Lighthouse at Cape Palliser, Wairarapa © Holger Detje

Cape Palliser: the wild southern tip of the North Island


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This is a freaky part of the world, a wild, windblown promontory that is the southernmost tip of the North Island.

For those who feel the need to mark such things, plonk your feet beneath the lighthouse and tick that perimeter box. You’re further south than Nelson or Blenheim, which are in the South Island. Wait, what?

Even the road there should be on your bucket list, a shoreline-hugging, sinewy stretch of craziness that will test your mettle on the metal, for sure.

You’ll slither past Ngawi, a small settlement whose existence is heavily subsidised by crayfishing – check all those cars, tractors and bulldozers idling optimistically in the carpark, or shunting craft into the sea, off to play ‘catch’.

The point – and it’s a high one – of the trip is the Cape Palliser lighthouse, constructed in 1897, once fuelled by oil. Its 20-secondly blink is electrically derived these days, the people who personned it long dispersed. It’s now managed from a control room in Wellington (which, you could argue, applies to the rest of the New Zealand population as well). Feel free to climb the 250 steps up to its base to check it out, though, and think on the pivotal role it plays in ship guiding. You’ll keep looking across the water to the glorious South Island, the snow-capped Alps a still and present contrast to that choppy chunk of water between. It’s rough, wild and exhilarating here.

The other unpredictable and impressive natural attraction here are the seals, this being their largest breeding area in the entire country. They have colonised this part of this crazy coast, and provide a hearty – and noisy – soundtrack to your journey. Don’t get between them and the sea, though: like most of us, they like to have an escape route where possible!

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