The northernmost 100 kilometers of New Zealand are a tiny spit of land, buffeted on one side by the Pacific and on the other by the Tasman Sea. The Pacific side has face powder fine white sand comprised of silica and the Tasman side has golden sand that packs so hard you can drive on it. Although this area is known as 90 Mile Beach, the beach is more like sixty miles long, still an awesome stretch of empty sand. There are five entry points to drive on the beach and we are camped next to one of them, but rental vehicles are strictly forbidden from cruising the beach so we booked a tour that would take us to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga and drive us back on the beach. There was some irony in the fact that it was OK for a bus containing 45 passengers to drive on the beach, but not for us in our little camper van. Perhaps there have been some mishaps in the past. People like us from middle earth are not very sensitive to tide tables.
The bus was driven by a distinguished looking Maori gentleman who talked non stop while he drove. He told a series of bad jokes, non sequiturs, and silly stories. Some were funny; many were not. After each joke he would laugh, a laugh that started with a sound like he was a heavy smoker and end with a high pitched girlish squeal. Even if we didn’t find his jokes all that funny, he certainly had a good time.
The spit of land has grown into a substantial farming area. New Zealand has reduced its sheep population greatly since its best mutton customer Great Britain joined the European Union and has to buy its lamb closer to home. This tropical area has gotten into avocados and exotic tropical fruits that we had never heard of.
The lighthouse at Cape Reinga was one of the last lighthouses to be built in the area and is nicely restored, but not all that impressive for those of us who spent last fall in Maine. What was impressive was the spot where the Pacific Ocean mingles with the Tasman Sea at the point. The Pacific was murky and angry looking and the Tasman was aquamarine. It felt like a real boundary rather than one some surveyor had drawn on a map.
As we headed out to the beach we stopped for another Kiwi sport - sand surfing. Those of us who wanted to were given plastic sleds, which we hauled to the top of a very, very high sand dune and sledded down. Only one of the four of us did so and I would have like to go again, if only I could have made the climb up again. My sledding technique was lousy; my large keister plowed a large furrow into the sand and slowed me down. I would have done much better on a second try...
Then we stopped at something called the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. The Kauri were extremely large trees, giant sequoia like, that had 1 - 2,000 year life spans. Of course, the Europeans came along and cut them down in a frenzy and none of the big ones are left. A replanting program is underway, but our grandchildren's grandchildren will not see them in their original majesty and size. However, lucky farmers occasionally find old Kauri tree trunks that have been buried on their property over the eons. They sell them to artisans who make the most amazing furniture out of them. Wonder how much it would cost to ship home a new dining room set??