Access to the Far North's top tourist spot at Cape Reinga was expected to be reopened last night after a large scrub fire sparked during "unbelievably dry" conditions.

Fire crews from Kaitaia, Houhora and Karikari, along with several helicopters, attended the blaze, which started on Wednesday afternoon and razed 4ha of native bush near Te Rerenga Wairua carpark.

The lighthouse at the tip of the North Island was closed to visitors by local iwi Ngāti Kuri and the Department of Conservation while fire crews and forestry workers dampened hotspots the following day.

READ MORE:
Swarm of fires as restrictions imposed across Northland
Northland news in brief: Power line sparks fire and girls rescued from inflatable bodyboard
Fires rage in Horowhenua and Northland

Advertisement

Ngāti Kuri facilities manager Abbey Brown said the area was closed due to "safety issues".

"There's still some pretty hot spots up there. It wouldn't take much for it to kick back up. Where it's situated, if the wind turns around to the north there's a big chance of it igniting again and taking off up the gully."

Brown, who attended the blaze, said bush was burning on the ridge of the Sandy Bay Track.

"They were pretty big flames, and the back-burning was pretty quick against the wind. Lucky the helicopters got there when they did."

Two Ngāti Kuri ambassadors were working at the site when a member of the public told them of the fire about 3.30pm, Brown said.

About 60 visitors and 20 vehicles, mainly campervans and cars, were evacuated from the carpark, and the top of State Highway 1 from the carpark to Tapotupotu Rd was closed.

The New Zealand Transport Agency asked people to avoid the area, as no detour is available.

A large scrub fire burning on the ridge of the Sandy Bay Track closed access to Cape Reinga on Thursday. Photo / Supplied
A large scrub fire burning on the ridge of the Sandy Bay Track closed access to Cape Reinga on Thursday. Photo / Supplied

Fire and Emergency NZ principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said the blaze was under control by about 8pm on Wednesday and one crew remained at the scene overnight.

Advertisement

Ground crews including firefighters and 18 forestry crew members continued to dampen hotspots the following day and were "making good progress", he said.

Six DoC staff were also onsite.

Taylor said there was no damage to property, "but because of the biodiversity of the area and that it's a major tourist attraction, we wanted to keep the footprint of the fire as small as possible. So we hit it really hard really quickly."

A helicopter remained on standby "just in case", he said.

A drone would be onsite on Friday morning checking for further hot spots.

"It's unbelievably dry up there as it's also exposed to the wind."

Access to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga was closed to visitors as a safety precaution. Photo / Tania Whyte
Access to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga was closed to visitors as a safety precaution. Photo / Tania Whyte

Dune Rider Unique Tours owner Garth Petricevich said the fire had affected business somewhat but there was "no real loss of income".

"Some people didn't want to go because they couldn't do the full tour. We had a couple of bus-loads of people cancel, but most have rebooked at later dates.

"They understood they're doing it for safety and are okay with it, and so are we."

Taylor said an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire, which could have been sparked by a discarded cigarette or by "some other involvement".

He reminded residents of the total fire ban in place across the region since January 13.

"It's incredibly dry at the moment, people need to be really careful of what they're doing. That means no fires, machinery operation, cigarettes or grinding and welding - anything with a heat source that can cause fires."

Fire and Emergency launched its Summer Wildfire Prevention Campaign last month after out-of-control land clearing and camping fires destroyed 2070ha of bird habitat in New Zealand last summer.

Sparks from machinery and equipment caused fires that destroyed a further 2655ha hectares.

The campaign targeting domestic and international tourists runs until April.