Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Another sunny morning and a very early one too – up for 6am for breakfast and to meet our coach at 7.15. We’re taking the tour up to Cape Reinga, which saves me a heck of a lot of driving and lets us see some things we wouldn’t otherwise (but more anon). The coach from Fuller’s Tours turns up bang on time and a good number of the Germans who arrived at our hotel by coach the night before get on with us. Then we’re off to the “Hotel Paihia”, where we pick up some Australians and finally off to the “Swiss Hotel” to board some Dutch! Truly a polyglot outing. Our driver/guide, Barry, speaks broad Kiwi, so what the Germans/Dutch make of that I have no idea.
Anyway, finally en route at 7.30am, an hour’s driving takes us past the Hararu Falls to the Puketi Kauri Forest. Kauri trees are native NZ trees that grow to astonishing age and size. We walk through the forest on a raised boardwalk – some of the trees are over 1000 years old. BTW, I am glad I am not driving by this point because we left behind the sealed tarmac road some kilometres back. Doesn’t seem to faze Barry though as he barrels the coach along the gravel like a rally driver. From the Kauri forest we head a further 90km north through for a tea break at ‘The Ancient Kauri Kingdom’ – this is really a shop (with tea room) that sells stuff made out of Kauri wood. The clever bit being that it’s not felled wood, but wood that has been discovered buried in swampland that was drained to make farmland. The wood generally dates to about 45,000 years old. It ain’t cheap though – some pieces of furniture cost more than my car did! The spiral staircase in the shop is made of a single Kauri trunk with the stairs inside – like the stairs inside a lighthouse. Gives you an idea how big these trees are.
From there we keep heading north, going past the site of the wreck of the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior”, which you may recall the French secret service sank in Auckland harbour. Greenpeace recovered it and scuttled it off Whangaroa Bay to form an artificial reef. We stop for a bbq lunch at a tiny place called Houhora, where the entire town was having a car boot sale in the local ambulance station. The stuff for sale was pretty rubbish – I’ve thrown away better, but then again I reckon it’s just an excuse for people from miles around to gather and natter and eat a hot dog on a Sunday morning. Bloody spectacular views over the harbour though.
At last we make a bid for Cape Reinga – the furthest point north in NZ. I post James a card because apparently the franking is a bit special. The views from the lighthouse towards the other capes and where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea are pretty wow. Lots of photos taken.
Not far south of Cape Reinga are giant sand dunes at Te Paki. Barry leads an expedition of some brave young souls to the top of one of the dunes where they surf down on bodyboards. It’s not the going up that bothers me (though that looks hard), nor the surfing down the dune (though that looks pretty scary), it’s the stream at the bottom of the dune that’s the most off-putting! I stay at the bottom and take pictures. Even Wendy won’t have a go. A few very wet people get back on board. Barry then threads the coach along the Te Paki quicksand stream on to Ninety Mile Beach. You are reading this right btw – apparently the coach is specially adapted for fording water and running on the sand. We blast along the beach at 100km/h throwing up spray until Barry stops at a likely spot and has us off helping him dig for shellfish. I thought it was just for tourists, but Barry is deadly serious. He half fills a bucket with clams, then tops up with water and puts a lid on – they’re for eating, not for show!
We continue blasting along the dead straight beach (apart from one kink at The Bluff) and make very fast time south compared with the journey up on twisty gravel roads. We’re shifting so fast we start overtaking other, older coaches on the beach. I can see the speedo from where I’m sitting, but don’t let on to Wendy we’re going at UK motorway speeds on a beach. I guess it must be safe – didn’t they used to do land speed records on hard packed sand? Before we know it we’re back at the old wood shop for tea and a bun. From there it’s a straight 90 minute run back home to the hotel.