The Northern point of New Zealand’s North Island has great significance among the native Maori people.
The land there is predominantly Maori owned and untouched with plenty of native vegetation growing wild.
Once we passed through the last town of Kaitaia and began the 100km drive up the Aupouri Peninsula, I could already see and feel its sacredness.
Spirit’s Bay “glamping”
Spirit’s Bay is on the north shore of the Aupouri Penninsula. Maori legend tells of the bay catching spirits here after they depart into the water down the roots of Cape Reinga’s pōhutukawa tree.
Jono and I reached Spirit’s Bay before dusk. We set up camp easily, as the ground was perfect to stake into and there was plenty of space to spread out so we weren’t bumping into other campers.
We only had to pay $6 each to stay—and it was well worth it.
The New Zealand Herald considers Spirit’s Bay one of the top 6 camping sites in the country. It’s awesome.
There were dynamite sunset views down on the beach, clear waters for Jono to free dive, and glorious hot showers. After several days of camping, believe me, showers become a highly sought after campsite amenity.
Aside from the showers, I was already feeling spoiled on account of camping with Jono. Because Jono is a local, he added tons of extra gear to what little I had compiled during my short time here. In his utility truck, Jono had packed a large cooler/chilly bin, foam mattresses from his home, and fishing gear to keep us well fed.
After traveling with other foreigners for the majority of my time in New Zealand, my time camping with Jono felt luxurious. I actually had cold milk in my cereal, a soft cushion instead of hard ground to sleep on, and fresh fish for dinner rather than pasta or powdered soup.
I finally understood the meaning behind the word “glamping.”
Many other campers had been staying at Sprit’s Bay for several days fishing from the beach. We went down to watch the sunset and caught one fisherman there collecting tomorrow night’s dinner.
The next day, Jono managed to catch our dinner for the night, too! Only he caught it by free diving (another wonderful benefit of traveling with Jono!).
He managed to spear a huge King fish and a very-rare-to-catch John Dory fish. Dory is some of the best eating fish in New Zealand. I have to agree—it was so delicious and fresh!
This was one of the most relaxing camping spots I had been to on the North Island.
I didn’t see any spirits floating around the waters here, but they were definitely felt in the peacefulness of the location.
The circle of life at Cape Reinga
A short drive from Spirit’s Bay is Cape Reinga. A lighthouse built in 1941 stands at the edge of the coast overlooking the merging Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. You can literally see the two tides clashing together here, battling it out in the waters in what’s known as a “tidal race.”
Cape Reinga is often mistaken as the Northern most point of mainland New Zealand. It’s set back just short of the cliffs at North Cape some 30km away.
On a clear day at Cape Reinga, you can catch a glimpse of the Three Kings.
The Three Kings are islands off the mainland marking the official Northern most part of New Zealand. They are said to be the location where spirits heading out to sea would turn to get one last look at mainland New Zealand before leaving for the afterlife.
We could make out the islands along the horizon on the day we visited.
A short walk out to the lighthouse leads along a path where plaques tell stories about the cultural significance of the area. One plaque pointed out the pōhutukawa tree positioned at the very edge of a land mass over the water and pointing east toward Spirit’s Bay.
This is the tree where the spirits make their departure.
I love this in contrast with another Maori legend at this location. It explains the Tasman Sea to the West and Pacific Ocean to the East come together here like male and female in the creation of life.
In other words, next door to the creation of life spirits gather to mark the ending of life. Did the “Circle of Life” theme music from the Lion King come to mind yet?
Legends aside, this place had an impact on me personally.
Cape Reinga’s sign posts reminded me of my location. Standing here at the top of New Zealand, I felt myself positioned at the corner of the world. The sign post pointed northeast in the direction of Los Angeles some 10,500km away.
I am 10,500km from mainland USA.
A couple of weeks earlier I was standing on the Southern shore of the South Island and now I was on the Northern shore of the North Island. Four months before I was in Thailand. A month before that I was in Germany. And 6 weeks before that I was road tripping around Iceland.
Wow. I have traveled a long way.
But enough with all these big thoughts. Jono and I had plans to head to the dunes.
In my next post, I put all the serious thoughts aside and share some sandboarding fun!