On the Northernmost tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, you’ll find a remote spot where two oceans meet and Maori spirits return to their ancestral homeland.
A two hour and 40 minute drive from the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga is truly the ultimate far-north New Zealand experience. (The only spot more northerly is North Cape, which is a scientific reserve and is not open to the public.)
Take the journey to discover this unique area of New Zealand and learn about its history and wildlife – and you’ll be blown away by its natural beauty. Read our destination guide below.
Cape Reinga history
In the Maori Language, the name of this location means “Leaping Off Place of Spirits.” The Maori believe that the Cape is where the spirits of the dead leap from the world of the living into the underworld. They turn back for one final glance at Three Kings Island, before continuing on their journey.
A nearby spring in the hillside, Te Waiora-a-Tāne (the ‘Living waters of Tāne’), was an important area for Maori ceremonial burials. The natural spring waters represent a spiritual cleansing of the spirit.
Best time to visit Cape Reinga
The peak season in Cape Reinga is January and February, which is the New Zealand summertime. The weather will be warm, the breeze from the ocean will be refreshing, the sun will be shining and it’s a great time of year for hiking, watersports and exploring.
However, you may want to also consider visiting between May and July, as the weather will still be warm. Spring is also a great time to visit, as the flowers will be in bloom and the new-born lambs will be frolicking in the fields.
In fact, there’s really no “bad time” to visit this destination – as it’s quite sunny and pleasant all throughout the year.
Weather and climate
The North Island is known as the “Winterless North” because it doesn’t ever really get too cold. The temperatures range between 12-25 degrees Celcius all throughout the year and it is considered a “sub-tropical” region.
(Of course, it’s important to remember that the weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable and you never know when it might rain when a cold front blows in – so bring your umbrella!)
Where is Cape Reinga?
Cape Reinga really is in the middle of nowhere – the nearest small town is 100 km south. You’ll drive for a couple of hours through rolling green hills and pastures dotted with sheep – until you reach the end of the road. Eventually, you’ll be perched on a rocky vantage point, surrounded by vast blue ocean on all sides.
How to get to Cape Reinga
Most visitors who drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga do the three and a half hour drive to Paihia first – then spend the night there. It is possible to drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga in only two days, as the total drive time in one direction can be as short as six hours. However, it’s better to take your time and see some of the attractions along the way.
If you have an extra day, you can take the time to add in more interesting sights along the way – like the many beautiful waterfalls including Piroa Falls, Whangarei Falls and the glow worm caves the most famous being Waipu Cave.
Then, you can drive from Paihia to the Karikari Peninsula, which is located just before the road to Cape Reinga and the top of new Zealand. If you have time, stop at Haruru Falls and take a hike in the forest. Many visitors stop for the night in either Cable Bay or Coopers Beach, before continuing to Cape Reinga the next day.
The final stretch of the trip will be driving along a narrow strip of land and the journey from Paihia to Cape Reinga will take around 3 hours. You can reach Cape via 90 Mile Beach – one of the longest stretches of beach in New Zealand. Read our guide to 90 Mile Beach for more information about driving this route.
On a coach tour
If you are visiting New Zealand without a vehicle and you prefer to have the knowledge and commentary of a local guide, you may want to consider going on a coach tour. There are many options to choose from – see the “Day Tours and Overnight Tours to Cape Reinga” section below for more info.
Tip: If you plan to drive to Cape Reinga independently, make sure that you have breakdown cover and plenty of petrol – as you’ll be driving through some pretty remote areas.
Also, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get there. It’s further than you think – and you’ll need to allow for time to stop and enjoy the views.
Where to stay in Cape Reinga
There are a lot of options for where to stay when you are visiting Cape Reinga, depending on the type of accommodation you prefer. You won’t be able to stay directly on Cape Reinga, as this is a sacred Maori area – but there are many great options for overnight stays nearby.
For example, for the budget backpacker there are a few different hostels to choose from – offering cheap and cheerful accommodation in shared dorm rooms with communal kitchens and dining areas. The YHA Ahipara Backpackers is in a great location – only a five minute walk from the spectacular Ninety Mile Beach. There’s also the Northwind Backpackers Hostel, a friendly and laid back spot next to a gorgeous beach.
There’s also plenty of camping sites in the area to choose from – such as the Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) Campsite and the Tapotupotu Campsite. Many of the local campsites will have toilets and shower facilities, while others may be more rustic.
If you have a larger budget and you want to rent your own apartment, the Beach Lodge offers five self-contained apartment suites with private access to Coopers Beach. Each of the apartments has a spacious private deck with spectacular views of the water.
Things to do in Cape Reinga
Here are some great attractions and activities to enjoy when you venture to this region of New Zealand:
Cape Reinga Lighthouse
The lighthouse at Cape Reinga is a New Zealand icon. It was first constructed in 1941 and lit during May of that year. It was the last manned lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It was manned by a real person until 1987, when it was fully automated. It is now operated remotely from Wellington.
The powerful 50 watt beacon of the lighthouse, which penetrates fog and can be seen for 19 nautical miles, is powered by batteries that are recharged by solar cells.
