A 400ha scrub fire at Cape Reinga is being held in place by 10 helicopters and four ground crews, but firefighters warn high winds could fan the flames.
The fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon about 5km from the Cape Reinga lighthouse, with local iwi Ngāti Kuri alerting Fire and Emergency to the blaze.
Fire and Emergency Far North area manager Wipari Henwood said the fire broke out near a walking track and an investigator would look at the cause.
Four local helicopters tried to extinguish the blaze on Tuesday night but were unable to, he said.
* State Highway 1 closed, four helicopters on standby as Cape Reinga fire burns
* Large scrub fire near Cape Reinga, Far North
* World’s rarest tree saved from fireworks fire on islands north of New Zealand
By morning, the 150ha fire had grown to 400ha but the blaze was patchy and not all was burned, Henwood said.
At 8pm, crews and aircraft were stood down for the night but they will return to work at 7am on Thursday.
Fire and Emergency incident controller Rory Renwick said the fire has not grown during the day, and crews made some impact on its size but there is a lot of work still to do.
“It will need continued work for days to come,” he said.
“We can’t rule out the possibility that there will be some fire growth overnight but we are not expecting it.”
State Highway 1 was closed in both directions between Te Paki Stream Rd and Cape Reinga, with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency advising travellers to delay their journey.
Ngāti Kuri said some walking tracks around Cape Reinga had been closed due to the blaze.
“All walking Tracks from Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) to Taputaputa, Cape Reinga through to Kahokawa (Scott’s Point) including the Te Werahi loop track are closed for the next 10 days minimum or until further notice,” it said in a Facebook post.
Both the area around the iconic Cape Reinga lighthouse and the Ngāti Kuri-operated campground at Tapotupotu Bay were evacuated on Tuesday afternoon.
Henwood said 10 helicopters would attack the northeastern front, with a focus on protecting the toilets and famous lighthouse.
Five ground crews would also fight the fire from the southwestern flank, he said.
By 12.30pm, the fire was held in place by the helicopters and ground crew, Renwick said.
However, with winds picking up and the day getting hot, the fire still has the potential to move very quickly, he said.
“Today we have 10 helicopters in the air in strong gusty southerly conditions.
“At the moment they are preventing the fire from flaring and spreading further to the north and our expectation is that we will be able to continue to hold it; however if it does get away, it will be hard to stop.”
The fire is burning through scrub which is “incredibly flammable” and ground crews are unable to reach all parts of the fire at this stage due to the difficult terrain, Renwick said.
Henwood said Fire and Emergency was “throwing resources” at the fire to stop it turning the same way as a Far North fire that started in Waiharara in December 2021.
That blaze continued for more than 10 months and cost more than $9 million to control.
Henwood said the aim was to contain the Cape Reinga fire as soon as possible with the aim of getting it under control before a forecast wind change on Thursday night.
But he also said the fire was burning through volatile scrub, through land that could not be accessed by road.
“The sandy soils tend to be free-draining and there’s no big topography to block any winds,” he said.
“That’s why it’s always a restricted fire season there.”
Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairua is known by Māori as the place where spirits last set foot on the Land of the Long White Cloud before making their way to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.
The fire is on a combination of public conservation and private land, with Ngāti Kuri iwi proactively helping the firefighting efforts.