The trip to the very tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the mighty Pacific Ocean, is a pilgrimage every Kiwi should make, writes Megan Singleton.
It's not often you find yourself wiping tears from your eyes on a bus tour, but you could have heard a pin drop when our guide Barry told us why Cape Reinga is not just significant to Maori, but to him personally.
The very tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the mighty Pacific Ocean, is a pilgrimage every Kiwi should do in their lifetime and I've just ticked it off my bucket list.
For Maori, Cape Reinga is sacred. It's where they believe their recently passed loved ones' spirits depart from. Many Maori make the journey to the top of New Zealand to say goodbye and make their peace.
Our 11-hour day started with a pick up from Paihia Beach Resort and Spa. We soon got to know the banter of our GreatSights driver and guide, Barry Meredith, who lives in the Far North. That meant he knew a lot more than just the road.
Next to his Aunty Bonnie's general store in Te Kao is a marae with a remarkable survival story from WWI. Local bushman Hone Tahitahi was shot in the chest at Gallipoli. His prayer book was in his breast pocket and incredibly he was only knocked unconscious as the bullet stuck in the book.
Hone was evacuated but he mailed his little lifesaving book, bullet fragment still embedded, to the London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and, in 1985, it was returned to his family in Te Kao.
On we drove past sparkling seas on this stunningly beautiful day exploring the Far North. At Cape Reinga the sea was so calm we could only just make out the currents where the oceans meet, but some days it's like a washing machine here, Meredith told us. Then he told the story that had me sniffling into my sleeve.
Many years ago, his 5-year old son was walking home from school when he was hit by a car and killed. It nearly destroyed Meredith, leaving him grieving for what he thought would be the rest of his days.
Several years later, he came to Cape Reinga with a family member, and Meredith's aunt challenged him to let his boy go. She told him this was the place to put the pain behind him and to move on. It was the hardest moment and yet the best moment of his life, as he said all the things he wished he'd been there to say to his son the day he died.
Meredith tells this moving story on most of his tours because you just never know who is on board and who needs to hear that this is a special place to say goodbye if you need to.
Some passengers have found their own peace here, too, he explained, after taking his lead. And as we drove the final stretch he sang a waiata of welcome to Cape Reinga.
After we'd all had our own moments, and taken photos, we picnicked on the white sand of nearby Parengarenga Harbour and drove back, this time along Ninety Mile Beach. At Te Paki we stopped at the foot of the sand dunes and unloaded a boogie board for those who wanted to roar down them.
After a gruelling walk up the blessed dune and a few moments to gather my breath, Barry (who'd virtually sprinted up) showed me what to do, and off I went. "Keep your mouth shut, bubby!" he yelled as I sped off, but not before I copped a mouthful of sand, arriving at the bottom 15 seconds later.
Once dusted off and back on the bus, an early dinner of fish and chips accompanied by a nice cold beer from Mangonui Fish and Chip Shop, regarded as the best in New Zealand, was our greasy reward and the perfect end to a poignant, magical day.
What to do: GreatSights has been operating coach tours, cruises and dolphin swims in the Bay of Islands for 100 years. Its staff know this region so well that each tour is delightfully personal and fascinating.
Where to stay:
Paihia Beach Resort & Spa Hotel has a restaurant, PureTastes, with stunning harbour views and La Spa Naturale day spa.
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell has a wonderful verandah for sunset views, an ideal spot to sample a local drop. The waterfront rooms have been redecorated. Russell is only five minutes by ferry from Paihia.