Sunday, January 03, 2010

Day 7 - Paihia to Kaitaia

I am drop-dead tired. If my narrative meanders or stops altogether then you can assume I’ve fallen asleep on the keyboard. But let me start at the beginning :)

It is a beautiful morning in Paihia. I sit with my cup of tea in the morning and just look out of the window. I’m so much in love with this little town, with its lively air, its beaches, its sparkling blue waters, its bays that I’m reluctant to leave. So is B. But leave we must. So we pack our things and bid a sad farewell, looking out at the bay for one last time.

We are headed for Waitangi. This is a historic place for this is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori and the British, pledging to put an end to the fighting and to co-habit in peace. There is a memorial structure built to commemorate this historical occasion inside there are guided walks and tours and maybe a pictorial history of the whole thing, but we decide to give the tour a miss and carry on ahead.

We stop at the Haruru Falls next. This is a little waterfall that is formed when the Waitangi river falls over a drop of few hundred feet. It is a nice picturesque little place and the sound of the water falling is very soothing with the spray rising from the water and showering you with tiny droplets. I linger on wanting to just sit by the falls and watch it all day. There surely is something magical about the sound of falling water. Once again I cast one last look at the falls and go on ahead.

After that it’s one long haul up State Highway 10 northwards towards Kaitaia. While driving our GPS lady has other ideas. She repeated asks that I ‘turn around’. Against my better judgement and fearing that I’ve missed a turn I turn around only to find myself being led into somebody’s backyard. I quickly beat a hasty retreat, turn off the GPS and from them on just follow the signs till we reach Kaitaia. All the going round in circles has made us late and hot and tired and it’s 1.15 when we finally find our motel when we had been expecting to reach by 11.30 or noon by the latest.

The hotel manager informs us that Cape Reinga is almost a 2 hour drive, so we have a quick lunch, fill up the petrol tank and head off again. Cape Reinga is the northern tip of NZ and other than that geographical fact it also has a lot of significance for the Maori. But before we get to that, there’s the Ninety Mile beach to explore.

It is the longest beach in NZ and the name is a misnomer because it’s actually on 60 miles long. It stretches along the west coast from just west of Kaitaia and ends just south of Cape Reinga, running northwest for most of its length. Because it’s such a long stretch of beach and also because it is almost flat, people sometimes drive their vehicles over it. So that’s what we do next. Head towards the beach and enter it at a place called Wapapkauri. The sand here is compact and tightly packed and there’s a ramp that goes down to the beach so the car goes over the beach quite smoothly. We park and gaze out at the long stretch of beach and the surf that comes over the sand in lovely patterns. Because the ground is flat, the waves are gentle and form pretty little crests before spreading their foam out on the sands. I stand and gaze at this breathtaking beauty for a long time, loathe this leave this place as well :)))

From there the drive to Cape Reinga is 110 km. I do it in one stretch because for some reason once I start driving I don’t like to stop until I’ve reached the destination. So up and down hills we go, around curved bends and through tiny villages. The landscape in these parts is mostly brown. It appears as though the rain god is not so active here and I feel sorry for the sheep and cattle eating the brown, dried-up grass. But I guess, just like us, animals adapt to conditions. The heat beats down relentlessly and I can feel by hands on the steering wheel smarting under the sun. Finally after about an hour and half we reach the Cape Reinga landing point.

From here it is a short walk to the lighthouse and land’s end. All along the walk there are wooden plaques that tell the story of Cape Reinga and why it is so significant for the Maori. They consider this to a site worth veneration and so it is requested of tourists that they do not consume food and drink on the site. The story that unfolds is that Kupe was the seafaring captain who first arrived in NZ with his men in their weka (boat) from Hawaika (Polynesia). According to Maori legend this is the departing place of spirits on their journey to the homeland, Hawaiki. Legend tells of a spirit trail along 90 Mile Beach, starting at the southern end of the beach, the departing spirit waits for an outgoing tide before journeying back to Hawaiki.
There is a single tree growing at the tip and it is beleived that the spirits had to descend the steps formed by the roots of the tree and wash in the two streams that flowed there before they could fly off.

The headland of Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) rises steeply to 290m above sea level. Cape Reinga is the point of confluence of the Pacific Ocean that lies to the east and the Tasman sea that lies to the west. The Maori believed that the male (Pacific) and the female (Tasman) united at this point which led to creation itself.

At the lighthouse there is a pole with markers of various cities with their directions and how far it is from this point. So there is a board facing south saying ‘South Pole’ with the number of nutical miles and kms. Similarly for Copenhagen, Paris, London, Equator, Los Angelos, Vancouver etc. This is a great photo op and everyone gets a photo taken at this point.

But what really take the cake is the view of the sea and its environs from the point. The blue waters simmer on 3 sides and waves crash down below on the rocks. There is such a great feeling of silence, of vastness, of immensity, I feel like I’m light and free and my spirit expands and soars in the profound silence. It is easy to see why legends have been built around this place and why this is considered a sacred site.

We stand for a long time, drinking in the silence and peace and then leave reluctantly. Back down the hill and then take a detour to Spirits Bay. Spirits Bay is another historic site steeped in legend. It was named by the Maori ancestor Tohe who left the area to find his daughter kidnapped by another tribe. He told his family that if he did not return they must catch his spirit on its way past and he called this place "Kapowairua - Catch my Spirit". This is normally a golden sand beach but for three months of the year, the whole beach is covered with tiny pieces of coloured shells. I pick a few of them as mementos :) A great surfing beach. People lived here in the summer because it was close to fresh water supply for their gardens. There are a few tents that people have pitched, I guess they like to live in these natural environs close to the beach in the middle of nowhere, a bit apart from civilisation. I guess it would be nice, to wake up to birdsong, go for a morning swim, and then just laze around the whole day or go paddling in the sea.

Well, it’s back to the motel again for us, after a long drive. The sun is just setting as we drive, filling the sky with beautiful reds, oranges and purples. The colours of a bay that is pass is tinted purple from the purple clouds above. The slanting rays fall on the brown fields lighting them up to a golden splendour, the brown stalks of grass shining bright in the sunlight. And that was the end of another memorable day.