Cape Reigna and another Twist of Plans

Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
Trip End Feb 04, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, November 7, 2011

One of the first tourist things I heard about when I got to New Zealand was Cape Reigna and sandboarding down the dunes in the Far North. I had wanted to avoid going on an organized bus tour, but no regular buses go up there, I don't have a car, and there isn't enough traffic for hitchhiking, so bus tour it was. Not a bad alternative, in the end. 

What made the trip really fun was our driver/guide, Spike. His enthusiasm and sense of humor (along with his Kiwi accent and slang) kept us entertained for the entire 11-hour trip.  We picked up a few other people from around the city, including Bob from California, then headed out for our day.  The first stop was at a small Kauri forest, where we did a short walk amongst the old giants.  As part of a convoy of three tour buses, I was pleased when Spike announced we would be rearranging our day to avoid the other buses. Next stop: sandboarding!

Green farmland opened up to golden sand dunes, with the road ending in a shallow sandy river. Or so we thought. Spike turned the bus sharply, yelled for us to hang on to our seats, and drove down the river! Not across, but IN the river, like it was a road. It was a road actually, the beginning of an official sand road, but more on that later.  We used a widening of the river-road to U-turn, then parked in front of the Te Paki sand dunes. We grabbed our sandboards (basically boogie boards), sat for a quick safety chat, then Spike took of running up the dune. A few guys took off after him, then Vera did, so I joined in too, stopping at the base of the dune to conserve energy. Spike and some of my friends had warned us of how difficult the climb was. Spike, at 40-something, beat all of us youngsters to the top by far. I tramped on and passed all but one guy at the top. Spike was waiting for us, ready to go, as we came panting and sweating over the crest. I told myself once was enough; I didn't think I'd make it up the slope a second time.  The boy who got there first was too scared to go first, so of course I stepped up, happy to do the "scary" part for the boys. Admittedly, it was a bit scary looking down at the steep slope we'd be careening down headfirst at 50 km/hr, especially after Spike's warnings about breaking ribs and doing face-plants.  But Spike didn't really give me time to be scared. I was still catching my breath as I laid down on my board next to Spike and he pushed me over the edge. Weeeeeee!!!  Speeding over the sand, wind in my face, feet in the air for maximum speed... it was over too soon! I had hardly come to a stop before I was marching back up the sand dunes, ready for another run.  Okay so it wasn't the most thrilling ride, but it was good fun and worth climbing again.

On my second go, Spike told me to run and jump over the edge to go faster.  I botched the jump but did go faster, so of course I had to go again to perfect my form.  I went three times in a row before some people had made it up once. I guess I haven't lost all of my snowboarding muscles yet.  Spike told us about a steeper, faster slope nearby, so I climbed a fourth time for that. I did the run-and-jump and the other tourists told me I'd gone faster than anyone. I wasn't trying to show off, I was just having so much fun and was in the mood to play as hard as possible! On this steep fast slope, it flattened out, then curved down another little slope ending in the stream.  I glided around the curve, using my toes behind me to steer, but ended up heading straight for some tree-plants. I couldn't tell if they were soft plants or hard baby trees.  I wasn't able to avoid them, so braced for what would either be an impact of a flattening of the plants. It was an impact, sending me flying headfirst off my board. Luckily I wasn't going that fast, so I just popped off onto my stomach - a soft landing and just a little sand in my teeth.  Calling that last run a reasonable success, I decided to call it quits for the day. But then Vera turned up with my camera, having gotten both of ours from the bus. Spike had been filming people as they went down, so I hiked back up the steep slope with my camera for a fifth run, only to see Spike go flying down the slope as I was halfway up. Hoping he'd come up for a last run, I finished my climb to the top, only to see him plop down his board at the bottom, finished. I hollered to him and waved my camera, and the champ ran back up the slope. I wanted him to film me down the big slope, but he said he'd burned his toes in the sand and could only film on the slower slope. I kinda wanted to forget the filming so that I could go down the more fun slope, but since I'd made him climb all the way back up, we went down the smaller one.  He burned his toes anyway (you can hear him in the video, poor guy). I burned mine too, a little. Well worth it, though. I don't know how I had the energy for so many hikes up the dunes. Adrenaline, I guess. I think most people went once, the fit ones went twice, and the really adventurous few may have made it three times. I was too busy having fun to count. But I did notice that Spike and I finished out at five a piece. Yes, I'm bragging.  But it was all for the fun, not the fame ;-) 

After sandboarding, it was off to Taputaputa Beach for lunch.  As I stepped off the bus, my legs were like jelly from my nonstop running up sand dunes.  I was debating swimming or not, since it wasn't terribly hot and the water would be cold, but then I saw Spike running to the waves with a boogie board under his arm. Genius! I ran back to the bus, grabbed a board, called to Vera that I was going to play and would join her for lunch later, then charged off into the waves. It was so much fun! The waves were perfect for boogie boarding, and I caught a bunch of good ones, one in particular that was a fast and long ride.  Bob (from CA) was also out there catching waves, and a few other people waded out or were swimming. I stayed out as long as possible, catching wave after wave, until I got too cold. Then I dragged myself back up the beach and collapsed onto my board, happily exhausted from playing so hard. I had time for a quick lunch and to change my clothes, then it was back on the bus.

