I knew I was going to use that title at some point or another. For those that don’t get the reference, it’s from the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit - it’s the name of the book Bilbo wrote about his journey in The Hobbit, and also the name of Part 2 of the upcoming Hobbit movies which are being filmed in New Zealand right now. Anyways, I figured it was about time since I probably had one of my longer all day tours today, which completed a round trip to the northernmost point in New Zealand – Cape Reinga.
The drive is quite long – about 2 hours from Paihia or so, with only a few small towns in between. So, I opted for a tour instead, given that good specials are on now. Plus, it had the added bonus of allowing me to do things I wouldn’t get to otherwise (at least easily) – driving 90 mile beach and sand boarding specifically.
Another rainy and very early (715am departure) greeted me this morning. Our first stop was a Kauri forest about an hour out. Kauri trees are one of the largest trees in New Zealand, and really quite gigantic.
The Maori say that it is good to hug a Kauri tree. So I did. Trees need love too.
After our 30 minute walk around the forest, we re-boarded the bus and continued north. A brief stop for morning snacks and for people to grab lunch if necessary (I just brought sandwiches and Kit Kats), and we headed up Highway 1 to the peak – Cape Reinga. Quite a stunning place, this is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific meet, and there was a TON of wind and swirling clouds. At the very north edge is a lighthouse.
And at the lighthouse, a signpost detailing straight-line distances to far away cities – Vancouver is over 6000 nautical miles, or 11,222km, away. Not a short swim by any means. And I think there are sharks.
Looking down the lush pacific side, where rains fall coming over the landscape and it’s more protected from the winds.
And now looking westward to the Tasman side – Winds come from the west due to the rotation of the earth, so the Western side of New Zealand is often buffeted by strong winds. In the North part, this has created massive sand dunes.
After walking around Cape Reinga for a bit, we boarded our bus and headed to a sheltered pacific bay for our picnic lunch. 5 minutes after exiting the bus, many of us had re-boarded due to a fast moving rain storm. Rain makes sandwiches soggy and rather unappealing.
Onwards to 90 mile beach! On the way there, we stopped at some of the nearby huge sand dunes. Some of the more adventurous of us grabbed boards and hiked to the top. This was a TOUGH hike. The wind is absolutely howling right here, and the dune has a very steep vertical slope.
The difficult vertical ascent made for a very fast and exciting descent though! I climbed back up twice more to slide down a couple more times – none of us were physically able to consider a 4th climb, we were exhausted.
After rubbing off the sand (we got sandblasted quite a bit up at the top), it was back on the bus and onto the beach. This was really neat – the 90 mile beach is actually a recognized highway here in New Zealand. You can even take your own vehicle down it if you wish – and we easily reached 100km/hr on the sand. Actually, that is one of the keys – keep moving. If you stop in the wrong spot, your car can quickly sink if the sand is too soft…and then you are stuck. There is no cell phone coverage and we didn’t see another bus or car, so if you are stuck…then the tide comes in…insurance doesn’t cover you.
We got a couple stops along the drive down the beach where the driver found hard enough sand. It was a neat little bluffs area.
Looking back at the bus from up on the bluffs, the sun was nice enough to rejoin us for a short bit. I just like the colours.
We continued the drive down the beach another 25 minutes or so – it isn’t actually 90 miles, but between 60-70 miles. The goofy naming though is from the early explorers – it took them 3 days to go from end to end via horseback and they figured horses averaged 30 miles a day, thus 90 mile beach (they didn’t take into account the horses moved slower in the sand). When an accurate count of the distance was taken, nobody wanted to change the name – it had history. And the Australians had an 80 mile beach.
And just near the end of the drive, a rainbow showed us the way off the beach. No pot of gold was found, and the Irishman on board was berated justifiably by the driver for not delivering upon the leprechaun promise.
We picked up tasty fish and chips on the return trip, our bus proceeded to break down on one of the final hills near Paihia and we limped into town around 6pm. A tiring but interesting day all in all – I wonder if there is a signpost at the bottom end of New Zealand as well? Hopefully I’ll find out in the next 11 months!