NORTHLAND ROADTRIP #7 - THE DAY WE GOT LOST IN THE SAND DUNES DESERT



For sure, there was no doubt that this morning, when Anais and I woke up, we were far from picturing ourselves getting lost in the Te Paki sand dunes. On the contrary, we just spent a fabulous night, all alone at the Pukenui Lodge. 

(Lis cet article en Français, bébé!)

This is North.

PUKENUI LODGE

In the morning, we discover the surroundings: a swimming pool, a green and lush lawn, and… a sick view. We just found the perfect breakfast spot.

We borrow two sand boards at the lodge reception (for free!) so we would be able to go surfing the sand dunes. Because in Northland there are the Te Paki giant sand dunes. Those dunes really rise from the forest in giant mountains of sand. There are the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, and they had been moulded by the Wild West Coast Wind. The highest ones can reach up to 140 meters high. It seems like a happy unusual experience to go sand board there.

The perfect breakfast spot.

We meet some friendly sheep on the way out of town, and we start to drive to the northernmost point of New Zealand: Cape Reinga. The road there looks apocalyptic. It’s green, grey and red. And there’s nothing over there. Except for some sheep and cows, the road seems to go straight towards some far nowhere.

The Northland Road.

CAPE REINGA – WHERE THE SPIRITS AND THE SEAS ARE MEETING EACH OTHER

Te Werahi Beach.

When we finally reach Cape Reinga, we spot a little tramping track which leads to the Tasman Sea. We’re trying to avoid the Asian tourist crowd that just arrived on a bus, and their loud speaking is ruining the beauty of the place. We head down to Te Werahi Beach to have a quiet picnic and a nice foot bath in the Tasman Sea. First statement, the Tasman Sea is way more violent and rough than its Eastern brother, the Pacific Ocean. Second statement, the tide is getting high really fast. It’s time to walk up back to Cape Reinga.

We’re literally in the middle of nowhere!

Cape Reinga, its lighthouse, its yellow signpost that you’ll see on every traveller’s pictures, on every postcard, well. Now we know why. There’s this feeling of End of the World. Maori legends talk about a place where all the spirits of the dead are gathering just before crossing to the afterlife. The place is quiet and noisy at the same time, soothing and tormented. There are these two waters meeting up with tremendous force, those green hills and this blue sky. It’s another surprising and majestic place in New Zealand…

The famous lighthouse.
Cape Reinga is the place where the spirits gather according to the Maori legend.

TE PAKI SAND DUNES AND HOW WE GOT LOST

My sandboard is my friend.

From afar, we can guess the Te Paki sand dunes, enormous, on which it’s possible (and even recommended) to do some sand boarding. We throw our shoes into the car, remove our jackets for the sun is warm, we grab our backpacks and our sand boards and let’s go, girls, let’s do some surf on the sand dunes! Hiking up the dunes is quite challenging though, we’re not used walking on the sand. When reaching the top, it comes to our mind to explore a little bit more the area: we want to see the sea from up there and to find the perfect slope for a perfect slide. We wander through the dunes and finally decide to go back closer to the car park, for a last slide. Except that… Where’s the bloody car park again?

Well. But. Seriously. Where. Is. That. Fucking. Car park. ?!

We start to panic. In our heads. Because it’s better to stay pragmatic towards each other.

“It could be over there, you know, behind this dune?!” – “Weren’t we there before?” – If we start to follow the trees, maybe we could get there… Or somewhere?” – “If we climb that gigantic dune over there, we might get a better view, right?”

We realise soon enough that we haven’t got our phones with us (which means no maps, no GPS, nobody to call for help), nor our shoes, nor any jacket, nor food, and we just have a little bit of water left in one bottle. Lucky for us, we have our flashlights. Talking about lights… The sun is slowly setting, right?!

“What about this lake over there? Did we ever see it before?” At that moment, I’m thinking of this signpost we crossed on the road. It says that the DOC shouldn’t be responsible in any case if some cars were caught in the high tide while parking on the beach. I’m not saying anything out loud, for I’m fearing to be right, for I’m dreading that this “lake” we keep on seeing might be the car park… Under high tide.

I’m trying my best to keep a cool head. “Worst case scenario, we’re still here at night time, so we could just keep on walking. At some point, we should stumble upon Cape Reinga if we follow the tree line on one side or the sea on the other side. Cape Reinga means lighthouse, which means carpark, which means cars and… human beings.” But we have no food, no warm clothes, almost no water left… If we’re going to spend the night here, that won’t be easy. I’m starting to think about the guy in the ‘Man Vs Wild’ Tv Show, drinking its own pee. I’m thinking of that group of hikers lost in some mountains that ended up eating each other… No. Céline. Don’t. Fucking. Think. About. That. We should try to climb up that dune instead.

While reaching the top of an enormous dune, Anais spot some human figures. But are they really human figures? We grab my mini compass (that I bought 2€ at Decathlon, by the way, thanks, Decathlon, thanks for saving my life, I have to write you a poem or a song anytime soon to let you know how much I love you), the figures are due East, and that’s the general direction we’ll try to follow. My mini compass is also a mini whistle. I still don’t know if it’s supposed to attract some birds, crying for help or danger or if it’s just a funny little thing. Don’t know, don’t care, and whatever, I’m whistling on the top of my lungs, almost blowing up Anais’ eardrums.

I want to hold on to the figures, I want them to wait for us, I want them to be… Real. At some point, it seems like there are some footprints in the sand, although it could be ours (were we going round in circles?!) The sun is still going down slowly behind us, the sky’s colours are insane, but our stress and our fear are too intense to make a stop and enjoy the moment. I still pause for a minute to take a picture, and Anais is giving me a reproachful look – yes, I know, we have better things to think of right now.

Sunset on the dunes…

After a (quite long) while, we spot people. PEOPLE. HUMAN BEINGS. They’re laughing, sliding sand dunes, shouting at us “Come on!” They’re inviting us to slide with them. Anais and I could have cried at this precise moment. The car park is a few meters away from them. We slide this huge slope with relief and delight: I’m almost eating the sand. At the bottom of the dune, we finally tell everything about our adventure to our “saviours”. It’s a Chinese group, and they listen to us, half scared, half amused! They have no idea they just saved us from spending the night in the dunes. I just can’t think of what could have had happened if we haven’t spotted them.

Selfie with our saviors!

While we’re driving back to Ahipara and the Endless Summer Lodge, Anais and I can’t stop talking about what just happened. About what we were thinking at that moment, what we would have done if. It surely looks like every day on the road with that girl is an epic adventure. I’m wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow…

I’m wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow…


LET’S GO THERE!:

Pukenui Lodge (BBH), 3 Pukenui Wharf Rd, Pukenui, RD4, Northland

Te Werahi Beach Track, Cape Reinga – Te Werahi

Cape Reinga, Te Paki Recreation Reserve, S1, Northland

Te Paki Sand Dunes, Te Paki Recreation Reserve, S1, Northland



 

 

NORTHLAND ROADTRIP #7 - THE DAY WE GOT LOST IN THE SAND DUNES DESERT
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