Located at the Northern end of North Island, Cape Reinga New Zealand is a fascinating region in terms of landscapes and maori legends. You can discover the Cape Reinga lighthouse, the giant Te Paki sand dunes, the famous 90 Mile Beach and so much more. Below is my guide with my favorite things to do at Cape Reinga to help you plan your trip.
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Why visit Cape Reinga?
Cape Reinga is a place where nature will fascinate you. The name is often use to cover the whole region of the Aupouri peninsula.
- It is the end of the road as you drive North in New Zealand
- At the cape itself, the meeting of two oceans is where Maori spirits begin their final journey
- The giant sand dunes along the peninsula contrast with the lush vegetation in some areas
- The narrow piece of land has long sandy beaches on each side, while the base is more forested
Below is a short video to show you the beauty of the region. You will see some of the most beautiful landscapes in New Zealand.
About the name Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is also known as Te Rerenga Wairua in Maori.
- Te Rerenga Wairua means "the leaping-off place of the spirits" - for the Maori people, this is where a person's spirit comes after death and leaps to their eternal home.
- The word Reinga means 'underworld' making reference to the same passage
Planning Tips - Cape Reinga New Zealand
Location Cape Reinga - Map
On the map below of North Island you can see where Cape Reinga is located at the Northern end:
- Auckland to Cape Reinga = 5h30 drive
- Bay of Islands' Paihia to Cape Reinga = 3h drive
- The main road on the peninsula is in excellent condition, paved and with one lane in each direction
- Kaitaia (at the beginning of the peninsula) to Cape Reinga = 1h30 drive
How to get to Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is quite far from Auckland, so it is best visited as part of your North Island road trip itinerary (see my suggestions) or as a complete vacation with the regions of the Bay of Islands and Kaiteriteri.
If you are traveling with a rental car it will be easier to stop wherever you want to.
But you need to plan enough time. It is quite a long drive!
Plan the night before and the night after not too far from its base Kaitaia.
Planning to rent a car in New Zealand? Check out the local company Snap Rentals
I selected it myself and paid my rental in full.
- They were very nice and responsive, they pick you up and drop you off at the airport
- The car I rented was in perfect condition
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
Organized tour - 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga Tours
You might want to opt for a Cape Reinga Tour for 2 reasons:
- to avoid all the driving and just seat and relax - this allow you to see the area on a long day from the Bay of islands without being tired by the driving
- if you want to enjoy the drive on 90 Mile Beach - Most people rent a normal car to go around New Zealand which is totally sufficient, but if you want to go on the beach highway that is 90 Mile Beach, you need a 4WD vehicle (and some skills). With those tours, they have special buses (Dune riders) which will take you on the beach and in the dunes.
Tours depart either from Paihia (in the Bay of islands) of in Kaitaia (at the base of the peninsula) - Check out options and book your seat
Where to stay at Cape Reinga - accommodations & camping
There are no accommodations at Cape Reinga itself.
- There is a campsite at Tapotupotu bay just 10min drive away
- There re small settlements in the middle of the peninsula where you can find a couple of options (motel or rentals) - check out with this link and look at the map
- Otherwise the main town is Kaitaia at the base of the peninsula - Check out accommodation options
- You can also come from the Bay of Islands. Paihia is a wonderful town but it adds 1h30 drive in each direction - Check out accommodation options
Things to do at Cape Reinga Map (Aupouri peninsula)
Below is an overview Cape Reinga Map with the top things to do on the Aupouri peninsula, just to give you an idea of where you are going.
The main road, in the middle of the peninsula, is Road 1. You can't get lost !
From the town of Kaitaia to Cape Reinga lighthouse carpark it is a 1h30 drive without stopping.
You can find practical maps in my travel guides that simplify the planning of your New Zealand road trip:
Be overwhelmed by the beauty, not the planning!
- 12 easy-to-plan Maps
- 200 scenic locations in NZ
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 285+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
If you are looking for the hiking map around Cape Reinga in the Te Paki Recreation reserve, see at the end of this article.
Top attraction at Cape Reinga - lighthouse walk
One of the tops things to do at Cape Reinga is the Lighthouse walk that will allow you to see the meeting of the 2 oceans.
Attention, this is sacred Maori ground, so be respectful !
The Cape Reinga lighthouse Walk
Located in the Motu o Pao Nature Reserve / Te Paki Recreation Reserve, the walk is easy. It is on a well maintained and paved walking path.
Plan 1h to complete the walk, read all the signs and enjoy the views (slow experience).
The best time is of course either at sunrise or at sunset.
The carpark is not that big but there is second one not far.
There are toilets near the beautiful entrance that feels like walking towards the end of earth.
As you can see in the picture below, the walk to the lighthouse is downhill. There is another hill on the left side that is not paved and steep but offers great views towards the sand dunes.
There is no shade on the walk, so make sure to protect yourself!
As you walk around, you will have fantastic views towards the Cape Maria von Diemen.
As Abel Tasman sailed past it in 1543, he named it after the Governor's wife of where his expedition begun.
As you can see, there is an island at the end of the cape. It was where the first lighthouse in the area had been set up (from 1878 to 1940) until the Cape Reinga one was installed to be safer to access.
This was my favorite part of the walk, that view is stunning!
The other great thing is that you have many explanations along the way:
- about the history of the place
- about the flora and fauna (whales, trees...)
- about the Maori legends that surround it
The Cape Reinga lighthouse
At the end of the walk, you reach the little white lighthouse. It was built in 1942 and activated in May. It was the last manned-lighthouse to be built in New Zealand.
In 1987 it was automated. The beacon flashes every 12 seconds and can be seen from 35km away.