The next stop was Cape Reigna, the northernmost point of New Zealand.  According to Maori beliefs, it is the the point where the spirits of the dead depart.  It is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. Supposedly you can see the line where the two seas meet. I didn't see it.  But anyway, at the Cape, as a total tourist trap thing, you could pay $20 to plant a NZ native tree, to help regenerate the native bush. Normally I wouldn't even consider such a thing, but right away I decided I'd do it. It would be a part of me forever in New Zealand, and I could come visit my tree when I come back again. Plus I'd be helping restore NZ to its best.  I also thought immediately of my friend Jenny (remember her? from Nelson). It could be our little NZ friendship tree, a token of our friendship that we could watch grow. After I planted my little baby tree, and fed it water from a bottle, I told it to "Be strong." I wanted to say "Kia kaha," which is Maori for "be strong," but I was too shy to say it in front of the Maori lady helping me, which is actually unlike me these days, especially since we'd been chatting. I thought it anyway. So then I got a card with my tree's GPS coordinates. I can email the organization in six to 12 months and they'll send me a picture of my tree.  Whether or not it will actually be my tree is a question I refuse to consider.  They also said if it doesn't make it, they'll plant another one for me. It's supposed to grow about six meters tall.

After the tree planting, Vera and I headed down the path out to the lighthouse. The scenery was incredible - sea cliffs and greenery, sand dunes peaking out in the distance, then wide open ocean - nothing but water between me and my home in California.  We tried to stay away from the rest of our busload. It's easier to try and appreciate the cultural significance of Cape Reigna that way. We didn't have much time to spend there (one of the things I hate about tours). There were paths going this way and that, and it would have been fun to explore the area and hike down the cliffs, especially since it was a lovely sunny day, but we settled for gazing out at the ocean for a bit, then heading back up to the bus. 

Now it was time for the final main highlight of the tour - 90 Mile Beach! We drove back to the sand dunes and through/along the river road until we got out to the beach.  Vera and I had chosen the very front seats of the bus so we'd have the best view, and it was definitely a good choice.  A girl who had been across the aisle from us moved to the back, so Bob moved up to enjoy the views and Spike's company.  We all chatted it up as we drove through the patch of soft sand where buses sometimes get stuck and out onto the beach. It's actually only about 60 miles long, but that's still bloody long.  It's hard-packed sand and an official road in NZ, speed limit 100 km/h (about 62 mph), drivable when the tide is out. With the Tasman Sea crashing outside our windows, we sped along the beach, stopping a ways down to enjoy the area. Vera and I ran down to the water and found a bunch of live pipis, which are a type of shellfish, maybe clams. I wanted to take them, but wasn't sure I could, so I left them, only to find out from Spike it would have been fine to take them. They'd looked decent sized to me, but Spike said the meat was hardly worth the effort. We continued driving, stopping when we spotted what was either a giant turtle shell or an overturned dinghy.  Spike swung the bus around and hopped out to flip it over. It was the top half of a giant turtle shell. We could see the backbone, all the soft bits having been long gone.  We drove along the beach for 45 minutes or so, getting to know Spike and Bob from Catalina Island.  Bob, 59 with a daughter a few years younger than me, said he was proud of me for beating the boys at sandboarding, and for taking every opportunity for fun, and I pointed out that he'd been right there beside me.  I stepped forward to have Vera take a picture of me at the front window, and Spike asked if he could get in it. I stepped next to him, and he turned around and smiled for the camera, still doing 100k!

After the beach road, we made a quick stop at a gift shop, another pitfall of tours, but this one was interesting because it had things carved out of ancient swamp kauri trees, which can be tens of thousands, if not millions of years old, preserved under the swamp.  One carved bench was $55,000.  Another cool thing was a staircase carved out of a kauri stump, about eight feet in diameter.  From the gift shop, we stopped at a fish 'n' chips shop. It had nice food, but I think I would have preferred more time at Cape Reigna instead of at a takeaway and a gift shop. 

I'm not sure exactly how this next bit came about, but sometime on the way home Bob and Vera and I realized that our plans for the next few days somewhat coincided.  Bob had rented a car and was planning on making his way down to Auckland by Saturday; Vera and I had rough plans of heading down to Auckland so that she could rent a car there.  Bob offered for us to come with him, and we said that could work, given how well we'd all been getting on. We got caught up in chatting again, and I forgot that Bob would get dropped off before us. As we pulled up to his stop, I asked for his phone number, scribbling it across my arm as he hurried off the bus (we were running late and some people had a ferry to catch). At the next stop, Paul from Rotorua handed me his business card with his contact info, per Spike's request so that I might have someone to drive me to the beginning of a tramp I was thinking of doing near Rotorua. Gotta love that Kiwi hospitality. 

After a leisurely walk along the beach and over the rocky shore with Vera collecting seashells, I called Bob, and the plan was set to meet in the morning, take the car ferry over to Russell, then head south, making plans as we went.  A real and true tiki tour!
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Jenny on

Love the tree already!!! one day we gonna visit it togther....or his brother or sister....but ours. so sweet. lots of love to you!

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