For the last 1 hour, the two-laned road swerved and ebbbed. I negotiated hairpin after hairpin and just as I thought it was over, there it was – another hairpin turn. We decided to save on tolls and took the longer route driving from Auckland. I had been driving for the past 3 hours and was tired and hungry.
After having tasted the alpine snow of the Tongariro crossing, we traveled downward towards Wellington before flying back to Auckland. Back at Auckland, our group split up. The guys went northwards towards the Kaitaia while the ladies stayed on in Auckland.
This blogpost takes readers through what we experienced in Kaitaia.
We started the drive from Auckland at 10am and about 4 and half hours later, at 230pm, we finally found ourselves having lunch at the first restaurant we sighted. It was simple food, just battered fish, potato wedges and a sunshine egg but the fish was fresh and the other ingredients fried to a crisp.
And it was heavenly. I devoured it.
We proceeded to our stay for the night at Plane Tree Lodge where we were greeted by Rosemary and Mike and their two dogs. The lodge is a rustic wooden structure and we spent some time exploring it.The owners also kindly made us some tea for the afternoon.
Our hosts had also helped us in booking for the Sand Safaris Cape Reinga Ninety-mile beach tour for the next day.
To be fair, I’m not a big fan of bus tours. It didn’t allow us flexibility to stop wherever we wanted and most of the time, you feel like you’re being sold to. I’ll much rather travel independently than hop on a shopping tour on a bus . But this tour blew me away.
90 mile beach & Sand Tobogganing
Our first official stop was 90 mile beach. Indeed, 90 mile beach stretches for just 60 miles – a fact that the guide says was done to rival Australia’s very own beaches with lesser mileage. Here we found out that it is a good idea to sign up for the tour as there is a high chance that you may blow a tire, get stuck in the sand or worse.
It’s a surreal experience seeing the Tasman sea rolling past on one side and the beach on the other for about an hour. And throughout the whole time, we were entertained by the guide’s observations about Kiwi life.
Before visiting the beach, we were at a rest stop at Kauri Museum admiring the wood that came from largest and most famous of all of New Zealand’s native trees – the Kauri. Some were excavated from swamps and others were as big as the coach itself!
After the beach, each of us were handed a mat, told to walk up a hill of sand and basically slide down. Now, this needed more coordination than I thought because the first time, the guide made sure we were angled just right and pushed us off. Almost everyone slid down the hill smoothly.
On the second attempt however the guide let you be and shove you down the hill when you were ready. Long story short, that’s how I still found sand in my jeans 2 months after the sand tobogganing. That also explained the sandy seats on the bus as well.
After dusting ourselves as best we could of the sand, we proceed to Cape Reinga – perhaps one of the most spectacular places during this tour.
Besides being an absolutely stunning place, it is also especially important in Maori spiritual culture.
The word Reinga in Maori means “Underworld.” At the northernmost tip of the Cape is a gnarled pohutukawa tree, believed to be over 800 years old. According to Maori oral history, the spirits of deceased Maori leap from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. Another Maori name for the area is Te Rerenga Wairua which translates to , ‘leaping-off place of spirits.’
Being a sacred spot, eating is not allowed in Cape Reinga.
Maori beliefs aside, Cape Reigna marks the separation of the Tasman sea from the Pacific Ocean. In fact, you can see this separation from the different colours of the water – one a deeper blue than the other.
We spent a good hour walking around the enormous park just admiring the beautiful scenery and enjoying the sea breeze.
“World Famous” Ice Cream
I’m partial to the occasional ice cream and when our guide declared this to be one of the best ice cream he has had, I was sold. This was from a local store in Te Kao that sells “world famous” ice creams.
If you are feeling up to the task, you can even order a “whopper stoppers” which consists of 6 scoops of ice cream. I, fortunately had a double scoop.
And that was quite enough for me.
In medias res
Kaitaia in many ways is the direct opposite of what a city like Singapore is like and very much like the other smaller towns in New Zealand.
Firstly, it has none of the hustle and bustle of city-life and you get the sense that people were really contented with their lives living there. In Singapore, there is just the general feeling that there is more to life – you can do with more cash, more time – bigger, better, more shiny.
It’s a good thing in terms of productivity for citizens to constantly be on the lookout to better themselves. But it can be stifling at times.
Secondly, New Zealanders in general are extremely helpful. Somehow in New Zealand, we felt like help was just a question away. Perhaps it is due to Singapore fearing that being helpful will do more harm than do to ourselves or otherwise (thanks to our Kiasu mentality), we tend to be more reserved with our help.
That said, Singapore is changing even as I type out this blogpost.
There are Singaporeans who pursue their dreams and attain them on their own terms like Joseph Schooling . There are others who aim to do social good even at their own cost like Jack Sim, president of the World Toilet Organisation. These are but two examples but behind them are still hundreds of unnamed others who make Singapore more than just a little red dot.
And it all starts with you.
What do you need to have for you to feel contented? How far will you pursue your own dreams and not be stifled by the expectation of others? How far will you go to help someone?
These need not be big gestures but small things like showing gratitude and putting your trays back and giving up your seats to a person more in need than you. It can even be just studying online for a course you have been interested in. The thing is, you never know until you try. Till then, the difference you make to your own life and to others is just untapped potential and humankind will be lesser for it.
It is not only the government that makes Singapore, Singapore but people like you and me. And we have to take responsibility.
What are you doing today?