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Traveling To The Tip Of New Zealand: Cape Reinga post image

Traveling To The Tip Of New Zealand: Cape Reinga

We traveled to the farthest northern reaches of New Zealand. Why? Because it just looked cool on the map.

CAPE REINGA, New Zealand- Our mission was to go to the far northern tip of New Zealand. There is this skinny peninsula that sicks way out into the sea up there, and we wanted to go and travel up it. Why? Because it looked kind of cool on a map.

We left Kawakawa after I filmed a segment about their toilets and we continued north.

The ride was beautiful: rolling green hills, descending switchbacks with big views over valleys of sheep pastures laced with alpaca herds, which all kind of goes without saying in New Zealand.

Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

We took a break at a community center in some mid-way town to use the toilets. NZ is quirky about its toilets. Hooligans committing the heinous act of brushing their teeth in public bathrooms has become a national crisis:

Freedom campers using public toilets to clean their dirty dishes and brush their teeth have spurred New Plymouth holiday park owners to call for strict enforcement of rules to keep the budget-minded visitors in line.

“Freedom camping is growing around New Zealand…if we are the last district to act, we will become the one with the most problems.”

“They don’t like travelers using their toilets but just be sure you don’t brush your teeth. They get really mad about that,” the lady at the travel info booth there told us.

What’s interesting here is that NZ probably has more public toilets per capita than any of the other 81 or so countries that I’ve been in. They are virtually everywhere that people gather in groups. There are often official signs positioned above street name signs pointing out the location of the nearest bathroom. There are toilets in parking lots …

It is my impression that it is the owners of the private campgrounds that have proliferated in incredible numbers across New Zealand that are leading a public movement against travelers camping in the free sites. Instead, they want them to pay $70 per night to stay in their over-glorified parking lots. So they make the free campers out to be some kind of pernicious invader in the local media, brushing their teeth in the public toilets and making the poor locals wait in line, in an attempt to stir up public discontent to get the local government councils to depreciate their free camping sites. Yes, that’s called a conflict of interests.

So fuck it, I guess this meant that we would just have to brush our teeth in their parking lot.

Yes, New Zealand is another country without real problems.

After three hours of driving, which included getting gas at a station manned by a set of twins — one lady was pumping my gas and I went in and paid what looked like the same lady — we arrived at the tip.

The northern tip of New Zealand is the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. At the point where they converge something happens that I haven’t seen before in my 18 years of travel: a colossal, oceanic whirlpool.

The two great bodies of water smash head on, creating a sea that rotates in a circular motion rather than coming in to shore head on. After thousands of years, the tip of NZ reflects this motion, looking like a giant bowl, where the whirlpool cuts into the shore like a watery pinwheel of magnificent proportions.

Whirlpool at Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

This is where I stood.

My family and I camped at a low-cost DOC site next on the tip that night, parking on a small patch of flat land that was pinched between big green hills and the sea. We pulled the campervan right up to the beach and watched some if the largest waves that I’ve ever seen come into a narrow bay before crashing against the shore.

There is nothing else around here. The place is cut off from the world by hills on one side and hemmed in by the sea on the other. It is a retreat in the purest sense of the word.

There is no WIFI or mobile connection.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images and a slideshow.

Filed under: Beaches, New Zealand, Travel Diary

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 89 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3469 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Brooklyn, New York

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