One of the explanations there, tells the story of a prophecy : in 1927 TW Ratana came on a pilgrimage and prophesied that "a great light would one day shine out on the world here". Some say that, with the lighthouse, it came true.
Cape Reinga Signpost
You might have seen many pictures of this signpost around the Internet. It does not have as many locations as others, but it is still pretty fun.
For your information:
- the Southpole is 6211km away
- Sydney is 1975km away
- Los Angeles is 10479km away
Where the Tasman sea meets the Pacific ocean
The other fascinating thing to see in Cape Reinga is the water... it is where the Tasman Sea (to the West) meets the Pacific Ocean (to the East).
As the currents clash, it creates whirlpools.
As per Maori legends, it is where male and female come together for the creation of life.
Pohutukawa tree survivor
This location is of critical importance to the Maori people as this is the place where spirits jump into the underworld. It is at the rocky point below the track.
Make sure you pay close attention. You will see one ancient tree below you. It seems to be crazy that it stands there: on a rock under the salty wind...
But the Pohutukawa tree is known to survive in impossible conditions. Locals call is Kahika and apparently it has never been known to flower.
The legends say that the spirits descend using the roots of the tree as steps.
Top Cape Reinga Attraction - Te Paki Sand Dunes Sandboarding
The giant Cape Reinga sand dunes are the other main attraction of the region. They are known as the Te Paki sand dunes.
Tour groups often stop there to go sandboarding on the dunes!
Access to the Cape Reinga Sand Dunes
- There is a side road from Road 1 to reach the sand dunes. It is well indicated
- You have to drive for 3.5km on a gravel road - but it is quite a good drive
- There is only a very small carpark at the end
- Toilets near the campground
- If you want to climb and sandboard, go barefoot
- Leave all you belongings in the car and lock it in your backpack, it is really easy to loose a jewel while sandboarding...
Te Paki Sand dunes - photos
But even if you don't go to sandboard or cannot climb sand dunes like me, it is worth driving there. The views from the river are already beautiful.
Check out my pictures below.
Some of them reach 150m in height (not as impressive as the Namibian red dunes but still beautiful). There were created over millions of year.
At the foot is the Te Paki stream where you can find many birds and lizards.
Tapotupotu bay - Off the beaten path at Cape Reinga
If you want to leave the big buses and mainstream tourists behind, go on an adventure on one of the side roads.
For example, not far from the Cape Reinga lighthouse carpark, you can turn East towards Tapotupotu beach.
This will take you on a 2.4km gravel road that goes downhill (less than 10min drive from Cape Reinga). For those hiking, it is located on the Te Paki Coastal track.
At the bottom of the road is a peaceful bay with a wide beach and 2 heads covered with lush forest.
On the south side is a stream/lagoon
And you can also find a Department of conservation's campsite.
It was not the most beautiful bay I have visited, but I have found the place extremely relaxing.
If you are looking for even more out of the way you can also turn a little more South towards Spirits Bay. There is also a campsite. But that requires driving on gravel roads for 16km.
What to do at Cape Reinga? Drive on 90 mile beach
The other very famous highlight of Cape Reinga is 90 mile beach alias the highway beach!
However I must admit that I have found it quite boring.
Unless you are able to drive on it with a 4WD vehicle, all you can see is a very very long flat sand beach with water on one side and dunes on the other.
Few things to know about Ninety Mile beach :
- It is 88km long (55miles) - LOL
- Many sailing ships were wrecked on this beach
- Back in 1932, it was used as a runway for the planes of the postal service
- It is officially a public Highway !!!
- If you decide on driving, do so around low tide, with a 4WD and do not speed. Tidal waves can appear suddenly and it is dangerous to turn sharply on sand.
Other places to see on the Cape Reinga region
The peninsula around Cape Reinga is quite fascinating.
Actually the Te Paki Reserve used to be an island - Therefore you can see a different ecosystem than in other New Zealand regions.
Unbelievable places along the road
Take your time as you drive through the peninsula. You can see fascinating contrast between the desert-like landscape of the dunes and the land recovered for farming. The colors are unbelievable.
However it was not such a good idea. From what I have read on boardsigns: "when farmers came to grow grass in these places, they did not want sand dunes moving on to their animals pastures. Their answer to shifting sands was to plan them with an outsider marram grass to stabilise them. Marram grass has spread like weed in the dunes."
Another place I really enjoyed and where there were hardly anyone was the Houhora heads with the harbour.
At low tide the sand bank are exposed creating a beautiful painting in the water.
The North head is Mt Camel or Tohoraha. It reaches 236m in height.
It used to be a Maori settlement in the 14th century.
Such a contrast with the rest of the peninsula!
It is freshwater wetlands.
There is a single flat track around the lake. It is surrounded by Manaka trees as well as Kanuka and native shrub land.
Gumdiggers Buried forest
Learn more about the Kauri trees and their use by the Maori people (but it closes quite early at 4pm, so plan accordingly) - few kilometers of gravel road
Hiking at Cape Reinga - Te Paki Recreation Reserve
There are many hiking options around Cape Reinga - from short half-day walks to multi-day trails. For example:
- The Te Paki coastal track - the whole hike takes 4 days, however you can do only some sections between carparks at points of interest.
- The Te Araroa Trail which is a part of the Te paki coastal trail from the cape to the Te Paki Stream
- Twilight Loop junction to Cape Maria von Diemen - 2km
Te Paki Recreation Reserve - Cape Reinga hiking Map
Tracks are well indicated with walking times and distances.
I have met people who had hiked for several days and they had a wonderful time They even stayed 1 more day and run out of food (which is really not a good idea, by the way - be reasonable).
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A fascinating land, isn't it?
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