Cape Reinga is as far north is New Zealand as you can go (although it is not the northernmost point; North Cape is, but that is a scientific reserve closed to the public). It has a true end-of-the-road feel, as the land tapers away and yields to unbroken sea. Here, by its iconic lighthouse, you can actually see the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, their waters visibly churning together and merging in a tidal race.
You can instantly feel the power that Maori ascribe to this place. They traditionally believe it is the place where spirits of the dead leave this world for the underworld (Reinga means “underworld”, and Maori call the Cape Te Rerenga Wairua, the “leaping-place of the spirits”). The final departure point is said to be from an 800 year-old pohutukawa tree that juts out from the cliffs beneath the lighthouse. A sense of decorum and respect is expected of visitors here.
The closest facilities to Cape Reinga are at Waitiki Landing, 21km of unsealed road away, a tiny outpost with a small market, some accommodation and a service station with an unreliable supply of fuel. Making the drive yourself can be a dramatic way to approach the Cape, but caution is advised on the winding gravel roads; it’s easier to slide off the road or flip a car than you might think.
In addition to the rewarding sense of accomplishment of reaching Cape Reinga, there are some good hiking trails around that offer spectacular coastal views. This is one of New Zealand’s special places.
Cape Reinga tours
Most travellers organise a tours to Cape Reinga from Kaitaia although there are also tours departing from Paihia. The best way to experience the cape is to drive along Ninety Mile Beach, however rental car companies prohibit this and people frequently get their cars stuck in the sand. If you don’t have a 4WD and experience driving in sandy conditions, it’s best to leave the driving to a tour company. Some of these trips also have departures from the Bay of Islands, but leaving from Kaitaia means that you can sleep in an extra couple of hours.
awesomeNZ run day tours to Cape Reinga departing Paihia that include a drive along 90 Mile Beach, sandboarding, Puketi Kauri Forest and a stop for fish and chips at Mangonui.
Cape Reinga Adventures runs half-day and full-day tours to Cape Reinga in 4WD minibuses that include the 90 Mile Beach and sand boarding on the Te Paki sand dunes.
The Dune Rider runs trips to Cape Reinga in custom-built 4WD coaches, which include a drive on Ninety Mile Beach and boogie boarding on the Te Paki sand dunes. These trips depart from Paihia, but picking the tour up at Ahipara or Kaitaia is a better option if you don’t want to wake up too early.
Harrisons Cape Runner operates daily trips between Kaitaia and Cape Reinga that include a drive along Ninety Mile Beach and tobogganing on sand dunes.
Sand Safaris run trips from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga that feature a drive along the Ninety Mile Beach and through the Te Paki quicksand stream.