It kind of made sense to me to visit the northern most point in New Zealand given that we were planning to visit some of the southern most parts. I know, this is a ‘box ticking’ thing that we usually try to avoid.
Cape Reinga is not even the northern most point in New Zealand but it is sold as such to the hordes of visitors who make the pilgrimage to this rather remote but very beautiful place. The drive is rather uninspiring until the last 20 or so kilometers and with no real tourist infrastructure in the 111km from Kaitaia to the Cape, most visitors get out of the car, walk down to the lighthouse, snap a few pictures (mainly ‘selfies’ these days) and then immediately head off back down the same 111 plus km to their next destination.
North Cape is actually the northern most tip but of course it does not have the same access or appeal as it’s 3km more southern twin 30km to the west. It’s name is fairly typical of the rather boring (lazy) approach taken to naming many parts of New Zealand, use a North, South, West or East as the first part of the name then affix; Island, Cape, Coast or Land to it.
Rather than just ‘drive and snap’ I suggested to Ruth that we should make this a more memorable start to our summer travels by staying for at least three nights and undertaking three, one day, walks along New Zealand’s northern most walking track, The Te Paki Coastal Track that starts near North Cape and finishes South West of Cape Reinga on Ninety Mile Beach. The track blurb indicated an ‘easy’ rating on the official Department of Conservation information web site but I do think someone was having a little fun when they gave it that rating. It would be a great comparison with the southern most tracks in the South Island that we are planning to walk; Blue Cliffs Beach and Rakiura on Stewart Island.
I put the deal to Ruth, an easy walk but we would have to ‘rough it’ for a few days, i.e., no washing facilities, only long drop toilets, a water tap with undrinkable water, no power, no phone or Internet and, more importantly, no shops. She didn’t exactly leap for joy but she didn’t say no. So we put it in the summer plans, the start point of our New Zealand (well mainly South Island) adventure.
I dusted off the camping gear, we loaded up with four days of provisions and off we headed. Our destination was Tapotupotu Bay, a five km walk to Cape Reinga that would take 5 hours to complete the return trip. That walk would be part of the 34km we would walk along the Coastal track.
The Bay was a splendid spot but as I negotiated the car carefully down what appeared to be a very steep mule trail Ruth could not help but notice the terrain. I sensed a little disbelief at my rather loose use of the term ‘easy’
The problem with a combination of age and not using your tent that often, is getting it up. How did we do it last time? After getting it to a point where it was at least standing and looked as though it was capable of staying up, I suggested to Ruth that we should undertake a warm-up walk during what was left of the day.
The track started out flat for the first 150 meters then headed up into the sky. Spectacular views ensued as did some rather precipitous drop-offs should you lose your footing. On our return to camp, while my warming bottle of beer turned rapidly to steam as it hit my parched throat, Ruth set about interrogating my knowledge of the planned walk to the Cape the next day. Ruth:”So we climb that mountain at the other end of the beach?” Cliff: “um it looks like it”. Ruth: “Will it be flat after that?” Cliff: ” I am sure it will be” During the interrogation I had noticed an unnerving density of mosquito forming around me and despite having applied what seemed like the entire contents of my repellent bottle, they were getting through these defenses. I woke in the morning looking as if I had succumbed to chicken pox in the night. Ruth was untouched, I guess that is natures way of dishing out justice.
The climb out of the Bay the next morning was far worse than it looked from sea level. When we finally clawed our way to the top, the track leveled off as I had predicted. After about a kilometer of flat walking Ruth halted, pointed ahead and pleaded “we don’t have to descend down to that beach do we?”. I wiped the curtain of moisture from my eyes and the first thing I noticed as I scanned the scene was what was clearly a walking track rising from the beach up towards the Cape. But the beach was almost vertically below us. I knew the track would go down very steeply and it was not the descent that I was was worried about but the walk back up it later in the day.
On our walk down to “Sandy Bay” (as bad a North & South), while I had been busy photographing some tiny bees that were weighted down with bright orange flax pollen, Ruth had wandered on ahead. As I rounded the corner she gave me the “we have a situation” signal. “Get ready to run back up the hill”!. I thought that dehydration was setting in, Ruth was never going to suggest walking up a hill let a lone run up it. Then she pointed to two cute little piglets on the path in front of her. We both knew that if we got them a little excited, squealing would ensue which, in turn, would result in one much larger and angrier mum charging at us from any direction out of the bush. We waited patiently, the pigs sensed that we were blocking the path and eventually wandered off, we found a new spurt of energy and hurried off on our way.
The climb up to the Cape was not as bad as the earlier climb out of Tapotupotu Bay and when we arrived it was heaving with tourists. We emerged from the scrub, my spotty body had turned a rather brilliant shade of read and was wet with perspiration. My unexpected arrival startled several tourists who were busy snapping the pretty little bay way down in the hazy distance. They scuttled off probably terrified that whatever I was suffering from was contagious, needless to say we continued to draw strange looks as we joined the flow with our pack and walking poles. They probably thought we were taking the short walk from the car park to the lighthouse a little too seriously. We did join in the photo fest but secure in the knowledge that we had done it the hard way and experienced something none of them had.
After 12 very hard kilometers we made it back to a very welcome cold shower after which we drifted into an exhausted sleep in the tent. I awoke with a new batch of mosquito bites on the only available place left, the top of my head. Ruth had none, I was starting to get the picture, justice had again been served.
The planned walk the next day was 15 kilometers, what did Ruth and the mosquito have in store for me after that?