Cape Reinga: the top of the bottom of the world

Cape Reinga at the tip of New Zealand’s North Island is said to be the place where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.

Now, that might not sound like a very nice place to visit – but it is, as you can see for yourself in the picture below.

The view from Cape Reinga, Northland, New Zealand
See, no fire and brimstone!

According to Maori culture, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga in Northland, where they plunge from the headland as they continue their journey to the afterlife.

It’s easy to see where this belief may have originated from; Caper Reinga certainly feels like the end of the world – and it is literally the top end of NZ so long as you ignore the little-known fact that the North Cape’s Surville Cliffs extend slightly further north.

Here you can see two oceans meet – the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east – and trace the line where they clash in a confluence of waves and white water.

As impressive as that is, the surrounding landscape is nothing to be sniffed at either. From the Cape you can look down on gorgeous NZ beaches and native flora and fauna or go for a trek along the coast.

But the most famous image associated with Cape Reinga, of course, is its lighthouse.

Me standing in front of the Cape Reinga lighthouse
I’m not the icon – the lighthouse is, behind me!

The lighthouse that adorns so many postcards was built in 1941, replacing another located on nearby Motuopao Island. It was manned until 1987, when it became fully automated.

It’s a New Zealand icon – as is the bright yellow signpost that stands just down from the lighthouse.

Now this mightn’t be anything like as photogenic as the Cape Reinga lighthouse but few international travellers resist taking a photo of it and what distance the signs says they are away from their home town.

London, for example, is 18,029km away; Sydney is only 1,975km from Cape Reinga.

There is a similar sign at Bluff, the southernmost point on the South Island – but Bluff isn’t in the same league as Cape Reinga. The Cape is much, much prettier.

The signpost at Cape Reinga in Northland, New Zealand
It’s a long way to Tipperary

And while you’re up at Cape Reinga you might as well take a tour of the nearby area.

Northland is well-known in New Zealand for its beautiful beaches – and nearby Ninety Mile Beach is undoubtedly the most famous of the lot.

You’d do well to find the time to visit it. Think 30km of golden sands stretching all the way to the horizon, wild and windy surf, and sand dunes that look like a stark, dessert landscape. You’ll often see people slide down the dune on bodyboards and pieces of cardboard.

Cape Reinga is a roughly one hour north of Kaitaia; Ninety Mile Beach lies due west (for a sneak peak check out Confessions of a NZ beach snob).

Both are worth a visit this summer in New Zealand – whether you’re a local or an international traveller or both like me.

About Simon Petersen 287 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

11 Comments

  1. I’ve been there during the Winter! too bad, my pics don’t look good because gloomy sky with strong winds. But still its a nice place to visit, far north!

  2. I did a quick getaway weekend to explore the Northland from Auckland to Kerikeri via Wangarei, crossing over to 90 mile beach. But I didn’t expect driving in New Zealand is so very tiring with the winding roads so I didn’t have enough to make it to Cape Reigna. This probably is one of the biggest regrets in my travel experiences.

    • I’m from Whangarei originally so I know exactly what you mean – the roads are particularly winding up there! And in this country if you’re not driving you’re probably not going very far. Sounds like you’re having a good trip, though! Many tourists seem to skip that part of the country, which is always disappointing because I think the beaches are best up there.

  3. It’s definitely a special spot, and I completely agree – Bluff just does not even compare! I prefer the drive up 90 Mile, but love love love all the diverse beautiful beaches that you can find off State Highway 1!

    • Hey buddy! I was wondering what you would make of this. I don’t drive on 90 Mile because I have this really vivid memory from when I was little of my Dad getting the car stuck in the soft sand with the tide coming in!

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