Top of the South

If only the turquoise water glittering just beyond the flax plant were as warm as it looks. Then, maybe, I could doff the beanie, the rain jacket, and the sweatshirt, and paddle around this side of the Pacific. The number of days to jump in is quickly dwindling; in less than two weeks we fly back to the other side of this massive stretch of infinite blue.

Mangawhai Headlands

Three weeks ago we spent ten days winding our way up and down the fish tail of New Zealand’s North Island. Although the guidebook assured us that campers flock north in the summer, we were surprised whenever a car showed up in the rearview mirror. This is the land of giant kauri trees, wet sand dunes whipped every direction by a relentless wind, and waves marching upon the sand and crashing in the dark.

Cape Reinga's lighthouse and promontory

Cape Reinga’s lighthouse and promontory

Two different oceans meet at the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. Next to the lighthouse, a sacred Maori tree grips onto a rocky promontory against all physical odds (like salt splash and lack of nutrients). Its roots represent the stairwell to the underworld for the spirits on their journey to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiiki. My gaze kept creeping west to the spot in the ocean where the two seas meet. Such force, such power, with millions of gallons of energy behind each wave, comes together and splashes onto the crown of New Zealand. If even an ocean can change direction, why is it so difficult for humans?

On a sunny and peaceful day it’s hard to remember being scoured by sand with dripping rain gear and marching headlong into a relentless wind. The diversity of the 14km Te Werahi Loop Track was mind-boggling. From the empty car park on the bluff, where we wondered if the wind would rip the doors off the hinges, we clambered down green dairy fields pockmarked brown by hundreds of cow feet. We gingerly stepped across a slippery boardwalk gripped by a calm swamp and into a forest of black barked trees frozen at an angle tilted away from the prevailing wind. Then we ran down the dunes and took off our shoes to cross a knee-deep freshwater stream pouring into the ocean. Then up up up onto a red black volcanic rock, like a permanent bruise millions of years old. Red dirt, white sand, marshy bog, and an interminable march on ankle rolling pasture, followed by the eyes of a hundred cattle with half-chewed grass poking out of their mouth. By the time we reached the car again we were spent, and preceded to binge read in the front seats as the wind hammered at our doors, occasionally bringing a torrential downpour.

kauriMassive kauri trees add an element of prehistoric magic to the area. One broken giant left us with mouths agape. I could tell you he’s 16.41 meters wide but that doesn’t convey the scale. I’ve seen two lane roads that could run underneath it. Ten rugby players could hug it with their arms outstretched and still probably not touch each other’s fingertips. This tree is a temple, and I love it!

I love this region too. All of our hikes overlooked lovely bays with few people, mostly surfers, and islands that emerge from the mist like mirages. No matter your New Zealand timetable, take time to explore the beautiful northland. It’s absolutely worth it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *