We woke early to the sound of the birds, and troubled by thinking about how best to get our troubles sorted. It was a lovely calm clear morning, and I decided it was too early to start worrying so I went for a walk in search of 90 Mile Beach. It was supposed to be 800m away. It was easy enough to tell which direction, it was a quiet morning apart from the birds and the breakers. I found a road down to the beach, expecting a car park at the end. To my surprise there was no car park – the road just went straight out onto the beach. This was an access point onto 90 Mile Beach, the southern-most one. From here you can drive 90kms to the top end, if you are willing to risk plague pestilence and poverty – there are enough signs warning of the perils. It seemed safe enough to walk out onto the beach. Looking up it was a bit futile, it just disappeared. I headed back to the camp and disconnected the battery charger. I’d locked the car the night before, and disconnected the battery. When I reconnected the battery the blinkers flashed. Somewhere deep in the thing I think of as my mind in the very small part labelled ‘Mechanical’ a penny dropped. The blinkers don’t normally blink on reconnecting the battery and the word ‘immobiliser’ surfaced. Einstein defines insanity as repeating the same action and expecting a different result. However, I thought another attempt at starting was worth a go. The engine fired into life as if nothing had ever been the matter. In fact, it probably did so quicker than ever – the battery was charged up nice and full. The blimmin’ car has an immobiliser system designed to deter bandits in certain circumstances. Somehow the previous day in locking the car using the remote and disconnecting the battery and unlocking it using the key – somehow it had decided we were bandits up to no good and it immobilised itself. What with all the hassle with the leads and plugs and lights not working and previous occasions when we’d flattened the battery while towing the car we had the mindset that the car wouldn’t go because the battery was flat.
The A-frame is still bent and useless, but we didn’t need that to drive the car. And assuming it was the immobiliser that immobilised the car there was no reason why it should play up again. So we had the car, and it was a fine morning, and Cape Reinga was only a couple of hours away. It was time to rouse the fellow travellers. They greeted the news with singing and dancing and praise for our better fortunes. It took a while to get ourselves sorted out and lunch made but we were on the road not long after 10am. We filled up the car with fuel, and drove north. The island is seriously thin by this stage, at one point it is only about 6kms from East Coast to West Coast. 40 good hits with a 3 iron would probably be enough to get from one side to the other. We figured the weather wasn’t going to get better, so made haste towards the top end. Just before the sealed road ran out we stopped for a break. The last 25kms were going to be slower, some was unsealed.
The gravel started almost immediately, with big signs foretelling of Seal Extensions with no sign of anything happening. But then the road works started in earnest, and as we got further the road works got better in that the only thing missing was the seal. Then finally we were back on sealed road which continued to the end. For some reason they were working their way down from the top. There is something symbolic about the ends of countries and islands; about getting as far as you can go. Cape Reinga has always seemed somewhere distant, yet here we were driving the last couple of kilometres. It was quite exciting to get there after all these years. There is a flash new car park, and a second car park for the overflow. That was hardly needed in July, but it obviously gets busier. There is also a flash new track down to the lighthouse. The pictures all show a grassed track. Now it is sealed and kerbed. It may be a bit more developed but it’ll make it easier for some and will take the wear of use better. It was windy by this stage, so we dressed up for the walk down although it wasn’t very cold. There are lots of signs explaining the significance for Maoris of this point, and explaining the things we could see. Like what is the northernmost point of mainland NZ? Cape Reinga? North Cape? Surville Cliffs? Cape Maria van Diemen? The last one was Tasman’s guess. Cape Reinga was where the Maoris thought they were closest to where they’d come from. I don’t know who named North Cape – probably Cook who was staggering in his lack of imagination. The Surville Cliffs were named by a French dude; interestingly he and Cook passed each other going in opposite directions somewhere up here. Nobody knew for sure just where as neither knew the other was there. I suppose that’s better that both sailing to the other side of the world and crashing into each other. Anyway, to complete this history lesson, Cook and the British got the country and the French got to name the northernmost point of mainland NZ – the Surville Cliffs. Maybe it is British pique that we are never taught this.
