Cape Reinga is the end of the road, the top of New Zealand’s North Island, a spiritual homeland, and a must-see for visitors. It’s also the spot where two seas collide in a swirl of currents.
Called Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori, it is considered to be the most spiritual place for all Māori people. After all, Cape Reinga is where a person’s spirit comes after death and departs for their eternal homeland of Hawaiki.
Therefore, Cape Reinga is the last place that Maori spirits set foot in New Zealand.
Reinga actually translates to ‘underworld‘, while Te Rerenga Wairua means “leaping off place of the spirits.”
Please be respectful
The area is on sacred grounds and should be left undisturbed. The welcome sign also asks visitors to follow the tikanga (custom) of not eating or drinking while you are there.
Also at Cape Reinga, oceans meet, sometimes smoothly, while at other times almost angrily. It is at the top of the island where the Tasman Sea to the west meets the Pacific Ocean to the east.
Although many visitors arrive for cultural understanding, they also come for the spectacular views, as well as photo opportunities with the iconic Cape Reinga lighthouse.
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Where is Cape Reinga?
Cape Reinga sits at the northern tip of the Arupori Peninsula, the narrow strip of land running north from Kaitaia.
Interesting fact: While Cape Reinga is often thought of as the most northern point in the country, it isn’t. Rather, Surville Cliffs are, and they sit 30km east of Cape Reinga in a scientific reserve not open to the public.
Cape Reinga lighthouse
The Cape Reinga lighthouse is often the first New Zealand light seen by approaching ships. It marks a special spot geographically, as it is where the oceans meet, often in turbulent waters.
The light is powerful and situated well at 961 feet above sea level. In fact, the flashing light can be seen for 31 miles.
The Cape Reinga lighthouse was originally on Motuopao Island, about 6 km down the west coast from Cape Reinga. In 1941, the light and its glass housing were moved to a new lighthouse at Cape Reinga. This is the one we see today.
Most visitors walk out to the lighthouse. Note, that it is often windy and therefore feels cool. We often bring a light jacket.
Views from the Cape Reinga lighthouse
The views from Cape Reinga are worth a visit on their own.
To the west, along the Tasman Sea coast, the spit of land in the distance is Cape Maria Van Diemen. Originally an island, it is now a tombolo sitting about 6 km from Cape Reinga. Accessible by hiking, it marks both the western part of the North Island and the northern tip of 90-Mile beach.
To the east you will see Tapotupotu Bay along the Pacific coast. Spirits Bay is beyond and outside the scope of my image.
The meeting of the seas
At Cape Reinga, seas meet. To the west (separating New Zealand from Australia 2,000km away) is the Tasman Sea. On the east is the southern Pacific Ocean. The line at the meeting of the seas is clearly visible at Cape Reinga.
A Māori legend
Cape Reinga marks the separation of the Tasman Sea from the Pacific Ocean. For Maori, these turbulent waters are where the male sea Te Moana Tapokopoko a Tawhaki meets the female sea Te Tai o Whitireia.
The whirlpools where the currents clash are like those that dance in the wake of a waka (canoe). They represent the coming together of male and female, and the creation of life.
A closer view of the meeting of the seas:
Cape Reinga NZ – Spirits Bay
Spirits Bay is golden sand, pristine turquoise waters, and colourful shells protected by a large marshland harbouring native birdlife. A sacred place for the indigenous Māori people, this is the point of departure for the spirits of the deceased.
According to the signage, the spirits descend to the water on steps formed by the ancient Kahika tree clinging to the rock at the point jutting out to sea. They then continue on their journey to Hawaiki, the spiritual home.
Pro Tip: If you are headed to Spirits Bay, be sure to bring insect repellent, plenty of drinking water, and check the tide charts before you go.
Getting to Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is a 422 km drive from Auckland. There is so much to see along the way that we put together an itinerary from Auckland loaded with fascinating stops.
The final 120km (about 90 minutes) of driving will bring you up the Aupouri Peninsula from Kaitaia. Ideally, you will want a full day from this point, allowing you to:
- Visit the ancient kauri trees
- Drive along 90 Mile Beach on the west coast
- Walk on the white sands of Rarawa Beach on the east coast
- Stop for a meal and an ice cream cone
- Sandboard down the giant Te Paki sand dunes.
Cape Reinga tours from the Bay of Islands
While the drive itself is easy, bus tours from the Bay of Islands (starting either in Paihia or Kerikeri) are really popular. One of the key advantages of a tour is that exhilarating drive on 90-Mile Beach.
Unfortunately, rental vehicles are usually prohibited from driving on the sand and private vehicles too frequently get stuck. In contrast, the busses used for the tour are uniquely equipped for the job. The two most popular and highly rated tours are:
- Dune ride tour: This is a long day, but filled with fun. Nearly all of the exchange students we have hosted have loved it. Not only does it head to the lighthouse, but there is time for sliding down the giant sand dunes, driving along sand on 90-mile beach, and lunch. In addition, you’ll hear plenty of Māori legends and stories. Reserve your Ninety Mile beach and Cape Reinga tour
- Flightseeing tour: For those who want a bigger thrill, or have less time (and more money), there is a tour with a scenic flight from Paihia to the top of the island where a minivan will take you to the see the lighthouse and ride the giant sand dunes before you fly back. Check price and reviews for the flightseeing option.
Tour Cape Reinga from Auckland
If you are visiting New Zealand without a vehicle or if you simply prefer the knowledge of a local guide, this roundtrip Cape Reinga tour from Auckland does it all in just three days. Spend both nights in the Bay of Islands.
The tour visits Cape Reinga drives along 90 Mile Beach and travels through the Puketi Kauri Forest. Plus, in the Bay of Islands, you will explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, cruise to the Hole in the Rock, and tour historic Russell. It’s a lot in three-days, but it will bring you home some amazing memories. Check price and reviews for this tour from Auckland
Where to stay
While there are not a lot of options, there are enough. The majority of visitors either enjoy a day trip from the Bay of Islands, include it in a loop around the top of the island, or take an extended hiking/camping adventure with their own tents.
If you’re like me and prefer a shorter drive and a bed, we stay at Pukenui Lodge is 70 km from the Cape. Here you will find both lodge and motel options, or stay at the nearby Pukenui Campground. Check price at Pukenui Lodge
On our last visit, we opted to stay 129 km away in Cable Bay at the Golden Sands Beach Front Apartments. We were travelling with teens who really enjoyed having the beach right outside our door. We had our own two-bedroom unit, allowing us to relax, run on our own timeline, and make a day trip up to the top of the island. If you don’t mind the extra drive, it is our top recommendation. Check price at the Golden Sands.
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Have you been to Cape Reinga?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …