While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Eastland – tucked away off the main tourist routes – is often neglected on vacation itineraries. This region, though, is a treasure trove of natural beauty and early New Zealand history.
It’s well worth a visit if you’re looking for a relaxing place with a bit of culture and lots of fresh air and sunshine. The landscape is a mixture of winding coastal roads, unspoiled beaches, small villages and acres of vineyards. Life moves at a slower pace in Eastland, and so will you. There’s no need to rush because no one else does.
Getting to Gisborne
The focus of any trip to Eastland will be its port town. Gisborne, NZ offers many things to do in the the way of beaches, wineries, restaurants, cafés and historic sites – without the hustle and bustle of bigger cities. First things first though, you have to get there, and that’s half the fun.
Heading north to south from Opotiki you have a choice of two routes. The quickest is State Highway Two through Waioeka Gorge.
Alternatively, you can take the scenic route, Pacific Coast Highway (SH35), which is probably best driven over two days with a stop off at Hicks Bay.
This route features a mix of winding coastal road and rugged forest. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way including:
- East Cape lighthouse;
- New Zealand’s largest Pohutakawa Tree in Te Araroa;
- St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki;
- New Zealand’s longest wharf at Tolaga Bay – and
- Historic Cooks Cove.
Things to Do
Once you’ve reached Gisborne, kick back after the journey and start relaxing on your vacation by taking a swim in one of its gorgeous white sand beaches. Waikanae is right on the city’s doorstep while Wainui is just a short drive away.
If you’re keen to learn more about New Zealand’s early history, you’ve come to the right place. Captain James Cook’s first step onto New Zealand soil took place at Kaiti Beach – now one of Gisborne’s city beaches – in 1769.
Take a wander to Titirangi Domain, bordering Kaiti Beach. Here you’ll find information about the official landing, a Captain Cook memorial and Kaiti Hill lookout, which is connected with the first Māori landings here a thousand years ago.
From here, it’s just a short stroll to the picturesque waterfront, for great cafés and restaurants. Or head to the Gisborne Wine Company at Shed 3 on the Esplanade where you can sample the Chardonnay the area is famous for, as well as try local cheeses & order gourmet food platters.
If your travels take you to Gisborne in late October, you’ll want to check out FEAST Gisborne, a food and wine festival which is held at the Waiohika Estate.
For experiencing more about Māori culture, you’ll find an array of cultural fixes in Gisborne. The performing arts group Waka Toa delivers an entertaining experience with drama, music and humor. Or head for the Tairawhiti Museum for Māori artifacts and Kahuhura Gallery for indigenous art.
Out of Gisborne there are many sites sacred to the Māori, including Mount Hikurangi further up the coast and inland from Ruatoria. It’s a popular place to visit for its Māori millennium carvings and spectacular sunrise view from the summit. Hiking, guided tours, or use of a mountain hut need to be arranged through Te Runanga o Ngati Porou, the local Māori people.
For a pleasant day trip, head west to the Eastwoodhill Arboretum, one of Gisborne’s most popular things to do. The arboretum is the life’s work of the late Douglas Cook, a New Zealander who started importing and planting a collection of Northern Hemisphere trees in 1910.
Now with over 333 acres, it is considered the largest arboretum in the Southern Hemisphere. Over 4,000 trees, shrubs and climbers can be found here, some of which are endangered.
The arboretum is at its most stunning in autumn, when the leaves of the trees change color – especially the maples, liquidambars and oaks). Spring and summer are also colorful times to visit the many walking trails and picnic spots. You’ll find guided tours, a café and accommodation.
A cycle trail leads to impressive Rere Falls – you can walk behind the falls! – and the nearby Rere Rockslide, a natural rock-slide popular with the locals for sliding down in a wetsuit or rubber tube.
Even if rock-sliding in a wetsuit isn’t quite your thing, you’ll find plenty of things to do in and around Gisborne. Whether it’s walking among a peaceful arbor of trees, relaxing on a beach, visiting historic sites or sampling brilliant Chardonnay, Gisborne and Eastland will win you over with their laid-back Kiwi charm.