The end of the road: Reaching Cape Reinga
Date: 23rd April 2005
Subject: The end of the road
Place: Cape Reinga, North Island, New Zealand
A lolly at the lighthouse
“We will have a lolly at the light house Dad?”
“At Cape Ringa Dad?”
“I like lollies Dad.”
“I know you do sweetheart”
“Yes. And I like Cape Ringa and the lighthouse too.”
Why are we going to Cape Reinga?
“It’s actually Cape Reinga not Cape Ringa isn’t it.”
“And we’ve cycled all the way from Stewart Island and South Island and we’re nearly right at the top of North Island at Cape Reinga aren’t we.”
“That’s right. All that way in your buggy. It’s amazing isn’t it?”
“Hmmm…. Do you know there’s only a lighthouse and a sign at Cape Reinga Dad?”
“There’s not even a café or playground or Top 10 or a dairy or M place or Warehouse.”
“No, nothing else.”
“So why are we going there Dad?”
“To see the lighthouse and the sign.”
“Hmmmm …… Can I have a lolly when we get there?”
“Yes, we’ll all have a lolly.”
An ordinary end to an extraordinary ride
An ordinary looking little red and white sign marked the end of State Highway One and the beginning of the end of our amazing cycling journey from one end of New Zealand to the other. The kids were looking forward to a lolly party; we were looking forward to snapping a photo to match one we took almost four thousand kilometres and a hundred and sixty days earlier at the start of the Highway in Bluff.
Savouring the last chapter
We took our time on this final leg of the journey; making time to play, reflect on our travels, and absorb the wild, unpredictable, and sandy extremes of the Far North. The country here has an empty feel, reminiscent of our early travels in the Far South; wild horses roam a deserted landscape that really feels like the end of the world. And as we pedalled beyond the limits of cell phone coverage, we were happy to be out of touch and back in the wilderness.
It’s not over until it’s over
The last 21km of the journey to the Cape is along a traditional North Island hilly, corrugated gravel road that rises and falls, rises and falls, falls and rises again along the narrowing peninsular. The end of the road lies beyond a final gritty 200m climb leading to a dramatic ridge that heads straight out to sea; on your left the Tasman Sea, on your right the vast Pacific Ocean, straight ahead the lighthouse.
Right to the very end, North Island continued to serve up the blend of dreams and nightmares we had grown so accustomed to. When the grey roof and weathervane of the lighthouse eventually came into view, Kirstie and her bike finally lost their grip; her bike collapsing in an embarrassing heap at her feet.
“This bloody gravel,” she sighed in a mixture of frustration and joy.
I threw my bike down in support and the crowds from the tourist buses just stared.
The meeting of seas and spirits
Cape Reinga is at the end of the highway, a headland where land, sea and sky meet, beyond which the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide in a foaming swell of competing currents. It is the most spiritually significant area in New Zealand for Maori, the place where spirits of the departed begin their final journey into the underworld. While we cycled to the lighthouse, spirits make their way by any available means to a single Pokutukawa tree on the headland, from where are said to slide down a root into the sea below. From there they make their way to Three Kings Islands where they climb out and up to the highest point to say one last farewell before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki a Nui.
Do lighthouse people not like lollies?
Cameron jumped up and down in his buggy straining at his straps to get out.
“Look Daddy, the lighthouse, the lighthouse, it’s lolly time, lolly time,” he sang excitedly.
But it was not so simple; Cape Reinga is a sacred space where eating and drinking are forbidden. There was no question of not having lollies so before we made our final approach we retreated a respectful distance for the long awaited lolly party.
“Why not lollies at the lighthouse Daddy?” asked Cameron.
“It’s a special place and it’s rude to eat there,” I explained as simply as I could.
“Do lighthouse people not like lollies?” asked Cameron incredulously.
Five months, four thousand kilometres
With sticky lips and fingers we finally made our way to join throngs of day trippers happily snapping the lighthouse, meeting of the oceans and famous roadsign. Somehow we blended into the crowd and attracted relatively little attention other than from a lycra clad old cyclist who sped down the hill a short time after us.
“Hi there,” he said stroking his beard, “I’ve just come from Christchurch. How about you?”
