Cape Reinga at Dawn

At 3:45 am, I woke up in Paihia, in the Bay of Islands with a single goal. I was going to drive three hours north in the cloaking darkness of early morning in order to reach Cape Reinga at dawn.

Cape Reinga is the northernmost point in New Zealand that’s accessible to the public. I was happy to get there in time for a unique, beautiful sunrise. It was only my second day with the car, so it wasn’t too hard to muster the enthusiasm to get up at such an ungodly hour. The excitement of being free at last outweighed my heavy eyelids.

The drive was quiet and uneventful. Whenever I passed other cars on the road, I would wonder what they were up to. There really isn’t much going on between 4:00 – 5:00 am. Each car likely has an interesting story to tell. My only regret from this dark drive was that I was unable to see any of the beautiful scenery as I passed by.

The moon was brilliant and bright.

I followed it all the way to Cape Reinga. Just as I rolled into my final destination, the silver disc finally disappeared over the horizon, leaving a glowing trail upon the waves as its light dissipated into day.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga feels like the edge of the world.

The Cape Reinga Lighthouse stands proudly at the northern edge of New Zealand. Each morning it welcomes the dawn, and I was lucky enough to share the view. Just in front of the lighthouse you’ll notice a patch of rough seas. You can see the waves there are capped by a violent white spray.

There, the Tasman Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean.

I wouldn’t have thought that you’d be able to tell where two bodies of water meet, but it was a very cool thing to see.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Here I bet you could do some rather extreme sledding.

I made my way towards the lighthouse, but didn’t follow the path down. Instead, I opted to walk over the hill to get a picture of the western cliffs. No matter what time it is, I’m always looking for a view that’ll drop my jaw to the ground.

The cliffs weren’t sheer faces but they were still rather impressive. I wasn’t able to get much closer to them because the hill I was on was so steep. In the distance, you could see the massive sand dunes, and they stretched all the way back south in the direction of the famous 90-Mile Beach. People will often go sand-boarding down the dunes in this area, and if I come back I will not miss out on this activity again.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Aren’t you a little short for a stormtr-… for a lighthouse.

Once again I turned my attention towards the lighthouse as the sun continued it’s upward creep, flooding the morning with the first rays of light. The platform at the lighthouse offered an excellent view of the surrounding cliffs, and I was certain that it would be an excellent place to take pictures.

I was the first one to make it to the lighthouse that morning.

But by now, other people had begun showing up. For a few precious minutes, I had the lighthouse all to myself.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Hmmmm… Where to go next?

At the lighthouse platform I settled into position under the signpost. It shows the distance and direction to a few great nearby cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Los Angeles. The signpost also points to some cool places: Bluff (NZ’s southernmost town), Equator, South Pole. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world Vancouver made the list up there…

Slowly, the sun rose in the east.

It wasn’t the sky-consuming monster of a dawn that I was expecting, but it was very serene and beautiful.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
The cloud cover restricted the sunrise to a few bright streaks parallel to the horizon.

The sunrise was a great experience, but now I was ready to head back and be on my way. It would have been too much of a hassle to go back up the hill the way I’d come. The paved walkway was much easier, and it was rather early, so I took the path of least resistance.

During my ascent I noticed a fantastic lookout point off the track. Now that Cape Reinga was becoming crowded by other early-bird tourists, this was an opportunity that I did not want to pass up. Extra time spent admiring a sunrise never hurt anybody. A five minute hike down put me in an isolated spot overlooking the eastern cliffs.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Hopefully New Zealand won’t desensitize me to gorgeous views.

It was an incredibly beautiful spot to take in the remainder of the sunrise. The black cliffs stretched down to the sea, and the powerful Pacific Ocean pounded the rocks far below. The sound of the ocean is so soothing, a constant rumble in the distance.

Here I spent my last minutes at Cape Reinga.

I didn’t anticipate coming back to this spot, so it was nice to get off the track and explore a vantage point visited by much fewer people. At last I trekked back to the car for breakfast. On this morning it would be the backpacker classic: canned tuna on bread.

