Driving The East Cape (Gisborne - Opotiki, State Highway 35, distance - 334km)

Web update May 2020

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.

Tino Rangatiratanga Bus, East Cape
Forgotten cottage, East Cape

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.)

Tatapouri By The Sea

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. An accommodation option is 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.

Waihau Beach
Waihau Beach
Tidal Waters Log lodge

Tolaga Bay is 55kms from Gisborne and one of the larger settlements on the Cape. 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 Tolaga Bay Beach Races (for more information see Kaiaua Beach Horse Races via thecuriouskiwi/blog). 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.

Tolaga Bay pier
Kaiaua Beach Races

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 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.

Anaura Bay

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.

Horse riding, Tokomaru Bay
Te Puka Tavern
Te Puka Tavern Accommodation

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, 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.

The Ruins
Freedom Camping, Tokomaru Bay
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.

Abandoned Bank of New South Wales
Fishing, Tokomaru Bay
Meeting House, Tokomaru Bay

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 freezing 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.

NZ Shipping Company
Old Mural, Tokomaru Bay
Abandoned Car, Freezing Works

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.

Mangahanea Marae
One of the locals

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 (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 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.

Tikitiki Church entrance
Tukutuku panels inside Tikitiki Church
Tikitiki Church

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.

Te Araroa Pohutukawa
No Horses in Playground
East Cape Lighthouse

On the beachfront 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 next door to the lodge that also sells petrol, and you can also stay at Waihau Bay Holiday Park, Motel & Cafe. Waihau Bay is one of the more affluent settlements on the East Cape, and the movie Boy was filmed in the area.

Waihau Bay
Waihau Bay Lodge

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.

Waihau Bay
Waihau Bay Holiday Park
Stollies Guest House, Waihau Bay

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.

Raukokore Church cemetery
Raukokore Marae - We Shall Remember Them

Pacific Coast Macadamias

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. (Closed winter, visit website to confirm).

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 Hotel
Te Kaha Hotel
Te Kaha Marae

Te Kaha Beach Hotel overlooks the water, the bar at the hotel 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.

Ten minutes drive from Te Kaha you can see the Omaio Marae (56km from Opotiki), and further on the impressive Whakairo Gateway to Torere School (24km from Opotiki).

Omaio Marae
Whakairo Gateway to Torere School

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.

View from Opape Marae
Tutamure Meeting House, Omarumutu

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.

Two Fish Cafe
Two Fish Cafe
Tangata Whenua Gallery

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

Opotiki Wharf Slide & Swing

If you're looking for another beach stay before you return to the city, Ohope Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is 40km from Opotiki. (For more information see Family Friendly Ohope Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park via thecuriouskiwi/blog).

Ohope Top10 Water Slide
Ohope Top10 Kitchen Cabin
Ohope Top10 Jumping Pillow

Comments to date: 28. Page 1 of 1.


Great blog post - very informative!
We are planning to do the East cape over the Xmas/NYs holiday and will be visiting many of these spots. Travelling in a campervan, would you recommend booking accommodation/stops in advance or is it ok to just stop at places on the go or even freedom camp? Thanks!

Admin:  Hi there Given the borders are closed & NZ is where it's at for summer holidays I'd recommend looking at some camping locations in advance and if they're commercial, call them or email to see if they have sites over Xmas/New Year. I know there has been some changes to freedom camping locations on the East Cape, the Gisborne District Council website has up-to-date info on freedom camping in the area. It's first come first served for freedom campers so it's anyone's guess how busy the camps will be, but having a campervan you've at least got more options than travelling by car. Happy and safe travels.

Claire Montford

Loved all the comments here. Is this road sealed all the way and is it suitable to tow a small caravan on. Thanks

Admin:  Hi Claire, yes, State Highway 35 is all sealed, you will find some unsealed roads if you take detours off the highway, eg. to East Cape Lighthouse. Towing a caravan should be fine, have a good trip.


Thank you for this blog. It is really helpful as a mum travelling with teenagers in the next week. Petrol wise what would you say you it costs.

Admin:  Sorry I missed this comment and question, you will have done the trip by now and I hope you all enjoyed it.


Thank you so so much for putting together all the information. I am working remotely while travelling and just wondering how the phone signal is around the area? Thinking about staying at Hicks bay but wondering if Waihou bay may be better?

Admin:  Hey Tim, you're welcome. I take every opportunity I get to disconnect so I can't comment personally about phone coverage but if you Google your provider you'll be able to find a map which shows coverage. Vodafone looks to have good coverage in Waihau Bay but there is coverage in Hicks Bay too. Happy trails.

