Inspiring ideas for New Zealand vacation planning - East Cape, North Island. PART 1

Since New Zealand re-opened their borders to US visitors, starting May 2022, interest in the desination has returned to pre-Covid numbers. In this series of blogs, we look beyond the iconic favorite destinations, to lesser known places that are often the highlight of a New Zealand vacation. Today, East Cape, North Island.

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East Cape is a sparsely populated and remote region of New Zealand that is yet to be discovered in large numbers by overseas visitors. It's dominated by a coastline with incredible beaches and inland, spectacular mountains, rivers, forests and farmlands. Our colleague Jane and her husband Steve visited this week and they will give us their feedback about some of their favorite experiences.

They set off from Tauranga (see top right of the map), following the coast south to Whakatane from where they entered the East Cape region, driving north-east towards Cape Runaway. Then down the coast to the town of Gisborne where they will finish, after 3-days on the road. 

This is a region the Maori people call Te Tairāwhiti - the pakeha (European) call it East Cape, or Eastland. When you look at the route from Tauranga to Gisborne, you will see there's coastline, lots of coastline, including some of the most beautiful beaches to be found in all of the country.

This is also a region rich in Maori culture and history. At 'Young Nicks Head' you can see the place where in October 1769 Captain Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil. Nicholas Young, the surgeon's boy, was first to see land and Cook recognized this by naming the location where they landed - "Young Nicks Head".

There's no luxury hotel chains here, but we have some charming B&B and farmstay options that more than compensate with the warmth of their welcome. Sometime phone reception can get a bit scratchy and hi-speed internet connections are not always available. 

Over the next few days we'll add to this blog as we record the feedback from Jane and Steve.

Update May 29.

Over the years, Jane & Steve have traveled extensively throughout New Zealand, so it takes something really special to impress them. That's why we sat up and took notice when Jane checked in with us today with these words - 

"I must say I think this region is NZ’s best kept secret. Steve and I are blown away by the golden beaches and Gisborne is not what I was expecting. They have some great things to do here which are different and not too commercial. It's how New Zealand was 30 years ago".

A highlight of their week was a meeting with the local stingray, where after a thorough briefing from their guide they entered the water and waited for the stingray to swim up to them. It was possible to feed and even touch these beautiful creatures of the sea.

For a full report and video from New Zealand newspaper "Stuff", click here. 

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Inquisitive stingray.

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Followed by a cycle tour of local wineries.

I should have suggested that they also visit the Newstead Lane Estate Winery in Gisborne (I forgot) This is the winery where my niece Mahala and her husband George grow grapes to produce chardonnay (for which Gisborne is most well known) and albarino, both for the award winning Villa Maria brand. 

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Newstead Lane Estate, Gisborne.

The next day, always on the lookout for new experiences, Jane and Steve found Railbike Adventures, a company that has used the abandoned local rail network to provide an epic adventure, using tandem cycles to travel through native forest, a 1-mile tunnel, and eventually up to a secluded ocean-lookout with outstanding views. "Allow 4-hours" suggests Jane, "You'll enjoy every minute of it!"

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Tandem rail-cycling, Gisborne.

Image Gallery - East Cape Scenes.

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The approach to the sacred mountain of Mt Hikurangi.

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Deep in the East Cape Heartland, a cycling paradise. Photo 'CyclingTips.

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The Motu Trails. Photo 'CyclingTips'

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On the road again.

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The amazing Anaura Bay.

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The longest pier in New Zealand at Tolaga Bay. Built for export of wool and livestock.

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Hicks Bay, with New Zealand's Christmas tree, the pōhutukawa, in full flower.

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Wainui, East Cape.

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Gisborne, the biggest town in the region.

If you would like East Cape included in your New Zealand visit, get us to create an itinerary that includes 2 or 3 days in the region.

It's the place where iconic New Zealand movies, 'Boy" and 'Whale Rider' were made. The background to both (available on Amazon) give very nice insights to the east coast of the North Island and what Jane describes as "New Zealand as it was 30-years ago" 


Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • May 27, 2020