About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to see each of the lighthouses at the four tips of the North Island; Cape Egmont in Taranaki, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, East Cape lighthouse, and Cape Palliser lighthouse in the southern Wairarapa. Lucky for me, Tane was also keen, as he has requisite vehicle, excellent selection of mix tapes, as well as being my favourite travel buddy.
The first lighthouse we went to was the one at Cape Egmont. Tane and I drove there on a grey Taranaki day, playing ‘Spot the Maunga’ as it peeked out from behind the clouds and stopping small country pubs to sample the local beer. Access to the lighthouse itself was through farmland, and our trip was delayed by large groups of ducks walking over the roads. The most memorable part of the day was not the lighthouse, but watching Tane avoid backing the car down a large hole by the side of the road. The lighthouse itself was lovely though, and I imagine would be even more so had the Mountain co-operated and appeared from behind the clouds. For something that so many people would love to photograph, have paintings of, or mihi to, it really is very shy.
The second lighthouse, East Cape, was visited during a week long road trip around the East Coast. For those of you who have not been to that part of the world I thoroughly recommend it – not only is the scenery unparalleled, but after a few days up the coast I began to feel like I was in a whole different country than the New Zealand I was used to. In particular, when in a dual language 4 Square in Tokomaru, or a burger bar in Ruatoria where English was not spoken at all. The East Cape lighthouse was by far the hardest of the four to get to by road, and the best thigh workout to actually climb up to. I was in the middle of my tri training at the time, and still found it a huge effort (I shudder to think how bad I would find it now). Not only was the staircase at least 10 km long (or so it felt), we were climbing up in winds that made us think that we were going to be pushed off the hill, as well as rain that made the climb esecially slippery. The elements added to the fun, however, especially when the top was finally reached. Due to the weather we were completely surrounded by fog, making Tane and I think that we were at the edge of the world. That, and thinking that if I were ever going to climb to this lighthouse again I would have to put in some serious work on the stair machine at the gym first.
Lighthouse number three was the one at Cape Reinga – the point wrongly thought to be the northernmost point of New Zealand. I was unable to go to the actual northernmost lighthouse on Murimotu Island on account of it only having helicopter or boat access. How inconvenient. Cape Reinga, though, is still important to many Maori as it is the end of the Spiritual Pathway (Te Ara Wairua), where the spirits are said to leap to Hawaiki after a long journey up Ninety Mile Beach. The lighthouse itself was fairly standard and access was disappointedly easy. Northland is a great province to visit nonetheless. While there I was lucky to get the chance to travel up the entire length of Ninety Mile Beach in a four wheel drive as well as stand on the actual northern tip of New Zealand (the Surville Cliffs) despite it being a scientific reserve with no public access allowed without DOC permission. Very cool. I wish Tane could have come too, but it would have been difficult to pass a journalist off as a Crown official at that point. Lucky he has since come over to the dark side.
It was funny that the last lighthouse we visited was the one nearest Wellington, Cape Palliser. Tane and I went for a mini break to the Wairarapa, which was a fantastic weekend. We went to random small towns, as well as the home of Tui Beer in Mangatanauka - one part of New Zealand that feminism has not reached yet. We also had a great time at a wildlife reserve where we saw kiwis, tuataras, and a big scary noisy bird that Tane said reminded him of me in the mornings. Cape Palliser was a long windy drive from Masterton, through countryside so remote we were having to remind ourselves that Wellington was only a couple of hours away. The lighthouse itself was up a huge hill, and after the East Cape experience, I embarked upon the climb nervously. It was much easier to climb, however, and we could actually see things from the top. The way down was fine too, although a combination of the cold day and the steps obviously had a toxic combination as I had trouble walking for about the next three days and Tane was equally sore. Perhaps we are just wusses? Maybe. Although I prefer to think that there is some sort of curse on the lighthouse that strikes especially cool people when they visit instead.
In sum, the lighthouses themselves were pretty much exactly the same. Big, white (or red and white in the case of Palliser), majestic and lonely looking. Seeing the four tips of the North Island was a great thing to have done, however, as it took us to random locations that I may not have gone to otherwise. I really would recommend it to anyone wanting to see a great cross section of places in the North Island. That, and getting a great leg workout.