With the pounding surf of the Pacific one side, and a rich history of settlements, inns and marae on the other, the journey around Tairāwhiti’s East Cape is one of the world’s great drives. And Tairāwhiti Gisborne is where we start.



We descend into Gisborne aboard Air New Zealand on a warm spring morning, the fields golden with an early sun, and collect our rental car. Today it’s all about Gisborne and its environs.

The best way to start is with good coffee and a hearty brunch at The Works in the historic waterfront area.

Kaiti Hill (Titirangi) is nearby, host to a statue of Captain James Cook and also overlooking the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve where the Cook Memorial stands marking the place that Europeans first met Māori on land - the beginning of our bicultural nation.


We also have a bird’s eye view of the town and its three rivers (Waimata, Taruheru and the Turanganui) and spy people taking the historic walk around the harbour’s edge to the Tairāwhiti Museum. The museum is an excellent place to learn about Māori and Pākehā culture, as well as those landmark exchanges in 1769.

Hunger stirs so we’re off to Gisborne Wine Centre to enjoy a gourmet lunch, before a 40 minute drive for a swim at the gorgeous Rere Falls


Refreshed, we're back into town to visit the world-renowned Paul Nache Gallery to see some amazing modern art. 

And then it’s home to The Blackhousethe luxurious lodge set above Wainui Beach, just 10 minutes from downtown.

We’re feeling indulgent so have ordered a local chef to cook fresh crayfish for us and we settle into our Gisborne dessert wine while watching the sunset. 



We wake to a breathtaking sunrise and could linger over breakfast but we’re explorers, so it’s time to head out on our epic road trip. Past the surfers and rolling waves of the Makorori Beach, we first stop at Tolaga Bay with its famous wharf and Cook’s Cove Walkway. Before we embark on the two-hour walk, Anne McGuire from Tipuna Tours shares Cook’s story, this time from a Māori perspective.


We’ve earned lunch and a pint, so we stop for an hour at  the 136-year-old Tolaga Bay Inn and then head north to Tokomaru Bay to take photos of the classic old shops and historic wharf.

At Ruatoria we have afternoon tea at the Hāti Nāti Café, famous for its pies and good coffee. And then on to Tikitiki to visit St Mary’s Church, with its stunning Māori carved panels. A memorial shows that Sir Āpirana Ngāta was born near here.


We drive on, through Te Araroa, with its ‘Children's playground. No horses’ sign and call in to the East Cape Manuka Café where we do a short tour of the manuka oil extraction plant and buy some face cream and honey.

Our final destination is Hicks Bay Motel for dinner and an early night because tomorrow we’re planning to greet the sunrise from the most easterly point of Aotearoa!



We rise early and drive the 22km gravel road to the iconic East Cape Lighthouse. Luckily we’re fit, so we scale the 700-odd steps up to the lighthouse in time to welcome the dawn.

We celebrate with a toasty Spade Oak bubbly and make promises we know we’ll never keep.        


Then we’re back driving, taking the windy road past the romantically named Cape Runaway to stop for lunch at the picturesque Waihau Bay Lodge. We could stay and take
a fishing charter but we’ve got to wind things up so we cruise along the gorgeous coastal route to Opotiki and reward ourselves with an afternoon coffee at Two Fish Café, recommended by Al Brown. What a drive!

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