Spirits Bay, official name Piwhane/Spirits Bay, is an isolated bay at the end of the Aupouri Peninsula, near the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
The bay is 12 kilometres in width. It is one of two bays (the other being Tom Bowling Bay) in the short length of coast that marks the tip of the North Island. A long walking path, about 8.5 kilometers (5.3 miles) long, runs beside the bay.
Māori cultural significance
The bay is considered a sacred place in Māori culture as according to local legend, it is the location where spirits of the dead gather to depart from this world to travel to their ancestral home (or afterlife) from a large old pōhutukawa tree above the bay.
The bay has two Māori names, Piwhane and Kapowairua, the latter meaning to „catch the spirit“, derived from a Māori language saying that translates into English as: „I can shelter from the wind. But I cannot shelter from the longing for my daughter. I shall venture as far as Hokianga, and beyond. Your task (should I die) shall be to grasp my spirit.“ The words were spoken by Tōhē, a chief of the Ngāti Kahu people, who is considered one of Muriwhenua’s most important ancestors. Tōhē made his way south, naming more than one hundred places along the western coast, until dying at Whāngaiariki near Maunganui Bluff.
Nature and wildlife
A variety of birds inhabit the bay area such as paradise ducks, New Zealand dotterel, oystercatchers, and Caspian terns. Plant life at the beach includes paraha vine.
History and in the media
In September 2010, it was reported that more than eighty pilot whales were beached over five kilometers at Spirits Bay. About forty of these were believed to have died, including some that drowned and others that were euthanized because of injuries from rocks. The rest of the whales were relocated to Rarawa Beach because the weather and sea conditions at Spirits Bay meant refloating the whales there was not possible. Most of the pilot whales that were refloated at Rarawa Beach survived. It was considered to be the largest whale transport ever attempted. This mass whale stranding occurred a month after a pod of fifty-eight pilot whales became stranded at Karikari Beach.
In a November 2011 article of the New Zealand Herald, the DoC campsite at Spirits Bay was named one of the top six campers’ spots in New Zealand.