The drive around East Cape is one of our favourite road trips. There are beaches galore, horses are everywhere, and Maori culture is waiting to be discovered at St Mary's Church in Tikitiki and by meeting the laid back locals.
Pick up a copy of Pacific Coast Highway Guide from an i-SITE. Fill up with petrol and stock up on essentials before you hit the road.
We usually travel from *Gisborne - Opotiki over three days. Although kilometre wise the journey isn't that long (334kms), the road is winding in places and it can be slow going as there are not a lot of passing lanes. (*Gisborne - our 'go to place' for sunshine shares what makes the city a favourite destination for us.)
First stop Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve, 16km east of Gisborne. We paddled around the reserve looking for marine life with a little success. Staff from Dive Tatapouri came to tell us not to be surprised if stingrays came our way as they had just been fed. The advice was not to panic, it was advice we thought we might not be able to follow so we left the water. If you're keen to interact with stingrays Dive Tatapouri run snorkelling with stingray tours. You can stay nearby at Tatapouri Motor Camp.
Second stop Waihau Beach (also known as Loisels Beach), a 6km detour from SH 35 and 40kms from Gisborne. You can freedom camp at the beach or stay in Tidal Waters Log Lodge overlooking the water. The 6km road is winding and narrow in places and some sections are unsealed, the beach is the end of the road.
Tolaga Bay is 55kms from Gisborne and one of the larger settlements on the Cape. You can freedom camp close to the main street at Blue Waters, there's a golf course next door. Tolaga Bay Holiday Park (3km from the main street) is next to NZ's longest pier, a popular fishing spot. Cooks Cove Walkway is still on our 'to do' list. If you're in the area around Christmas/New Year a unique event is the Kaiaua Beach Horse Races (KBHR on Facebook). If you don't make it to the races you'll still see plenty of horses as they're a popular way to travel in these parts.
Anaura Bay requires a 7km detour from State Highway 35 but it's worth it, the photograph speaks for itself. The old school has been converted to Anaura Bay Family Motor Camp, it's beach front and has 94 sites, it was fully booked when we visited. We didn't check it out but there is a DOC camping ground in the area, your own chemical toilet is required. If you're looking for the comforts of home see Rangimarie Beachstay.
Tokomaru Bay is 91km from Gisborne and it's one of our favourite spots on the Cape. Te Puka Tavern is opposite the water, one side of the pub is set up as a cafe, the other side is a bar and serves "kai (food) well worth a try" - that was a focaccia steak sandwich and chips for us. The tavern has modern accommodation units and according to the website, powered parking for self contained motor homes. The pub is HQ for hunting and fishing so you may find a fishing or pig hunting competition underway.
We've camped at Mayfair Store Camping and Cabins and found it rough and ready, it needed a makeover (it may have improved so feel free to let us know if it has). It's cheap though at $12.50 pp, but note that you can't drink the water, you may prefer freedom camping options. We had hoped to stay at The Ruins Accommodation at the old freezing works, unfortunately both cabins were booked. Another accommodation option is Te Poutapeta - The Post Office B&B.
Tokomaru Bay has a fish and chip shop, Four Square and Ana's Kai cart. A lot of the buildings on the main street are left over from a time when the settlement was more prosperous.
Tokomaru Bay Freezing Works was built in 1911, when it opened it handled 500 sheep and 60 cattle a day. A tram way connected the NZ Shipping Company Store, the works and the wharf. Steady employment flowed from the freezing works and the settlement prospered. Falling stock numbers, an improvement in road transport, and effects of WWII on the economy led to the closure of the works in 1953. Many of the buildings remain, along with the wharf, although they have all seen better days, photographers may appreciate the atmosphere.
Ruatoria is 128km from Gisborne. We stopped at Sharon's Village Cafe & Crafts for an ice cream and to get directions to Mangahanea Marae. In June 1987 the reggae band Herbs released the 'Sensitive To A Smile' album on the marae. The video Sensitive To A Smile includes footage taken at the album release and around the East Cape. The song is a Kiwi classic to us and we wanted to see the marae where the real and beautiful video recording was made.
Around 20km from Ruatoria is Tikitiki and St Mary's Church. The church exterior is European in design but the interior incorporates Maori carvings, tukutuku panels and kowhaiwhai (painted rafter patterns). The church is a memorial to Ngati Porou soldiers who died in World War I. 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 NZ 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.
Te Araroa (161km from Opotiki, 174km from Gisborne) is the next stop and you can fill up with petrol and diesel, pick up supplies from the Four Square and have something to eat at Kai Kart Cafe & Takeaways (not a kart but a cafe with an outdoor area). Nearby is a children's playground, possibly the only playground in NZ with the sign below.
