The Not-So-Secret Spots in the Far North: Spirits Bay

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Arial view of the Beach and campgrounds at Spirits Bay

So you find yourself a the very top of the Land of the Long White Cloud. You’ve made the hour or so journey from the most northern town – Kaitaia. Of course you go to see the beautiful and significant Cape Reinga. But then what? Do you just turn around and drive back home down that twisty curvy State Highway, or better yet if you have timed the tides right, cruise down 90 Mile Beach? Or do you have some time to kill. An afternoon? A weekend? Do you have the gear to stay a while?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above that involve hanging around, then let me suggest you check out Spirit’s Bay!

Local Significance

According to local legend, Kapowairua is where spirits of the dead gather, before they depart from this world to their ancestral home from the old Pohutakawa tree growing off the rocks, visible from Cape Reinga. In Maori culture, the land is a tapu (sacred) place, but still accessible to the public and quite a popular camp ground. (As this is DOC – Department of Conservation maintained land, there is a small fee, of usually about $7 per person to use the grounds. In summer – peak times – there may be a DOC ranger around to check on payment; otherwise, outside of peak times, there is an honesty box).

Off the beaten track
Getting yourself to Spirit’s Bay is a bit of an independent mission;  it is about 15 windy kilometres of metal (gravel) road, once you turn off from State Highway 1. Having your own wheels is likely the most desired mode of arrival, ut you can be rest assured 4wd is not necessary. We once picked up a hitchhiker who had been tramping and camping by himself. I’ve also met several people who have decided to walk the Te Araroa trail down.

At the marked left turn, you have a choice between turning to Spirit’s Bay, or continuing straight to Te Hapua – which is home to THE northern-most primary school in the country! Have a nosey around the wee settlement (we did in 2010, our first time camping up there).

Fun fact – the local school only goes to year 8 – after that, kids must travel by bus into TOWN – yes Kaitaia to attend Kaitaia College, as that is the closest high school! Imagine that for a busride EVERY day. Not my idea of ideal!

It’s known for… 

Spirit’s Bay is a popular spot amongst the locals, as it is a great spot for surf-casting fishing, diving for local kaimoana (seafood –  check out my post on Kiwi-isms for more translations) , occassionally surfing. I’m told that you can also do quite a wee tramp to Pandora, at the other end of the beach. But it is a mighty long beach! I have yet to do it, but it’s on that lists of things for the future.

Our catches of the day
(via diving with a spear gun)
Boys preparing the Paua

While camping this past January with some mates, the boys explored around the rocks and caught a feed of paua (you  might know this sticky shellfish that sucks itself onto rocks as abalony?) and then cooked it up for dinner in some cream. Let me tell you, with some garlic and onion, it is devine!

Expert tip – in the event you do get yourself some paua, they taste  best if they have been tenderised – you need to bash them with a rock or something equally hard. Also, they can only be caught by freediving (snorkel and hold your breath – no tanks allowed), they must be of legal size – 12.5 cm long, and the maximum you are allowed to take per person is 10. There are in fact fisheries officers that patrol, check and dish out quite hefty fines if these guidelines aren’t followed.

Just relax

Being so far removed from most civilization pretty  much guarantees no cellphone reception during your visit to the Bay – so why not take advantage of that and relax. We all need some disconnect time from technology so that we can reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones and nature - seize the opportunity at hand!

The two times I have camped for a weekend there (the first and last long weekends of summer); the mornings have started off fairly cloudy, and foggy and generally discouraging. But make sure you give it time to burn off before you decide to move on.

Eat – don’t be eaten
Prior to our first departure back in 2010 for the Labour Day long weekend in October, everyone we told that we were going camping were shocked that we were willing to brave the mossies. Horror stories were shared to scare us, heck we were half expecting to be picked up and carried home.  We prepared for the worst, but they didn’t show up!

Giant Huhu beetle! He didn’t bite… but he was probably big enought to eat us!

I’ve been camping in October and late January, and while they might have been around, they were not unbearable. On our second mission, I packed some citronella candles that we cracked out the second night more so just to hold for light and play with the wax.  Bug spray is always recommended though.

Even if you just stop in to explore rather than camp, Spirit’s Bay is definitely a beach to check out!
Have you been? Where is your favourite spot to camp?
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