The last gasp of mainland New Zealand is the unique and wild area around Te Paki. This rugged landscape boasts magnificent coastal features including the country’s most extensive dune systems. Pristine unmodified beaches shelter vast wetlands which rise to hills cloaked in regenerating vegetation. Despite the hoards of tour buses that disgorge their clientele at Cape Reinga Lighthouse, it is not difficult to escape the tourist masses and experience isolation and awe-inspiring majesty.
At the southern end of Te Werahi Beach is Te Werahi Stream, which should preferably be crossed at low tide, but can be crossed at mid tide. Check tide times at http://www.metservice.com/marine/tides/cape-maria-van-diemen
Te Paki is accessed from the end of SH1F at Waitiki Landing, from where the roads become unsealed. They are narrow and winding and carry a large volume of traffic on the pilgrimage north to Cape Reinga.
The start of the track is signposted to Te Werahi Beach from the carpark at Cape Reinga.
Alternatively you can start the walk from Te Paki Stream carpark, which is 4km down Te Paki Stream Road, 17km before Cape Reinga.
You can also join the walk via the Te Werahi Gate to Te Werahi Beach track.
There are no buses so you will have to arrange your own transport if you complete the whole of this walk. DoC have campgrounds at Kapowairua (only open in summer) and Tapotupotu Bay. These have toilets and water and at Tapotupotu Bay there are also cold water showers. Toilets are situated at Cape Reinga and Te Paki Stream carpark.
Tracks at Te Paki often cross beaches and meander along small bays. At the ends of the bays are orange rectangles on posts, indicating where to rejoin the track. These are usually easy to find, but in some instances they have succumbed to erosion or take a little searching to locate.
From Cape Reinga (Te Rerengawairua) the wide track weaves for 30 minutes down to Te Werahi Beach, which takes 45 minutes to traverse along firm sand.
The track to Te Werahi Gate departs from the southern end of the beach and is indicated with an orange rectangle on a post (see Te Werahi Gate to Te Werahi Beach track description).
At the southern end of Te Werahi Beach is Te Werahi Stream, which should preferably be crossed at low tide, but can be crossed at mid tide.
Large orange triangles on posts indicate the track over the Herangi Hill dunes to the signposted Cape Maria van Diemen turnoff (45 minutes).
This 1½ hour detour drops down the southern side of a large sand bowl for 20 minutes before climbing a steep grass bank along a formed but unmarked track to the light station (25 minutes). Return to the main track by the same route.
It’s a further 45 minutes along an old vehicle track through low vegetation to the north-western end of Twilight Beach (Te Paengarehia).
Twilight Beach takes 40 minutes to walk.
At the south-eastern end an old vehicle track crosses Scotts Point for 1½ hours through low vegetation. Take care following the orange marker posts as there is a network of tracks excavated through the mantle of thin peat soils to the bedrock below. Tracks are wide and firm.
The final 10 minutes over Scotts Point to Kahokawa Beach, at the northernmost tip of Ninety Mile Beach, drops via wooden steps.
It takes around 1 hour to walk Ninety Mile Beach along firm sand to reach Te Paki Stream (Kauaeparaoa Stream), from where it is a further 1 hour to reach the carpark. You will have to walk along the bed of the shallow sandy stream.
Beware of vehicles on Ninety Mile Beach and Te Paki Stream, which is the main northern access point for vehicles using the beach.
Cape Reinga is 3km south of Surville Cliffs, which are one kilometre north of North Cape. However, Cape Reinga is the most northerly accessible point on the mainland of New Zealand.
Around 5 million years ago, the Aupori Peninsula, including Te Paki, was a series of islets, an archipelago separated by shallow seas. With the onset and waning of Ice Ages, sea levels fluctuated and large sandspits formed, sculpted by the prevailing south-westerly winds. Te Paki thus became joined to the greater North Island landmass, but still retains an island character. It feels like a different land. The area around Te Paki and North Cape is an outstanding habitat for rare and unique species of flora and fauna. The geographical isolation has led to sub-species evolving differently from their mainland counterparts.
The vast dune systems evident around Cape Maria van Diemen and Te Paki Stream are the product of sand accretion. Sediment transported to the coast by the rivers from the central North Island volcanoes has been blown up the coast by the prevailing winds. It has accumulated to form the dunes, some over 150 metres high, which are awash with vibrant and varied colours.
The dunes around Herangi Hill at the base of Cape Maria van Diemen are a colourful composition of reds, ochres, peach, white and golden sands. The mantle of caked sand is mottled with rock, shells of the flax snail and tufts of orange pingao.
The almost extinct land snail Placostylus ambagiosus is prevalent in the area, but populations have been ravaged by wild pigs. Fossilised shells have been found in the dunes near Cape Maria Van Diemen. The species occurs only in the Solomon Islands and Fiji, suggesting the connection of these landmasses by land bridges to New Zealand in times of lower sea level.
To Maori the area around Cape Reinga is sacred. After journeying up Ninety Mile Beach, a spirit will climb a high hill called Haumu and bid farewell to the land of the living. It drinks from the stream called Te-wai-o-ngunguru (‘Waters of the Underworld’) and travels down the exposed root of the legendary pohutukawa at Cape Reinga. From there it travels to the Manawa-Tahi (Three Kings Islands), meaning ‘last breath’, and on to Hawaiki.
Cape Maria van Diemen was named by Abel Tasman on January 5th 1643 to honour the wife of the Governor of Batavia.
Twilight Beach was named after the wreck of the schooner Twilight on 25th March 1871, with the loss of two lives. In 1966 the collier Kaitawa also sunk nearby. All 29 crew members drowned. Wreckage from the wheelhouse was later retrieved from the beach. The beach was formerly known as Rahu Bay.
Te Paki station originally covered over 100,000 acres and was acquired by Samuel Yates. He owned 8,000 sheep, 2,000 cattle and employed over 300 diggers to search for gum. Cattle from the station were usually driven down Ninety Mile Beach and his wool was shipped from Tapotupotu Bay. He married a local chief’s daughter and was known as ‘King of the North’ until his death in 1900.
Richard Keene, a Wellington businessman, then bought Te Paki Station, and his family sold the 42,176 acres to the Government in 1966. They leased the land to a company who tried in vain to grow Tung trees to manufacture Tung Oil. The venture was thwarted because of the lack of shelter, but a few examples still grow in the valleys.
The source of the name of Ninety Mile Beach is a mystery, however one theory refers to Scotts Point. It is named after an early European settler, who grazed sheep near present day Ahipara, at the southern end of the beach. In autumn, he would drive them up the beach to Scotts Point to graze. As he was the only Pakeha man in those days to travel the beach, he was often asked of its length. His response of “Ninety Miles” became commonly used and the misnomer has stuck.
North Island ▷ Northland ▷ Kaitaia
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