Less than three hours’ drive north of Gisborne, Hikurangi is the resting place of Māui-Tikitiki-ā-Taranga, the famous Polynesian demi-god, who lifted Hikurangi out of the ocean when he fished up Te Ika-a-Māui, the North Island. According to Nāgti Porou, Māui’s waka Nukutaimemeha lies in Takawhiti, the beautiful lake near the summit.
Be the first to see the sun on the sacred Mount Hikurangi
Nine huge whakāiro, or carvings, that represent Māui and his descendants are to be found on the northern point of the mountain.
These beautiful pou make up one of Aotearoa’s most significant works of art, and are a tribute to Māui and the proud cultural heritage of Ngāti Porou. Ngāti Porou’s tourism office offers an authentic cultural experience, and visitors can enjoy a hike to the mountain summit, or take a 4WD or helicopter tour. Pāora Brooking says: “this is our home, and we want our visitors to experience true Māori hospitality.”
True Māori hospitality, also known as manaakitanga, extends across the region. Tipuna Tours based in Tolaga Bay is led by guide Anne McGuire who wants to offer visitors to the region an edifying experience of the Māori world. Authentic marae visits feature stories about local history and people – including the famous legend of Paikea, the Whale Rider. There are over 150 marae in Tairāwhiti, many ornately carved and meticulously cared for. Visitors must seek permission to enter all marae beforehand, but there are marae sites which offer cultural tours including genuine marae pōwhiri (welcome), guided tours and stopovers.
Celebrating more recent history is the 20th Gisborne Wine and Food Weekend. The Labour Weekend festival is always oversubscribed and limits tickets to 2000, so visitors have a high chance of meeting the wine and food makers face to face.
Rhythm and Vines is Tairāwhiti’s most famous event, attracting up to 25,000 music lovers from all over the world, every New Year’s Eve at the Waiohika Estate, just 20 kilometres from Gisborne. Revellers young and old come to enjoy the best music from around the world – and of course our legendary summer weather.
Closer to town, the Tairāwhiti Museum has regular exhibitions, including an upcoming series celebrating the tribal identity, rich history and thrilling stories of the Rongowhakaata iwi (tribe).
Nearby, the internationally renowned Paul Nache art gallery displays a collection of contemporary art that you would expect to find only in bigger city centres.
At certain (advertised) weekends of the year, the Gisborne City Vintage Railway provides excursions aboard the restored Wa165 steam train, the only remaining Wa class train. It was built in Dunedin's Hillside Workshops in 1897.
Alternatively, contact Cycle Gisborne to take their Captain Cook City Cultural Tour, cycle to the local vineyards, or enjoy a bespoke trail organised by this local firm.
Of course there are also plenty of cafés, restaurants and cellar doors, as well as historic sites. Whatever your cultural interest, Tairāwhiti Gisborne has something on offer, made special by the people of Tairāwhiti – first to see the light.