Ninety Miles to the Underworld

The little silver Nissan bravely forged ahead through the pouring rain, up the entire West coast of the North Island of New Zealand. We drove through gently rolling hills, cow and sheep covered farmland, lush green jungle with ferns bigger than palm trees; all the while it kept raining. A couple of flat whites (a NZ version of a latte) and about 5 hours later, we arrived at our hostel in Ahipara for the evening-ironically named the Endless Summer Lodge.

The place was so awesome it made the weather all the more painful. Located across the street from the stunning beach, Endless Summer Lodge is a huge old house with a large front lawn complete with a ping-pong table, surfboards and wetsuits to rent, and a gigantic grapevine covered table outside next to the grill. As the North Island absorbed two month’s worth of rain in one day, I sat inside, bitterly imagining the sun-kissed tan that was slipping through my fingers.

We ended up at this particular hostel because a couple of the girls that I’d met in Auckland had stayed there and had highly recommended it. They had also mentioned that during low tide, you could walk across the beach and collect a bucket full of mussels dug up from the sand, which would end up on your dinner plate that night. That’s all it took to sell me on the place. Luckily, the weather showed a little more constraint the next day, so we were able to collect a feast. I devoured an embarrassing (although impressive) amount just a few hours later.🙂

The next morning, we had booked a bus tour up to Cape Reinga, which is a lighthouse located at the very top of the North Island. A coach bus picked us up directly from the hostel at 8:30 am, and from there swung through to a couple more hostels throughout the area, and then on up towards the Cape. On the way there, our tour guide sang ancient songs of his people, the Māori, and shared incredible stories filled with history, folklore, and facts about the area we were traveling through.  

When I was growing up, our family vacations always included some sort of historical stop; maybe a museum, a gallery, an old temple or reconstructed village. Because of these memories, trips like the one to Cape Reinga feel familiar to me and I appreciate that immensely. It is also because of these memories that I couldn’t help but think of my family as we stopped to observe the ancient Kauri trees, entire forests of which had inexplicably toppled to the ground some 45,000 years ago, but had been perfectly preserved due to the conditions of the swamp which they fell into, and were now being excavated and used for various items and crafts. I thought of how much my parents would love sitting on a bus, driving through the sacred land of the Māori, listening to the tales of how the spirits travel up Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga, where they would enter the underworld through the lone tree that never blooms but has survived for centuries, clinging to the wind and surf swept rocks jutting spectacularly out into the ocean. Then there was the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean met, two different colors hitting each other, sending huge waves of sea spray shooting into the sky. To the Māori, this point represented the merging of male and female; the continuation of the circle of life. To me, it was a reminder about the power and beauty of the world, about the joy of discovering and living, about the opportunity to expand and learn.

On the way back to Ahipara, we stopped at the famous sand dunes of the region, where I surfed for the first time. I don’t know if I’d cross the line into calling myself professional quite yet, but it was a blast. Then we drove on Ninety Mile Beach the remainder of the way, dodging seagulls and flying through the wet sand.

Now, like a restless Māori spirit, I’m on the move again, starting to make the circle back down South to Auckland, exploring the small coastal towns along the way. This time, though, the sun is shining.

2 responses to “Ninety Miles to the Underworld

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