Mangawhai, New Zealand
Like the Hundred Years’ War, 90 mile beach is named more for the way the name sounds than the reality. But I have been there, and it is one long, long beach – 90km, just under.
The tour worked – I took NZ Awesome’s Cape Reinga and 90 mile beach tour. This time, I heard my roommate get up and figured I wouldn’t be alone waiting for the bus, and when we had all gathered there were four of us for pickup outside Seabids/Cap’n Bob’s. I’d made friends with the only one not from my hostel, Daniel- G erman, of course – so had someone to chat to once we stopped.
The bus paused for a couple of pickups early on, then we were off, up the coast to get to the beach. Our driver, Grant, made sure we were paying attention as we went across ‘Great River’, which was as well because this was a blink and you’ll miss it spot. Still morning when we got to the beach and we drove straight on. The weather had closed in a little, so heading south to see the stretch that way was pointless, but Grant pointed the bus that way for a few hundred metres before swinging us round to head along, gleefully taking us through the swell at the shore’s edge to spray the side of the bus.
After a while we stopped, shoeless in preparation for sand boarding, to ‘feel’ the beach. The sea was cold, the sand hard packed. Daniel’s choice of jeans was fine at this point.
We turned off the beach and up a shallow river. Here was a rarity – possibly the only sign in New Zealand to say “speed up”, and we duly did, thundering through the water (Te Paki stream, I think). Several other buses were at the dunes, but it’s organised enough that each takes its own slope. We grabbed a board for a briefing and trudged up the slope-allowing a group to go up ahead of us have us some footholds to walk in, at least. Getting off the bus this time I’d spotted one of the others was significantly fitter than everyone else – to go along with the one person I’d spotted who was significantly older, bald head gleaming. He ignored the sand boarding.
I wasn’t sure about the boarding, but ended up climbing the slope four times, aiming for more speed on the way down each time. Up is a drag, down is a blast. Graham was to say on the way to Whangerai YHA the next day, “still pulling sand out of your pockets?” and I was. Back on the bus, we were exhilarated, hot and sweaty.
Next stop the cape, where it’s a short walk down to the lighthouse, looking out over where the Tasman sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Though whether the world would recognise this spot as two separate bodies meeting, I don’t know. It’s pretty dramatic, and steeped in native folklore; spirits are said to have made their way up 90 mile beach to this point, so people would come for one last meeting. Not my bag, but NZ has a slightly less problematic relationship with its natives, at least, so there is a sense of reverence done without over-compensation for past evils.
Getting off here I spotted that the fit girl had a 70.3 tag on her bag from Sunday’s race, so managed to babble something inane about triathlon and hear that she’d taken a whopping 30 minutes off her pb. I had her pegged as a triathlete because she had shoulders, Long Louise because of her guns.
We wandered down to the lighthouse, Daniel again looking comfortable in his jeans with a cooler temperature after working hard to walk up the dunes. There is a signpost marking the distance to various cities, which is an obvious photo spot. Daniel offered to take my photo and was either looking for good natural shots or surprised by my stopping so as to avoid being in other people’s shots, as I have four of my back before a couple of my front. The moment, captured.
I spotted a tall girl holding her phone out and stopped, but this was self portrait, not photo of lighthouse, so I wandered off. How rude of me-I went back and asked if I could take one for her, then realised I couldn’t because it was still set to use the camera pointing at me. Set to video that, in fact, and I had pressed record. Long Louise is reintroduced in a couple of days, but at this point I didn’t even realise she was on the same bus.
We wandered back up and the triathlete mused that it was a bit of a concern to spot the police on our bus, and there for some time. They did the rounds, and seem to generally be on the route-“are you telling your passengers to belt up?” And later, from Grant, “to be on the safe side pulling out of here, belts on please”. We were pulled over, or stopped to chat to following police, later, but with no comeback.
Next stop was lunch and swimming at a beautiful bay. The sea was cold, so I settled for just the lunch, watching others in the sea, including our driver, leading the way. I now actually met Emma for the first time-fresh from a pb, part of a big group of triathletes over from Sydney, and happy to talk sport over lunch, foregoing the swim without a wetsuit-we agreed the water was cold after a paddle, only to be shamed by our driver and others taking their boards and diving straight in. I was later to gain brownie points for “I had you pegged as an athlete because, well, you look athletic”, brickbats and a stop-digging moment for “I noticed you weren’t quite as young as the others”. Give and take, or something.
We were due back to the bus at 1.20, and idly checked the time, aware that plenty of people were in the water. 1.29. Plenty of people, but none of *our* people. ****. But we could still see the bus, sat there. Ah, a bus, but not *our* bus. A quick jog to the car park and there he was, turned round, engine running but unconcerned. The lad in the seat over the way leaned over with a smile, “I was going to tell him you weren’t here if he set off” which was a nice bit of esprit de corps.
Most of the rest of the bus took the chance to fall asleep, but Emma and I were on a roll now, sport and life conversation passing the time as the countryside rolled by. We had a few more stops to make, and stopping for ‘the best fish and chips’ sounded exciting but service was so efficient it was like a conveyor belt, and we ate on the bus on the way to the Kauri kingdom. Small portions, too, meant we ate at four and then had to find another dinner later, a mark of sheer decadence. The ‘kingdom’ is a shop, filled with a mixture of the impressive and tacky, made from Kauri trees. They grow so slowly that over-cultivation has reduced the stock hugely, so it’s now a case of being patient, or digging older, fallen, logs out of the ground. The staircase in the middle of the building, hewn out of the centre of a trunk, is impressive, but by now the tour was a bit ‘stop bus, disgorge tourists, give them chance to spend’.
Last stop for the day was a kauri tree walkway that was built for the queen’s visit, cost $1,000,000. The whole thing is under 400m long, but Queenie wandered in a few metres, pronounced herself satisfied, posed for photos and was off. According to the stories, even the photos didn’t come out so well, with the queen in front of enough of the sign to make it ‘Mangina’, considered rude enough to leave the pics on the cutting room floor.
We entertained ourselves by taking more pictures for my “Tree!” collection, that being my caption for any tree I don’t recognise. Or at least, whose type I don’t recognise, or I’d be at it constantly. I have lots of ‘Tree!’ pictures anyway. Apparently one of the youths on the trip hadn’t bothered heading down to the lighthouse because ‘I found better pictures on google earth, no way I can beat them’ and I refused to take pictures of some of the trees on the same basis. When he realises the internet has spread round the world taking shots he won’t even have to go travelling again.
With that, we were done, managing not to be last on the bus this time. The road to the walkway is narrow and winding, but that back to Paihia was smooth and quick and we were soon, too soon in the bright sunshine of late afternoon, back into town. I waved my morning busmates off and continued into town, walking back from there along the seafront.
Wonderful. Nicki and I had foregone the nightlife the previous evening but agreed to head to the pub that night and I invited Emma without specifying which one. The best of the three looked to be Thirty30, which had live music outside again and with us sitting outside, she managed to find us. Apparently there was a sailing regatta the next day, and the bar grew busier as the night went on. Three of us on two sofas left space next to Nicki, so she was first to get bothered, Emma and I oblivious to the Aussie next to her getting a little free with his hands. He seemed to be sitting so placidly, too. Finally one of sailors chanced his arm and was in to his life story, potted version, when I came back, not even distracted by Emma being nice enough to start to ask him about the sailing. I’ve started so I’ll stop when you continue talking regardless.
I finished a great day star spotting, realising I’d not looked up into NZ’s clear skies. Nicki was able to tell me a few of the constellations but neither of us able to find Orion’s Belt. He’ll have to sort his own clothing out in the morning.