Tramping paradise in the Far North
Te Paki Coastal Track, Northland / Easy-moderate
A midweek break proved to be the perfect time to walk the Te Paki Coastal Track, with deserted beaches and warm sea temperatures enticing my husband Geoff and I to swim at every opportunity.
The track makes for an ideal short break: three days will cover the 48km and the Waitiki Landing Backpackers complex offers a shuttle service and car storage.
Kapowairua lies on one of the northernmost parts of the Aupouri Peninsula and the long stretch of sand overlooking the turquoise sea is bordered by low dunes and an extensive freshwater wetland and lagoon.
The trail is initially flat but its sandy nature means it is not especially fast walking. We crossed the lagoon on a long zigzag footbridge possessing an almost oriental elegance. The short climb around a headland offered marvellous views back to our starting point before arriving at Pandora and the pristine Whangakea Beach, where Geoff stripped for a swim. This is the first of two micro-campsites which provide a covered open-sided pavilion with a fixed table and benches, composting toilets and water supply.
As we headed towardsTapotupotu Bay, we thought the sign-posted walking times were generous. The stiff climb out of Pandora saw our trail cross numerous small but sheer streamlets before we crested the ridge to find views north and west and glimpses of Cape Reinga. The slightly windswept vegetation on the ridges is mostly regenerating scrub and manuka.
We followed the trail over the first of several Maori pa sites (Tirikawa, 286m), descending a well-defined spur, ascending again above rocky cliff faces and finally dropping into the estuary adjacent to the DOC campsite at Tapotupotu Bay.
We pitched our tiny tent in the least windy spot and went for another swim.
In the morning we set off up and over a rocky headland and by 9.30am Geoff was swimming at small Sandy Bay before the final climb to Cape Reinga where we posed for the ubiquitous photos beside the lighthouse.
The cape itself is tapu and no food or drink is sold there. A highly significant area to Maori, it marks the place from which Maori descendants travel in spirit form back to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiiki-A-Nui.
As it was a fine calm day there was no dramatic clashing of the Pacific Ocean against the Tasman Sea – just wonderful unimpeded views. There are many interesting interpretive signs and I especially liked the story of Te Aroha, a spindly pohutukawa tree clinging to an inhospitable rock face on the farthermost point of headland. It has never been known to bloom.
Along the track to Cape Maria van Diemen, the landscape changed to dramatic vistas of red and ochre dunes against dark cliffs and turquoise seas. Once away from the lighthouse we had the track to ourselves and the many seabirds – dotterels, gulls, oyster catchers, terns – and part of a whale skeleton on Te Werahi Beach.
After crossing the estuary at the end of the 3km stretch of beach we climbed across a gaudy landscape of dunes and pinky peach sandstone, with little plant life other than dune grasses. Shifting sands and infrequent markers mean walkers must keep an eye out for the trail, but we soon reached scrubland again and a more distinct path.
The camp, fringed with pohutukawa trees, perched some 20m above beautiful Twilight Beach, is another gem. We swam and then foraged for fat, juicy mussels at low tide. The biggest difficulty was trying to steam open more than two mussels at a time in our tiny billy.
On our third day we crossed elevated scrubland with views towards Te Paki farm and the giant sand dunes, before reaching the long flights of stairs at Scott Point and descending to the endless expanse of Ninety Mile Beach.
We shucked our shoes and meandered barefoot up Te Paki stream with its giant, sculpted sand dunes and creamy and mauve fluffy toitoi waving in the breeze. An hour’s amble brought us to the car park and a shuttle ride back to Waitiki Landing.
– Lisa Mead
Access Kapowairua at the end of Spirits Bay Rd. Shuttle service available from Waitiki Landing on SH1
Time Three days
Accommodation Camping at Taputaputa abd Twilight Beach