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 favourite tourist destination.
The peninsula was once covered in a massive kauri forest. Some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago it was gradually buried beneath peat swamps and encroaching sand dunes. The ancient wood is mined for making ornaments and furniture, and the land is now partly farmed and partly forested with exotics.
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. At low tide, vehicles can use the beach. The main access is at the south end near Ahipara.
Plucky William Puckey
New Zealand’s first-known land yacht was sailed along Ninety Mile Beach by missionary William Puckey in the 1830s, reaching 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 the 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 headland itself is the meeting place of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. 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 south 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 by the first European known to have followed it, the missionary William Puckey, in 1834.
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 a nature reserve. The islands are important seabird breeding sites, with 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.
Northernmost harbour on the east 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 Whāngārei and Auckland for glass-making.
Narrow inlet south of Pārengarenga Harbour, on the east side of the peninsula. The Wagener, Subritzky and Yates families farmed and traded around both harbours in the 19th century. The Subritzky homestead, a relic of this period, is at Houhora Heads.