On the beach front is reputedly New Zealand's largest pohutukawa tree, we're yet to see it flowering. Around a 22km drive on mainly unsealed road will get you to the East Cape Lighthouse. We climbed the 700 or so steps to the lighthouse a few years back, it's worth the walk. I doubt we'll ever get there to see the sun rise, maybe you will.
Next stop Waihau Bay (107km from Opotiki and 227km from Gisborne). Waihau Bay was one of the busiest settlements on our most recent trip around East Cape and The Waihau Bay Lodge was packed with diners. There's a general store that sells petrol, Waihau Bay Holiday Park, Motel & Cafe and a few other accommodation options, the settlement is one of the more affluent areas on the East Cape. If some of the surroundings look familiar it is because the movie Boy was filmed in the area.
Fishing is an extremely popular pastime in Waihau Bay and you will notice unusually high garage doors on many of the properties, they're high so they can accommodate boats. One garage displays its owner's love of fishing on the exterior.
Around 8kms from Waihau Bay you'll find the much photographed Raukokore Anglican Church sitting by the sea. You're welcome to enter the church by donation. If you're looking around the grounds be aware that penguins nest beneath the church, it's more likely you'll smell them than see them though. Nearby is the Raukokore Marae with its carved gateway honouring New Zealand soldiers.
Whanarua Bay is 88km from Opotiki and 246km from Gisborne, it's home to Pacific Coast Macadamias. We called in to sample some of the macadamia products. You can walk through the macadamia trees and there's a good view from the garden cafe to the bay below.
Te Kaha (70km from Opotiki, 264km from Gisborne) is a popular summer holiday spot. We spent a night in a motel at Te Kaha Holiday Park, there's a cafe and general store onsite. The motel was just ok, we much prefer camping at the holiday park but the weather didn't allow it.
Te Kaha Beach Resort overlooks the water, reviewers have pretty much only good things to say about it. The bar at the resort remains very much the domain of locals, there's often reggae playing on the juke box, games of pool in progress and handles of beer all round. The outdoor balcony is the place to look out over the water and watch people gather kaimoana (sea food). Legend has it you can catch marlin from the balcony.
Update: The photos below were taken in December 2014 when we travelled from Rotorua to Waihau Bay (235km) in much better weather conditions. The photo below left is Omaio Marae (56km from Opotiki), on the right, the impressive Whakairo Gateway to Torere School (24km from Opotiki).
The photo below left is the view toward Opotiki from outside Opape Marae (17km from Opotiki). Below right is Tutamure Meeting House in Omarumutu, 12.8km from Opotiki.
A good lunch spot in Opotiki is Two Fish Cafe at 104 Church Street. Two Fish have a comments wall and according to Al Brown (popular Kiwi chef), Two Fish serve the best food and coffee in town, we're not going to argue with that. At 106 Church Street is Tangata Whenua, a shop / gallery selling Maori themed gifts and souvenirs.
If you're travelling with children onboard or anyone who wants a dip, the Opotiki Wharf has a rope swing, and a slide that will deliver the willing into the water. For more about Opotiki visit www.opotikinz.co.nz.
Comments to date: 14. Page 1 of 1.
Thanks for the great information. I'm planning a motorhome trip around NZ (this'll be the fourth!) from the UK for Nov-Dec 2019, from the UK, and wondered about the East Cape route Rotorua to Gisborne. It's in the plan now!
I loved Tokomaru bay and cannot wait to return and to do the rest of the trip.
Thanks for all the work you've put into this site. Really helpful to get your spin on the East Cape region. Cheers.
Awesome blog, this pretty much covers it!
Thanks for the great tips! We're excited about our adventure including the Lake Waikaremoana Great walk.
Hi! Thanks for the great information. My family and I are heading from Gisborne up to Opotiki this Summer. Looking forward to exploring. Thanks again, Monique
Hi. We've been reading your blog with keen interest as we would like to venture along the coast. Are there any places that would accommodate pets anywhere between Opotiki and Gisborne?
Thanks Liz, I really enjoyed putting this page together, and it's neat to read that people have found what I write useful.
we have just returned from a great drive around the East Cape, we had printed off your guide and it was most helpful! thanks for all the work you put into, truely appreciated.
You're welcome Kate, and thank you for the lovely comments. I'm glad you got to see the church at Tikitiki, it's a special place.
Thank you so much for this great and informative blog. I printed it out and used it as a guide and it was fantastic. We would have missed the beautiful Maori church at Tikitiki if not for your info.
Thanks, the scenery is stunning and I'm sure you'll love the trip, being in a bus is the perfect way to do it too as there are some beautiful camping spots. Happy travels to you.
great review, glad I found it. We are leaving today in our Bus for a trip around the Cape, we are comming in from the Northern end. Start and end is Taumarunui