See where the oceans meet
Cape Reinga is located right at the point where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. From where the lighthouse is perched, you can actually see the point where the two seas meet and their waves crash into each other.
Go sand boarding on the dunes
Located 17 km from Cape Reinga, at the end of the Te Paki Stream Road, are the majestic Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes.
The sand dunes in this region are huge and stretch for miles – making you feel like you have been transported to the surface of another planet. It’s the perfect place (if you are brave enough) to try a unique and thrilling sport – sand boarding.
On a specially designed board, you’ll go zooming down the sand slopes at a high speed! (Be sure to keep your mouth closed during your ride and wear sunglasses – the sand will go everywhere!)
You can go on a sand boarding adventure as part of a packaged tour, or you can simply go on your own and rent a sand board at the dunes themselves.
Day Tours & Overnight Tours to Cape Reinga
There are several tours to choose from and many of them will include other destinations in the nearby area, such as 90 Mile Beach, Puketi Kauri Forest and Houhora. Usually the tours will pick you up from your accommodation – you just need to let them know where you are staying when you book.
For example, Fullers offers a “Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach” tour that includes sand boarding at Te Paki, the Puketi Kauri Forest and much more – as well as a lunch stop for fish and chips at the historic Wagener Museum.
Thrifty Tours also offers a three day tour (Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga Deluxe) which includes much more. The tour includes the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Cape Brett Lighthouse, the Grand Cathedral Cave and many other stunning attractions.
Watch The Cape Reinga Sunrise & Sunset
Cape Reinga is one of the best places to watch the sunrise and sunset in New Zealand, with stunning views of the gently shifting hues of the sky reflecting in the ocean water.
Head up to the famous Cape Reinga lighthouse, where you will be able to see nature’s show from an ideal vantage point.
Another great spot for watching the sunrise is Hendersons Bay, which has sparkling clean water and uninterrupted views back to Cape Karikari.
Check Out The Best Beaches in Cape Reinga
- 90 Mile Beach: Check out our detailed guide to 90 Mile Beach here.
- Tapotupotu Bay: This tiny cove can be accessed via a gravel road and it also has a campsite right on the foreshore. A little hidden piece of paradise.
- Kaimaumau Beach: This is a lovely little “secret” spot that seems to be only known by a few locals. It’s a stunning white sand beach that is ideal for fishing and swimming.
- Rarawa Beach: With windswept dunes, rolling surf and pure white silica sand – this beach is simply breathtaking.
Enjoy Some Cape Reinga Cuisine
There aren’t a lot of restaurants on the Cape itself, but you can find some great dining in the nearby towns of Houhora and Pukenui.
- The Houhora Tavern: The “Most Northern Pub in New Zealand” is a historic spot where you can get a cold pint or some tasty pub grub.
- Pukenui Pacific Bar and Restaurant: This charming little eatery has a scenic verandah where you can sit and admire the view, while tucking into a delicious homemade pie.
- Tomo Berries Ice Cream Shop: The perfect treat for a hot and sunny day.
- Pukenui Pacific Takeaway: Fancy some fish and chips? The fresh, flaky fish at this classic takeaway is irresistible.
*Note: Since it is a Maori sacred site, eating is not permitted in the immediate cape area. So, if you want to have a picnic on the beach – make sure that you are outside of the sacred area.*
Due to the inaccessibility of this location and its unique positioning between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, there’s an incredible abundance of marine life here.
Parengarenga Harbour is a popular spot for fishing, as it is one of the cleanest harbours in the world and has a 90% catch rate for beginners. It is also possible to arrange special fishing tours that will take you further out into the waters so that you can reel in some of the larger catches.
The local fishing trips here will take you to backcountry streams, rivers, lakes and the wide open ocean – in pursuit of everything from marlin to snapper to kingfish to grouper to kahawai and more. On a fishing charter, the equipment will be provided and you’ll just need to bring along your swimsuit, towel, hat and sunscreen.
If you have a group, you can choose a private charter and hire a local skipper who knows the area very well and can advise you on the best places to find fish. Or, you can go on a shared vessel – which can be a fun way to meet other fishing enthusiasts from around the world.
For more fishing tips, check out our Guide to Fishing in the Bay of Islands.
Challenge Yourself on a Cape Reinga Walk
Bring your hiking shoes – there are many excellent walks to enjoy in this region. The most impressive trail in this region is the Coastal Walkway.
Coastal Walkway Facts
- Difficulty Level: Moderate/Challenging
- Length: 38 km one way, 2-4 days
- Best Time of Year: During the spring / summer months (January – July)
- Gear Required: Mosquito Repellent, Hat, Hiking Shoes, Sunscreen, Waterproof Layers.
The Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway is a constantly undulating trail that begins at Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) and heads west to Cape Reinga. You’ll pass through 90 Mile Beach and the impressive dunes of Te Paki Stream.
You’ll need to be physically fit and a self-sufficient hiker. There are no facilities other than a couple of camping spots with no guaranteed water. Cell-phone reception will be virtually non-existent, so make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Find out more information at the offical Department of Conservation (DOC) website.