The lighthouse is a wonderful icon. The water was a bit rough and windy to see any effects of the Tasman Sea meeting the Pacific Ocean. It is a great viewpoint – we could even see the Three Kings Islands to the north. We took photos of each other with the lighthouse and the signboard showing how far it is to places. Like it is 11222kms to Vancouver (hi to Charlie) and almost 1500kms to Bluff so maybe 1400kms to Dunedin (hi to everyone).
From the carpark we drove back a couple of kms and down to a beach just east of the Cape, Tapotupotu. It is the favoured lunch spot, not least because eating is discouraged at the Cape presumably because it is tapu (it is the route taken by all Maori after death). It was a bit windy, but we persisted with our sandwiches and tea – again it wasn’t really cold. We had a brief walk on the beach. I had a go playing chicken with the waves. It is a steep beach so you could get out quite close to the breaking waves. The trouble was then getting back up the beach fast enough. The second time I was backpedalling as fast as my wee legs would go, but not fast enough. I tripped and fell backwards but somehow scrabbled clear of most of the water. There was however a fair bit of sand and wounded pride involved.
From here we drove south again, turning off to the ‘Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes’. This is an access point to 90 Mile Beach and home to a mini-desert of sand dunes. The tours all promise rides down the sand hills on toboggans or boogie boards. The road ends at the dunes, and they are impressive. The road disappears into the stream which disappears around the end of a dune and apparently goes down to the beach. The stream offers water and quick sand. Why anybody would drive down it is a bit of a mystery. The buses all manage it but I’m sure it eats cars for lunch. There is a warning sign about something; you cannot read it properly because it has been claimed by the quicksand – I kid you not! The wind was whipping the sand along about 20cms above dunes; it reminded me of my younger days in the snow on the Rock and Pillar Ranges. So did the sand dunes – it was hard work plugging steps up them. We didn’t have a toboggan or boogie board, so thought we’d make do with a karimat and a car windscreen sun protector. Neither seemed ideal but there was not a lot of enthusiasm for sand hill sliding anyway.
Another family was doing well with a boogie board, taking it in turns to hurtle down; and I mean hurtle. Once they got going the speed seemed to pick up and there was no stopping. I wondered if the silver sun screen would be a good lining for the sleeping mat, so put the two together. I figured lying face down was the most likely way to get mobile even if it was the more threatening method. My first attempt was a flop, but with a bit of persistence I got mobile over the crest. Crikey! Once I got going I got going! The sand was flying and I was hurtling towards the daypack and shoes we’d stashed at the bottom of the dune. I kept hoping I’d head either side but it was like a magnet; a fast approaching magnet! My camera was in the pack and I tried to work out what to do. Somehow I ended up crashing in a heap just before the pack – I thought I kind of missed it. It must have been spectacular because I got shouts of approval from up the hill. I also got sand in every facial orifice and everywhere else as well. How much fun can you have?
Laura had witnessed my dismount at close range with some amusement, and somehow it didn’t encourage her to have a try. So I trudged back up the hill again and had another go, this time sitting on the mat. I sort of got going, but ended up sliding around sideways before wiping out in another small sand storm. Back up the hill again I managed to talk Wyn into having a go. She tried the sitting method as well, with similar results. She is still shedding sand a day later. I was hooked, and wanted one last effort. This time I got Laura to get the camera out, I wanted video evidence. And in pursuit of the God of Speed, it had to be headfirst on my stomach again. I chose a slightly better line this time, and on cue took off. Given that your nose is about 15cms above the sand, there is a good impression of speed. At the bottom of the dune the sand has crusted, not a good place to slide on your stomach and other vital bits. As that cruel end rushed towards me I worked out that braking would be a good idea and was possible. I had two feet out behind which made good brakes in the sand. I pulled up just before the cruel crust. I had slid the sand slope and survived. Laura declared it a more dignified attempt.
We called it quits and headed back down to the car. We played in the quick sand getting back across the stream, and shook off as much sand as we could. Down the road we stopped at the Te Kao shop ‘World Famous for its Ice Creams’ and what could we do? We checked out a DOC camp further down at the beach at Rarawa with the fine white sand. It was in no mood to squeak for us, but it definitely was very fine. And after a look at Houhora Heads we’d had enough and made for home at Ahipara. We’d had a great day of exploration and adventure, and were all tired and satisfied. This had been one of those days – of the best kind.