If you want to get to the (almost) northernmost tip of the island, Cape Reinga, and you don’t have your own transport, you need to join a tour. So at some very antisocial hour this morning I found myself boarding, with some trepidation, one of the dreaded tourist buses. However, it turned out to be a really good day, largely due to our tour guide, a very amusing old Maori guy. He had an incredibly dry sense of humour (maybe that comes with the arid territory round here) and kept us all on our toes during his commentary, by dropping in the odd totally deadpan, ludicrous red herring (e.g. concorde used to land on the scrubby airstrip near Cape Reinga, the collision of the oceans at the cape is so great that the sea spray is eroding the planes that fly overhead, that a team of Maoris sweep the ninety mile beach clean each morning, etc).
He also provided the Maori names for all the places we visited, including their translations into English, and told us dreamy Maori tales and sang Maori songs in a rich baritone. I zoned in and out of actually listening to the words, as I was just enjoying the sonorous sing-song of the Maori language, with elongated vowels and softened consonants. For example his pronounciation of ‘Reinga’ was beautiful – he began with a soft roll of the ‘r’, paused over the ‘ei’ and ended with a gentle, guttoral ‘ga’.
It took over an hour to drive up ninety mile beach, at quite a pace. There was an international fishing competition going on, and we watched one man fish a huge stingray out of the shallows. We then had a go at boogie-boarding down a massive sand dune, which was fun, and worth the calf-breaking climb up the sand. Dune encroachment has been stopped in its tracks by the planting of a huge conifer forest all the way up the edge of the beach (NZ’s second largest man-made forest). However, a small area of the original dune system has been retained, and the sand towers above you in such a threatening way, that I can quite see how it could quickly come to dominate an entire landscape if left unchecked.
We stopped for lunch at a beautiful little bay and it was a pleasure to walk on velvet wet sand, beachcombing to my heart’s content. I find it hard to come away from a beach without a rattling pocket full of little pebbles and shells that I’ve found. Seeing me in beachcombing action on my first day here, Will suggested I ought to set myself a limit of 20 items, then employ a strict one-in, one-out policy, meaning that a) I’d end up with my favourite 20 pieces by the end of the trip and b) I wouldn’t exceed the excess baggage limit with useless flotsam. Good idea, although I might extend this to 20 items per country I visit… 😉
We then moved onto Cape Reinga, where the Pacific and Tasman seas collide, although it seemed more of a friendly handshake than a collision today. I was completely enraptured by the spiritual significance of Cape Reinga to the Maoris. They believe that, once you die, your spirit travels up the ninety mile beach and eventually jumps off the end of the cape and out of the living world. It was easy to imagine the whispering spirits floating past me as I sat on the edge of the cliff in the wind, looking at the sacred rock and tree below, from where they would launch themselves.
As usual, pictures to sum up the day are below:
The tour guide firmly told us not to feed the gulls at lunch, but there’s always one in a group, isn’t there? So this moment of serenity was taken moments before the entire flock descended onto the ‘rule-flouter’ in a frenzy of wing-flapping, screeching and flying feathers. Ha.
Beachcombing pickings – I found loads of these washed up on the tide line. I can best describe them as looking like concertinaed brussel sprouts.
And finally, the sacred rock and tree (you can just see it on top) of Cape Reinga, the jumping off point for the spirits of the departed Maoris.