Kiwi Experience don’t actually offer a trip up to the far North of New Zealand, so they go through the Great Sights company. Given how many people use it via Kiwi however, the bus driver (a Maori man by the name of Willy) picks us up at 7:15 directly outside the hostel and heads off on one of the longest days I’ve actually had in NZ. The Cape is a considerable distance from Paihia, so it’s not a short drive. We do at least get a quick stop at Puketi Kauri Forest, which hosts some of the oldest Kauri trees in New Zealand. Once chopped down in droves for the wood and gum, the tree is now protected.
This however, is our only stop before heading straight up to the tip and getting dropped off at Cape Reinga, a place of geological and spiritual importance. For the Maori, this was known at Te Rerenga Wairua, where the spirits of the dead would depart the world, and from the cape tip, you can look out and see clashing waves – where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.
We get about 40 minutes at the lighthouse, before we head off the main road and into the Te Paki Stream, a sandy river which is the only entrance to 90 mile beach. Before we drive in, our coach driver warns us to wake up anyone sleeping and to make sure we’re not leaning on the glass, because it’s a bumpy ride and buses can get stuck in holes very easily – the sand shifts constantly.
Thankfully we make it through without too much trouble, and stop just before the beach in order to try our luck at sand boarding on the giant dunes overlooking the beach. These suckers are twice the size of the ones I boarded at Moreton Island, but we’ve also been given proper body boards for the trip. Hiking up the sand was by the far the hardest part – steep hills littered with soft sand – agony even if you used previous traveller’s footprints as footholds.
As such, most of us were exhausted by the time we got to the top, although surfing down the hills was completely worth it – it’s exhilarating and just like sledding in winter, only with a greater chance of getting burned and a much more painful fall. Neither of which I had a problem with – though one guy did lose his hat on the way down.
I managed to struggle my way up 3 times, about average before we had to head back. Some of the more durable guys made it 4-5 times, though I’m still trying to figure out how the fit the additional trips in, but most of us had to drag ourselves back to the bus and drink what was left of our water to keep from passing out before our Willy headed for the beach.
Despite its name, 90 Mile Beach is actually about 56 miles long. No one is really sure how the 90 Mile bit came about, although the most likely assumption is cattle farmers (who used the beach to drive cattle to market) made a guestimate at its length.
We drive along the length of the beach, stopping at a point to wander near the water and for some, collect the small white shellfish that live in the wet sands. Everyone is only allowed to take about 40 each, due to New Zealand trying to conserve their natural resources. A different type of shellfish, which was about the size of your hand used to inhabit the area in the thousands – people came and collected them all, canned them at no cost and sold them on. Within 10 years, there was nearly none left. As such, the government stepped in and now collecting shellfish has become highly regulated in order to protect what’s survived. Considering it takes 30 years for the shellfish to get to that size, it’ll be at least another decade before people can farm them again.
As someone who’s not a shellfish fan, I don’t both digging up any (although walking over the sands they inhabit is a weird feeling – and every now and then the sand ‘spits’ when the water recedes) and instead head closer to the water. This is a little bit of a mistake as the waves here are tricky. One moment they’re miles away, the next they’ve swamped up to your thighs and caught you off guard. More than one person found themselves getting shorts and trousers wet because they didn’t think the water would reach them.
Before we left, Willy decided we should try to do a pyramid as a memorial photo. He got five relatively fit guys on the bottom, then four stockier girls to go on them (guess who was in that line ^_^). Three smaller girls on their backs, Two on them, and then the shortest girl on top. Sadly, we got to the final girl, and somebody’s hand slipped. This naturally caused a knock on effect and the entire thing came tumbling down. The girls who fell the highest got out without too much damage, but my left hand got twisted at a bad angle and got jammed between two bodies. It was pretty sore for about an hour, but thankfully it didn’t appear to be damaged.
Our final stop was about an hour later, when we stopped for dinner. This restaurant apparently does the very best Fish and Chips in New Zealand. Bold worlds and some I’m very interested in tasting them back up. As it turns out, there’s some truth to their claim. The chips are nothing to write home about, but they’re still the nicest I’ve had in NZ, while the fish is fresh, boneless and covered in a batter that is nowhere near as greasy as I expected. I even spring for gravy, which isn’t as strong as I’m used to but has a pretty unique taste that goes great with the chips. It’s a great way to finish the trip.