Reinga Rant: The Signpost

Greetings, all! I am currently in the process of writing up a series of posts on a memorable and momentous adventure I had in New Zealand, but I found myself needing to detour into a sidebar, which turned into such a lengthy rant that I pulled it out into its own post. The post itself gives a not very subtle clue about the nature of the trip I’m writing about, so maybe it will tide you over until I’m done :).

Visitors to Cape Reinga will be sure to note this iconic signpost:

This signpost is famous throughout New Zealand and of course an obvious photo op (you will note I did indeed take a photo of it…so mission accomplished, I guess?).

I take exception to this signpost though. Let’s assume that the sign for Equator is pointing due North (it would be embarrassing to get that one wrong). In that case, the sign for Vancouver should be pointing several degrees to the East. Figuring out the precise great-circle direction one city is from another on the surface of a nearly-spherical planet involves far more geometry and trigonometry than I’m comfortable with, but I’m reasonably certain you don’t get to Vancouver by heading Northwest.

The one that I find utterly baffling though is the Tropic of Capricorn. That sign should also be pointing due North, which it most definitely is not. I can’t think of any reason why the sign for the Tropic of Capricorn would not be pointing in the same direction as the sign for the Equator. Maybe I’m just bad at reasoning about how directions work on the surface of a sphere, but I can’t imagine why it would be shorter to get to the Tropic of Capricorn going any direction but due North.

It almost looks like some prankster has actually messed with the signs. I would expect Tropic of Capricorn to point roughly in the direction Vancouver is pointing in (it’s almost due North). Meanwhile, I would expect Vancouver to point in the direction the Los Angeles sign is pointing, and Los Angeles to point in the direction the Tropic of Capricorn sign is pointing.

Unfortunately for this theory, this sign is incredibly iconic and has been much-photographed and also much-replicated over the years, and every version looks basically like this one. It’s a real stumper. Perhaps someone will read this and explain why I’m wrong (or, even better, explain that I’m right!)

I’ve done some sleuthing (read: Googling), and it does appear that there are even more problems with this sign than the ones I just called out. I notice that the researcher said that “some of the signs aren’t pointing in the right direction”, a statement that I choose to take as directly corroborating my points above.

I am waiting anxiously to see how the signpost changes after the experts have had a crack at it! In the meantime, I hope to see you again soon as I begin the tale of my journey Northward!