“Oh, we’ve done the full tour… from end to end,” said Kirstie proudly.
“Five and half months and almost four thousand kilometres,” said Kirstie.
He eyed up our bikes, buggies, boys and baggage.
“That’s an impressive rig… and quite a load… Yeh…. twenty six inch wheels, stainless spokes, semi slicks, twenty seven speed… nice. What weight are you pulling?”
“Between seventy and a hundred kilos including the kids” said Kirstie sounding knowledgeable and hoping the questions wouldn’t get any more technical.
“Awesome, that must have been tough on the gravel. I wiped out a couple of times,” he continued pointing to some large bleeding scratches down his left leg.
Kirstie sympathised, “That looks nasty, perhaps you should clean it up and put a bandage on?”
“No, it’s OK. I’ll sort it out when I stop. Besides, I’ve got no bandage, I travel light, with just a change of clothes, less than seven kilos.”
He pointed to a small daysack strapped tightly to his back. Kirstie offered him a bandage from our first aid kit but the offer was refused; the idea seemed to violate one of his principles of cycle touring.
He had covered almost two thousand kilometres in just twelve days riding, wearing one pair of clothes and carrying another, eating food on the go and stopping to sleep only when he’d exceeded his daily one hundred and fifty kilometre target. Our touring styles were polar opposites but equal in their madness.
We congratulated each other on our achievements, each perhaps wondering why the other would do something so hard. Then, after taking the obligatory photos by the lighthouse, the old guy departed. He had another one hundred and twenty kilometres to do that day; we were ready to set up camp, dismantle our bikes and await transport back to civilization.
I HATE cycling
While spirits end things at the Cape, the Pokutukawa tree for our tour was to be nearby Tapotupotu beach. From here we planned to slide into a bus and begin our final journey to say farewell to New Zealand from Auckland.
On the way Kirstie lost her grip one final time, “I give up. I give up. I hate this road. I hate cycling. I hate this bike. I hate gravel. I never want to ride on it ever again. I want it to be over now,” she sobbed from the gravel as she tended grit filled cuts on her hands.
“I HATE IT.”
Kirstie was about to despatch her bike to the underworld when our bearded and bleeding cycling friend appeared on the road up from the beach. He’d made a ten kilometre detour to see the beach and keep his daily total up.
“Oh dear, fallen again?” he said as he stopped for a moment.
“Yes” whined Kirstie showing off her cuts and looking for a little return sympathy.
He looked at them for a moment but saw nothing that might prevent cycling.
“Bad luck…. eh? But it’s not far down now,” he chirped encouragingly before parting with a final unappreciated tip, “you know if you wear cycling gloves it keeps the grit out of your hands when you fall so you can keep riding more easily. Good luck.”
We bid our gloved friend goodbye and walked, slid and rode our bikes gingerly down the final few kilometres. We had had enough; it felt like time to put the bikes away and do something else instead.
Is the moon really made of cheese?
Finally at the beach, we put the bikes down for the last time, made a cup of coffee and shared a family size pack of multi-coloured popcorn. We bathed in the cool autumn sea, set up the tent and tried to enjoy a celebratory meal of corned beef hash followed by tinned pears. When the dishes were done, we dragged the sleeping bags outside the tent, slipped inside them and lay as a family looking up at the full moon and Southern stars.
“Is the moon really made of cheese?” asked Matthew.
“Why are those pears soft?” asked Cameron.
We were too tired for questions so gave both boys a lolly silencer.
We all lay quietly and savoured the moment until lollies ran out and it was time for boys to go to bed.
Enough is enough
In the tent it was my turn to deliver the bedtime story.
“Can we have one about mousies, a lighthouse, cheese, the moon and some lollies Daddy?” asked Cameron.
And so began a long and involved tale of four mice who travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand in search of a moon made of cheese and a lolly at the lighthouse. By the time the mice reached the middle of North Island, Matthew stopped me mid-flow.
“Dad, can you stop please. I’ve had enough of this story now. I’m absolutely tired and I really really want to go to sleep.”
And so the Family on a Bike closed their eyes and went to sleep, the story incomplete but the cycling well and truly finished.