Summer 2020 – 2021 Cape Reinga
New Year’s Day
I started the day with a swim – the tide was in right up to the rocks so I scrambled down the wee cliff and waded in. It is surprising how clear the water is – it’s only shallow, about mid-thigh deep but enough to immerse and swim along the shore.
Cape Reinga – the northernmost point of Aotearoa, where the spirits of the dead set off from Aotearoa to Hawaii. Strictly speaking they set off from a little rocky outcrop that has an ancient Pohutakawa tree clinging to it. It never flowers apparently but it’s where the spirits leave Papatuanuku and rise up to Ranginui. At Matariki, they are swept up by the waka as the star Pohutakawa rises – she is the star that carries those who died throughout the year onto their onward journey. I wonder now about the significance of the Pohutakawa star and the tree on the outcrop which is called Te Rerenga Wairua (where the spirits fly)
We have been here before but wanted to visit again. The sky was overcast and it started raining as we drove north. The place was packed – vans and cars parked all along the grass verges because the car parks were full. Luckily we found a spot next to a very badly parked hire car on our 2nd turn around the car park and managed to squeeze into it. We joined the masses walking down the track. The information boards are well done and I was pleased that I could read the Maori language ones and get most of the information before checking my understanding by reading the English. It was also interesting noting the translations and how ideas were interpreted in the two languages.
The clouds swirled around and we decided that we would stick to our plan of walking from the Cape Reinga to Cape Maria van Diemen – well, getting as far as we could. It looked like it would be a bit too far as a first walk of the holiday and it was already late morning. We packed up some sandwiches and snacks to have on the way and set off.
The track leaves the main Cape Reinga Tourist track about 500m down. It’s a well-formed trail that winds its way along the ridge after dropping down some stairs. There are a couple of wee side routes that take you to little summits with good views along the coast. You come out on Te Wērahi Beach after 2kms. The route from there is 3kms straight across the beach. At high tide it may be difficult to get around the first part.
We had set off from the top in mist and a light swirling wind and I made the mistake of not putting on sun cream and wearing a sleeveless tee shirt. I also forgot my hat! By the time we reached the beach we could see that the top of the hill was still in cloud but we were in full sun and exposed! I ran across the beach whilst Nigel walked across. At the other end, I waited for a bit then decided to run back towards him.
The track from the beach winds up on vegetated sand dunes until it drops down into the bay on the other side which is really just a continuation of Te Wērahi Beach. From here you climb up over hard packed sand formations – quite the lunar landscape. We climbed up to a high point at about 6km. It looked like it was going to be another 3km to traverse then skirt around the back of the hill to access Cape Maria van Diemen. We were hot, didn’t have enough water, and so decided to make that our turn around point. It seemed like a good handstand spot so I duly obliged and we headed down to the rocks at the end of the wee jutty out bit to have lunch by the rock pools.
Suitably sated, we set off back along aforesaid exposed beach. I ran again, Nigel walked which gave me time at the far end to have a swim before he got there. It was so good to immerse myself in cold water and reduce my body temperature. I decided to wade through the water back towards him – great resistance training!
Then the 2km climb back to the van. I had been doing my maths (Jo would be proud of me! ) and realised that to get 16km I needed to run back down the track for 750m then turn around. Madness, I know! I met Nigel about 500m down, but caught him up again halfway back up the tourist trail. Also bumped into Anahera and Alex…so lovely to see friends and colleagues out of context!
What did we learn (again!) today? Always put sunscreen on, always take more water than you think you’ll need. I ran the last 7km wearing my spare long sleeved thermal top that is part of my emergency gear to protect my shoulders from the sun. So emergency gear is always useful!
The landscape is amazing on this walk and we’ll definitely go back someday to do the rest of the route.
Back at Te Pua, I jumped in the water for another swim – it was still quite shallow as the tide was not fully in so I really just lay in the warm water and floated. Bliss! Later on we sat and watched the Rays feeding – I was tempted to go out and have a closer look but was too comfortable with glass of wine in hand! We watched the sun go down on the first day of 2021 and then marvelled at the stars and the Milky Way in a sky untainted by the glow of city lights.