The northernmost portion of North Auckland Peninsula is a small, narrow peninsula called Aupori. Its isthmus is the attenuated neck of land between Rangaunu Harbour on the east and the southern sweep of the Ninety Mile Beach on the west. The north-western extremities of Aupori Peninsula are Cape Maria van Diemen and Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is about 4 miles north-east of Cape Maria van Diemen and is a steep headland, with a lighthouse 961 ft above sea level. Shipping from Australia passes between the Three Kings and Cape Reinga and the flashing light is visible for 31 miles. On the lighthouse reserve there is a radio beacon for shipping and the cape is an important weather-reporting station. Cape Maria van Diemen (the northern extremity of the west coast) is 4 miles west and the North Cape lighthouse lies 20 miles to the east beyond Spirits Bay, Tom Bowling Bay, and Kerr Point. At Pandora, on Spirits Bay, is a popular summer holiday camping place within walking distance of Cape Reinga. (The name commemorates HMS Pandora, which surveyed the coast there in 1849.)
At Cape Reinga interest always has been focused on the small promontory and, more particularly, on a certain pohutukawa tree which grows out of its eastern side. According to ancient lore, this was final departure point for the spirit of the Maori. It was said that the spirit, after travelling up the west coast to a spot a few miles south of Cape Maria van Diemen, continued overland to the western end of Spirits Bay and eventually reached the pohutukawa tree. There it descended the roots and entered the sea. (This tree is reputed to have been in position for about 800 years and is said never to have blossomed.) The spirit surfaced at Manawatawi (the Great King Island) and, after a farewell look at the land of the living, descended again to the depths and continued its journey to the other world.
William Puckey, a pioneer missionary of Kaitaia, is believed to have been the first European to travel overland to Cape Reinga. This was in 1832. He wrote: “The place has a most barren appearance with sea-fowl screaming and the sea roaring and rushing against dismal black rocks. It would suggest to the reflecting mind that it must have been the dreary aspect of the place which led the Maori to choose this spot as his hell”. Colenso is stated to have visited Te Reinga shortly after his ordination, with a convert. He tried to persuade his Maori companion to climb out to the tree and chop it down, but this the Maori refused to do.
Te Reinga means “the leaping place of spirits (souls)”.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.