Journal of a visit to New Zealand, via Singapore

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This page last updated: 10th January 2010.
Day 29: Cape Reinga Map

Day 29 We are very tired and Christine is suffering from a bit of sunburn. It is difficult to sleep. We have to be up very early to catch the 7 a.m. ferry to Paihia. Kay brings us breakfast in our room shortly after 6 a.m., but we are not too hungry. Today we are taking a coach trip to the Far North with Kings Tours.

The tour-bus leaves from Paihia, a short walk from the ferry-landing. It is fairly full already when it picks us up. It stops to pick up more passengers in Paihia, Haruru Falls and Kerikeri. Among the others on board are the Canadian couple who were on R. Tucker Thompson yesterday, and the Australian couple who crossed with us on The Lynx and like us, had to pick up a new rental car in Wellington.

The driver is in his 60s and very knowledgeable. He tells us all about the places we pass through, recounts folk-tales and amusing anecdotes. My only reservation concerns his tendency to make racist remarks, albeit in an apologetic manner, about his Japanese and other foreign passengers.

Our first stop is at the Puketi Kauri Forest, where we are invited to take a short walk among the trees. Later in the morning we stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, Awanui. A huge prehistoric natural disaster caused many kauri forests to be flattened and the trees to be buried in swamps. The wood was perfectly preserved and radiocarbon dating has revealed that some of this wood has been buried for up to 50,000 years. Extraction of the logs is time consuming, expensive and technically difficult requiring skilled operators of heavy machinery. A non-renewable source Ancient Kauri timber has a beautiful and distinctive grain. When polished the wood is a deep golden colour with hues, textures and sheens that constantly change under differing shades of light.

The process, here at Awanui, started in 1992. Now there is a showroom which displays and sells everything from small polished samples to large pieces of furniture. In order to capture customers, it also has a large cafeteria, catering for coach parties. As this is the only stop before the Cape and there are no eating facilities there, then everyone fills up here.

We take the road, up to Cape Reinga. The last 17km are gravel. The driver tells us that at the height of summer, there are many accidents on the road, due to drivers who are not used to unmade roads. As we approach the end of the road, haze prevents us seeing the offshore islands, but we have a clear view of the meeting of the Pacific Ocean with the Tasman Sea, two great currents coming together.

The Cape itself is sacred ground. There is a large carpark and toilets. On the landward side is a small picnic area but visitors are not allowed to consume food on the seaward side of the car-park. While Christine goes off with our picnic lunch, I walk down to the Cape and the lighthouse. It is a steep walk down to the end of the pathway. I have the same kind of feeling here as I had at Doubtful Sound. It is a sense of reverence, that is not disturbed by being surrounded by other tourists. You feel they share it with you.

It is a long, slow climb back to the car-park. Christine is surrounded by screeching gulls competing with each other for crumbs from her lunch. I am quite peckish myself by now and welcome the chicken pieces and sandwiches we've brought with us.

Back on board the coach, we return along the road we came in on and then turn left. We are now driving down a stream. The Te Paki stream is actually the route on to the Ninety-Mile beach. Furthermore it runs over quicksand! It leads past huge sand-dunes that tower above us.

Once beyond the quicksand, the driver stops by the side of a dune. Now the fun begins. He gets out boards from the coach's luggage compartment and hands them out. The idea is for everyone to indulge in the unique sport of dunebogganing. It is similar to tobogganing, but played on sand instead of snow. All those who have the energy climb to the top of the dunes, a rather painstaking slog in itself. They then lie on the boards and slide all the way back down to the bottom. After about half an hour of this, most people are quite exhausted.

At the end of the dunes, the driver does a 360 degree turn to enable us to get an idea of the expanse of the Ninety-Mile Beach. The name is a misnomer as it is only about sixty miles, but that is still a long way. Accessible for about two hours either side of low-tide, the beach is actually designated State Highway 1; the parallel road we've just used to reach the Cape is designated 1a. As we thunder down it, the wealth of seabirds just ignore the traffic. Shell-fish known as abalones are found here. The seabirds pick them out of the sand, fly into the air and drop the shells in order to crack them open. It is a strange sight to watch them do this.

We leave the beach eventually and stop again at Awanui. As well as an opportunity for passengers to gather more sustenance, it is also where the coach gets hosed down to remove the sand. The return route is the same as the outward journey apart from the diversion through the kauri forest. Just outside Kerikeri, a stop is made at a roadside fruit-stall. Christine samples the kiwi-fruit.

We arrive back in Paihia in time to catch the 6.30 p.m. ferry to Russell. I collect the car from the carpark and drive up the hill to Pukematu Lodge. We are very, very tired.

Journal - Day 30 Photographs - Day 29