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Spirits Bay and Sand Duning

Published
November 3, 2020
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SPIRITS BAY is in the far north of New Zealand, known to Māori as the ‘tail of the fish’, with subtropical white sandy beaches and fabulous sunrises and sunsets.

This beautiful area also serves as the starting point for the Te Paki Coastal Track, a walk of three to four days.

About halfway along the track you come to Cape Rēinga, also known as Te Rerenga Wairua, which is where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Seameet.

More significantly, Cape Rēinga is a sacred place. In Māori mythology it is considered to be the place where the spirits of the dead go to be cleansed and then leap off and enter the underworld to return to their eternal home of Hawaiki, also called Hawaiki-a-Nui, or Great Hawaiki. Interestingly enough, this heaven is also the Māori equivalent of the Garden of Eden: the place from which the ancestors of the Maori were said to have come to live in New Zealand, in a sense, as exiles.

Hawaiki is the local version of a suite of similar-sounding names that crop up all over tropical Polynesia such as Savaiʽiin Samoa and, of course, Hawaiʽi. To what extent these versions of the same name reflect actual migration historyand kinship among the islands, however, as opposed to shared Edenic myths, is debated still.

Te Rerenga Wairua means ‘the place where the spirits fly’ and Rēinga also means both the underworld and the leaping placeof spirits.

The very northernmost tip of the North Island of New Zealand (LINZ via NZ TopoMap, 2020)

Spirits Bay is known in Māori as Piwhane or alternatively as Kapowairua, which means ‘catch the spirits’. We stayed first at Kapowairua Spirits Bay Campsite, and from there walked eighteen kilometres along the coastal track to Tapotupotu Bay, close to Cape Rēinga.

Here are a couple of useful DOC web resources by the way:

Historic Cape Reinga, and, Te Paki Coastal Track.

The next place we camped was near Te Werahi Beach, about seven kilometres on. past the Cape and facing west (I can’t over-emphasise the usefulness of camping apps to find these campsites!)

Then we walked on another ten kilometres to Te Paki Stream where we came out onto the immense sand dunes which people often boogie board on.

Other classic areas in this northern tip of the North Island are Parengarenga Harbour, famed for its clear water and white sands fronting onto Great Exhibition Bay on the east coast, and Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast, which isn’t really ninety miles long but pretty long all the same!

The area around Cape Rēinga and Spirits Bay, and between Ninety Mile Beach and Great Exhibition Bay, is known more generally as the Aupori Peninsula.

In the next blog post, I’m going to be talking about the wider northern region of which the Aupori Peninsula is just the first, northernmost taste!

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