Story: Northland places

Page 1. Aupōuri Peninsula

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Aupōuri Peninsula

A splinter of land at the country’s northern tip, approximately 100 km long. Its name comes from the local iwi (tribe). It is sometimes known as Te Hiku-o-te-ika-a-Māui, the tail of Māui’s fish. European explorers and traders arrived in the 19th century. They were followed by several thousand gum diggers. Since then, European settlement has not been extensive. The remoteness and magnificent marine life of the area make it a tourist destination.

The peninsula was once covered by a massive kauri forest. Some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, this was gradually buried beneath peat swamps and encroaching sand dunes. The ancient wood is mined to make ornaments and furniture, and the land is now partly farmed and partly forested with exotic species.

Ninety Mile Beach

Aupōuri Peninsula’s most dramatic feature, along the western coast. At just 60 miles (96 km) long from Shipwreck Bay to Cape Maria van Diemen, it is misnamed. The beach is a vast arch of fine white sand, backed by immense dunes and broken by rocky outcrops and shallow streams.

Known also as Te Oneroa-o-Tōhē (the long beach of Tōhē – an ancestor of Te Aupōuri and other northern people), it is a spectacular way to approach Cape Rēinga. It is famous for fishing and shellfish, and an annual surf-casting contest. Toheroa used to be taken from the beach, but the shellfish is now a restricted delicacy. Motor vehicles can use the beach at low tide. The main access to the beach is at the southern end, near Ahipara.

Plucky William Puckey

New Zealand’s first-known land yacht was sailed along Ninety Mile Beach in the 1830s by missionary William Puckey, who reached speeds of 50 kilometres an hour. Land yacht races are still held on the beach.

Cape Rēinga (Te Rerenga Wairua)

Craggy headland 6 km north-east of Cape Maria van Diemen, at the northern tip of the Aupōuri Peninsula. It rises steeply to 290 m above sea level, and is often thought to be the northernmost point of the country. However, North Cape lies about 2 km further north, and beyond that the coast at the foot of Surville Cliffs is the most northerly point.

The lighthouse at Cape Rēinga holds one of the country’s most powerful lights, visible for some 50 km. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet at the headland. It also has spiritual significance for Māori as the departing place of souls (Te Rerenga Wairua) on their journey to the homeland, Hawaiki.

The spirit trail (te ara wairua) to Cape Rēinga lies along Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast. Starting at Ahipara at the southern end of the beach, the departing spirit waits for an outgoing tide before journeying back to Hawaiki. The final plunge into the sea is taken near an underground cave at the cape, where there is a much-photographed tree. The pathway was recorded in 1834 by the first European known to have followed it, the missionary William Puckey.

Three Kings Islands

Group of small rocky islands, 53 km north-west of Cape Maria van Diemen. They were named the Three Kings Islands by Abel Tasman in 1643. The largest is Great Island, also known as Manawatawhi. The other main islands are North East Island, South West Island and West Island. The group was once occupied by Māori and is now classified as a nature reserve. The islands are important seabird breeding sites, hosting New Zealand’s northernmost colony of Pacific albatrosses.

On 9 November 1902 the trans-Tasman steamer Elingamite was wrecked on West Island, with the loss of 45 lives. A large cargo of gold bullion went down with the ship, but much of it was later recovered.

Pārengarenga Harbour

Northernmost harbour on the eastern side of the peninsula. It is a main departure point for migratory godwits, which fly in early March to Siberia and Alaska. Silica sand from the southern head of the harbour is shipped to Whangārei and Auckland for glass-making.

Houhora Harbour

Narrow inlet south of Pārengarenga Harbour, on the eastern side of the peninsula. The Wagener, Subritzky and Yates families farmed and traded around both harbours in the late 19th century. The Subritzky homestead, a relic of this period, is at Houhora Heads.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland places - Aupōuri Peninsula', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015