I left New Zealand’s (nearly) northernmost point in my rearview mirror and headed south without even a whisper of a plan. This was the only day that I hadn’t booked any accommodation in advance. Anything could happen.

The colors of the trip south were beautiful. It had been dark when I had first passed by, so I was truly experiencing these sights for the first time. The dunes were a sandy yellow, the rolling hills a gorgeous green, and compact layers of ruddy orange rock lay exposed by years of erosion. The brilliant blue sea served as my backdrop on the right-hand side, just behind the bumpy line of hills and dunes.

And the sheep.

I’ve never seen so many sheep in my life, and with absolutely no people in sight. Cape Reinga is a sheep utopia. The land was absolutely covered with fluffy white dots.

As I drove the road alone, a sign caught my eye. A campground or bay of some sorts? In a curious mood, I decided to go down and explore. The gravel road took me about 20 minutes out of the way, but eventually I came to another wonderful place.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
The beautiful and slow-flowing Tapotupotu Stream.

This untouched New Zealand beauty was Tapotupotu. I came by Tapotupotu Road, and discovered Tapotupotu Camping Area on the edge of Tapotupotu Bay. Not a whole lot of variety here in the naming process. I reckon the area was probably discovered by some bloke named Tapotupotu.

I parked the car to have a look around.

This area has a few very ambitious treks. Between 6-8 hours per trail, it’s probably easier to do it in multiple days and camp a night before returning.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
So many vibrant shades of green in this quiet corner of the world.

I followed a path for just a half hour or so. There was no way that I’d be able to do one of the massive treks as I lacked the equipment, but perhaps there were some hidden beauties that I’d be able to uncover. I did find one area that I particularly liked.

A grove of trees that reminded me of Australia.

In Australia I had found an area covered in trees with wacky branches winding skywards like the many heads of a hydra, searching for the sun. They looked like they’d come right out of a Dr. Seuss book. These trees in New Zealand were thinner and more spindly, but still made me think of that moment in Australia, during my first backpacking trip.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
This place has “haunted forest at night” written all over it.

A seasoned camper could spend days, even weeks exploring the intricacies of the New Zealand bush. The flora here reminds me nothing of home, but each time I see something new I can’t help but be a little curious about it.

People that love to hike and explore nature should be booking a trip to New Zealand, ASAP. No matter how far you go in this place, you will always eventually find something that will surprise you.

Conquer Fear Cape Reinga
Bet you can’t guess what the beach is called.

Even though it was very early in the day, I still had the feeling that I wanted to move on and get back to the mainland. Cape Reinga is wonderful, but the Northland still holds many secrets that I wanted to explore. For a moment though, I could rest and dig my toes into the soft white sand of Tapotupotu Beach.

The waves were small, the breeze was slight, and the sun was just beginning to warm up. It was a brisk spring morning. With so many hours remaining in the day, anything was possible for me to accomplish. I could linger in any new location for as long as I wanted.

Yet I had a strong case of road trip fever.

Even though I’d seen two beautiful places this morning, I was insatiable. I wanted to get back in the car and look for more. And there were plenty of places to see. I would have to drive the entirety of the 90-Mile Beach to get back to the Northland, and there are a multitude of small towns dotting the region that each have their own unique landscape and story.

My mission to reach Cape Reinga at dawn had been a smashing success. Now it was time to find my next adventure.

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2 thoughts on “Cape Reinga at Dawn

  1. Fabulous adventure, although I don’t think I would ever be enthusiastic enough to get up at 3.45 am. I love Cape Reinga, I have been there a few times, and like you, I am amazed to see the meeting of the seas. I haven’t been to Tapotupotu, but I have seen the white silica sand at Rarawa Beach. I wonder if they are near to each other. Curiosity took over so I looked it up – they are about an hour apart, both on the peninsula. Are you still in New Zealand?

    1. Yes, now in western Auckland. Would you recommend Rarawa Beach? I only stopped a few times on the way out, at Te Hapua and Pukenui.

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