Google Maps is a liar.
That is one of the first things I’ve discovered on this trip. Google Maps at home is usually pretty accurate: if it says it’s 3 hours to a destination, we’ll probably make right around that time if not earlier. Not here. More on that later.
Anna and I got in the car on Friday excited about our trip to the top of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. Looking it up on Google Maps, we saw that it should take a bit over 5 hours from Auckland, totally acceptable in light of a sensible driving day. Make a few stops for sightseeing, gas, and food and it would be a full but great day. Of course, bearing in mind that we had to make a 2-hour trip back south from the Cape to reach our hotel after reaching it.
The area north of Auckland, known as Northland, is a place I had never been before on any of my trips to New Zealand. From what I knew, it was a beautifully green area, with loads of hills, ocean views, farmland, and sub-tropical forests. It did not disappoint.
Farm fields abound, and we actually saw way more cattle than sheep. Later that evening we spoke to a man who owned some food companies and he said that many NZ farmers had switched from sheep to cattle because of the financial return. Believe it or not, at a ratio of 30:1 sheep to people the market was saturated!
The other main feature of the trip north were the roads. The number 1 highway (the main highway through the whole country) takes you north, but about 30km north of the city it stops being a 4-lane highway and turns into a 2-lane. As in, one lane north, one lane south. For 300+km to the Cape.
The road passes through many little towns and small cities on the way north. There are no shortage of incredible valley landscapes and ocean views… massive islands lurk in the distance off shore, and distance hills creep over the horizon. It’s cliché to say at this point, but it really does look like Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I couldn’t imagine the movies being filmed anywhere else.
About Google Maps. We hit the 5+ hour point and we still had almost 200km to still travel, on some of the windiest roads I have ever been on. Not wind, windy. Bendy, curvy, etc. Never to be dismayed however, we pressed on! And finally we made it, and it was worth it.
Cape Reinga is amazing.
You can literally see the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea smashing into each other, creating wild whirlpools, and beating the rocks of the point with huge waves.
The Cape is a very special place in the Māori culture. The name of the cape comes from the Māori word ‘Reinga’, meaning the ‘Underworld’. Another Māori name is ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, meaning the leaping-off place of spirits. Both refer to the Māori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld (I got all that from Wikipedia).
The special nature of the place is very evident. Driving in to the Cape takes you up a winding incline for about 5km through that scrubby landscape that only grows near a wild ocean. Far off islands poke over the horizon, and you realize that the next stop west is Australia, about 2000km west. 1000s more kms east is South America, and north is… well, nothing. You can probably head directly north forever and only hit a few obscure islands. It’s a pretty weird feeling.
After spending a good amount of time hiking down to the point and taking in the amazing views, we decided to make our way south and east and find our hotel. We had pre-booked a hotel called The Old Oak in a little town called Mangonui, which turned out to be a really quaint seaside village. The hotel was awesome… just a few modernized, recently renovated rooms in a 160 year old inn. Next door was a little restaurant called The Acorn Bar & Bistro where we had dinner, and then it was off to bed.
Since we arrived in NZ on Thursday morning, we had already clocked over 700kms of driving, and we hadn’t even driven back south. We’re both really glad about the stuff we’ve seen though, and the weather couldn’t have been better, so it’s been awesome so far.