Tony Harrington

Hi there, did you swim at the river in Opotiki?

Admin:  Hi, No we didn't, but like any waterway in NZ now I guess it pays to check for signs to make sure water quality is safe for swimming.


What about traveling in October?

Admin:  We're thinking about doing the trip again in October ourselves, so sure, the scenery is beautiful whatever the time of year.

Scott Maka

Great info, thanks mate - am looking at doing this trip over three days this Xmas and this is exactly what I was looking for.

Admin:  Cheers, pleased to help.

Pauline McKinlay

Is it ridiculous to do this trip Whakatane to Gisborne in one day? In the middle of July?

Admin:  I ran this question by Mike too and we say not ridiculous, it's doable, set off early to make the most of daylight hours and if you can share the driving that's a bonus. Sure it will be a long day but if you've only got a day you could do it.


We want to do in August in a motor home. Your thoughts?

Admin:  Thoughts - go for it. We haven't driven the road in winter though so can't comment on conditions at that time, but snow is rare in the Gisborne district, and hasn't fallen in coastal areas. I do know Pacific Coast Macadamias in Whanarua Bay is closed for winter and other businesses may be too.

Diana Levy

Hi there, expat visiting from Oz. Are there any hot springs at Te Puia open to the public? cheers, Diana

Admin:  Hi - cool Kiwi road trip to do. I don't know personally about the hot pools but I've read varied reviews online. You could contact Te Puia Springs Hotel to ask about opening hours, cost etc.


Hi there. Some friends and I are planning on taking our motorbikes around the east Cape and I was wondering if I could get your feedback on the conditions of the road? Are there any parts throughout the trip where there is only gravel road?

Admin:  Hi Wiremu I am sorry for the late reply to your question. There are no gravel roads around the main East Cape route (State Highway 35) but if you veer off you may find gravel roads - the road to the East Cape Lighthouse is gravel. I'm not a motorcyclist so can't comment specifically about the route but I imagine you will have been to a bikers forum to get some feedback as well. Happy trails.


We are in the middle of our east coast trip in our campervan. I love reading your itinerary. Out of curiosity, how long did you do your trip over?

Admin:  Hi Siobhan, we've done the whole trip and parts of it a few times as Gisborne is a summer holiday destination for us and we usually drive the route from there. Typically we'd spend two nights around the Cape, maybe another if the weather was good. (If we had a campervan though I'd be taking my time - enjoy your trip).


Very informative as an expat now living in Oz I want to do the East Cape next time I go home. So the information will be very helpful.

Admin:  Nice one, I reckon it's a very Kiwi road trip to do so you'll definitely feel like you're back home.

Kerrie Hollman

Thanks for the great info you have provided. We are hoping to visit soon and were wondering just what was around the east cape area for us to enjoy. All my questions have been answered.

Admin:  Cheers Kerrie, happy and safe travels, I hope it's a memorable trip.


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!

Admin:  Excellent, a motorhome is a great way to travel the East Cape too. There are plenty of scenic spots to pull over and have a cup of tea and soak in the area. I plan to do the trip again, hopefully by the end of this year or beginning of next, so I should have some new information added by the time your fourth trip rolls around.

Carole knight

I loved Tokomaru bay and cannot wait to return and to do the rest of the trip.
I especially enjoy the Maori culture

Admin:  Hi Carole, I like the cultural aspect also, Maori culture is a big part of life on the East Cape and it's awesome.


Thanks for all the work you've put into this site. Really helpful to get your spin on the East Cape region. Cheers.

Admin:  Hi Blu You're welcome, and thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated.


Awesome blog, this pretty much covers it!

Admin:  Thanks Samantha.

monique Radford

Thanks for the great tips! We're excited about our adventure including the Lake Waikaremoana Great walk.

Admin:  Hi Monique You're most welcome, the Lake Waikaremoana walk sounds like an excellent addition to the trip. Happy and safe travels, Rachael


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

Admin:  Hi Monique You're most welcome, the East Cape is a beautiful piece of New Zealand and your family will love it I'm sure. Best wishes for a safe and memorable journey, Rachael


Hi Eddie
If you plan to travel the East Cape outside of peak time (December/January) I would suggest phoning or emailing places you might want to stay at and asking them about taking your pet. If it's a quiet time of year booking wise you may find they can accommodate you.

Eddie Petersen

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.

Liz Fellerhoff

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.

colin manion

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

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