If you enjoy sheer natural beauty, magnificent scenery, and places of historical significance, the East Cape is unparalleled and the place for you. You will encounter friendly local people and experience a way of life that has changed little over recent years.
It is such a spectacularly beautiful region with a great relaxed lifestyle, you are sure to be impressed as you explore the region.
State Highway 35 (SH 35) from Opotiki to Gisborne, is one of the world’s greatest, and least known, coastal road trips. The drive is 334 kilometres long, and there is no right or wrong way you need to drive it but to give it justice you should take a few days.
We will give you the highlights of the region which should make the planning of your road trip a bit easier. Whakatane is a great spot, so we recommend staying a few days here to explore, before leaving to make your way around the coast.
Leaving Whakatane, travelling east, you will first pass through the beach town of Ohope, which is the first highlight to point out. Voted New Zealand's most loved beach, it offers the walker, bather, surfer, or fisherman 11 kilometres of uninterrupted, white, Pacific beach sand.
Opotiki, the gateway to the East Cape, is a quaint coastal town with a population of around 9,000. It is rich in colonial and Maori history and the largest town before reaching Gisborne at the other end. Opotiki offers holiday makers and locals superb beaches for fishing, surfing or simply relaxing with nearby forests to explore and rivers to enjoy.
Te Kaha is another popular summer holiday spot and we recommend the Te Kaha Beach Hotel for a refreshment stop. The outdoor balcony is the place to look out over the water and watch people gather kaimoana. Legend has it you can catch marlin from the balcony.
Around 8 kilometres from Waihau Bay, you will find the much photographed Raukokore Anglican Church sitting by the sea. You're welcome to enter the church by donation. If you are looking around the grounds, be aware that penguins nest beneath the church, although it is much more likely that you'll smell them than see them!
Te Araroa is a tiny coastal settlement with a big claim to fame. Here, on the beach front you will find New Zealand's oldest and largest Pohutukawa tree (reputedly). From here, it is around a 22 kilometre drive on mainly unsealed road to get you to the East Cape Lighthouse. It is a climb of 700 or so steps to the lighthouse and it is well worth the walk!
Tikitiki is the home to the beautiful St Mary's Church. The church exterior is European in design, but the interior incorporates Maori carvings, tukutuku (woven) panels and kowhaiwhai (painted rafter patterns). The church is a memorial to local Maori soldiers who served in World War I and World War II.There is also a memorial to Sir Apirana Ngata, he was born nearby in Te Araroa and became the first Maori to graduate from a New Zealand university. Throughout his career, he worked to raise the living standards of Maori people, he encouraged the revival of Maori traditions and was instrumental in the interior design of St Mary's Church. Entry by gold coin donation.
Tokomaru Bay is a lot of people’s favorite spot on the Cape. There are signs of a busier past with remaining facades of businesses and banks signalling a history before people were pulled away by the bright lights of Gisborne and beyond. The scenery and peace remain with a highlight being the lively and historical Te Puka Tavern. Right on the Pacific, this is one of the last remnants of former years and has operated since 1873.
Tolaga Bay is the largest village on the East Coast. Here, the one thing you must do is walk the 660 meters out along the Tolaga Bay wharf, just south of the town. Built in 1929, it is New Zealand’s longest wharf and the perfect place to take some great photos.
Dive Tatapouri, located 15 minutes from Gisborne, offers a world famous interactive marine experience with stingrays and other sea life. This truly amazing experience provides insightful information about the local stingrays while hand feeding them. You are kitted out in waders, so you don’t need to worry about getting wet!
Gisborne is a picturesque city with beautiful beaches. Allow some time to visit some of the excellent local wineries and the National Arboretum of New Zealand. Looking back to the arrival of great Polynesian voyagers, Captain James Cook’s landing and the very first encounter between Māori and European, Gisborne is a significant region steeped in New Zealand culture and history.