 1km or so outside of town. You can hire kayaks and it seems to be a popular fishing spot. We also made copious use of the free wifi which set us up for disappointment during the rest of our trip. This was one of only two campsites, the other being Mt Aspiring Caravan Park in Wanaka, that offered free, fast wifi. Everywhere else charged a fortune or had really slow speeds. If you’re planning a working campervan holiday in New Zealand then you’re much better off picking up a 3G dongle at the airport. They cost around $60 for 2GB and you’ll need it if you need to check email or do any online work.
The next day we headed on to Cape Reigna. To get there you have to follow a 90km road which has pretty no scenery for about 80km. There are a couple of spots where you can turn off on to 90 mile beach. It’s worth doing. As the name suggest it stretches as far as the eye can see and it’s unbelievably windy. After a brisk stroll along the beach I felt as if I had undergone kind of all saltwater cleansing treatment. I think the word is bracing.
When you get to Cape Reigna itself you’ll find a small car park and a path out to the lighthouse. There are various placards along the path describing local Maori legends, the wildlife on the cape and the history of European exploration in the area. Disappointingly one of the signs pointed out that this was not in fact the most northern point on the island. There was another spot in the distance which was, in fact, 3km farther north but it wasn’t accessible by tourists. When you get to the end watch out for the ocean swells. They are caused by the currents of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean colliding.
On the way back the nearest commercial campground is about 50kms away. However, there is a freedom camping area called the Bay of Spirits 1km from the camp. It costs $5 per person per night and only includes basic facilities. There are toilets, cold outdoor shower, a place to park and that’s about it. The lack of hot running water is made up for by the awesome beach side location though and it’s a brilliant place to spend the night if you make it this far north.
The next day we head south to continue our journey through New Zealand. Cape Reigna is a great spot to travel to. If you’re flying in to Auckland it’s well worth the northern detour and I’m glad we made it our first major stop.