Roadtrip East Coast: Opotiki to Gisborne

Seaside drives

The East Coast of New Zealand is home to Gisborne, billed as the first city to see sunrise. This means that Gisborne developed into a natural tourist attraction and meca for new years celebrations where people come to party all night and watch the first sun of the new year.

We spent a few days in Opotiki staying at a beach house before embarking on a roadtrip south to Gisborne. From Opotiki we took a day trip up to Whakatane. You can read about that here (Coming soon)

Opotiki to Gisborne via State Highway 35 is 327km (203mi), Google says it takes just under 5 hours. Spoiler, 10 hours later we arrived in Gisborne. There is a quicker route via State Highway 2 but that skips the amazing drive though rolling countryside and amazing views. From Opotiki the drive heads east towards East Cape.

The waters off the east coast are really really blue, the photos almost look fake.

The water is really blue
The water is really blue

The drive is serene and along the way you’ll cross a few rivers. They look like this.

You'll cross a few rivers
You’ll cross a few rivers

The east coast drive is full of beaches.

Beaches are vastly empty
Beaches are vastly empty

The road often drops down to sea level and when it does, it offers plenty of scenic seaside picnic spots and fresh sea air.

Seaside drives
Seaside drives

The views are endless with more scenery than you can poke a stick at. However be prepared for some uncomfortable driving on country roads if you want some of the best views.

There is lots of rolling countryside
There is lots of rolling countryside

You'll get scenes like this

You’ll get scenes like this. Along the way is the Raukokore Anglican Church. Located in a picturesque spot, this photogenic church is quite famous.

An old church
An old church

A side trip into the sleepy town of Te Araroa will revel the oldest and largest pohutukawa tree in New Zealand at around 600 years old. It’s located in the school grounds next to the beach.

The oldest and largest pohutukawa tree in Te Araroa
The oldest and largest pohutukawa tree in Te Araroa

The drive to East Cape and the East Cape Lighthouse is a half hours detour off State Highway 35 on an unsealed road. The track to the lighthouse starts with a quick two minute stroll across a farm.

Horses on a farm below the lighthouse
Horses on a farm below the lighthouse

The path up to the lighthouse is between 700-800 steps depending on what guidebook you read. The path winds up the hill through native bush.

The walk up to the lighthouse
The walk up to the lighthouse

Halfway up the hill you’ll be rewarded with picturesque views like this.

New Zealand's East Coast
Picture perfect

Near the top you’ll of the path you’ll turn a corner and come out to the clearing with the lighthouse.

East Cape Lighthouse
East Cape Lighthouse

East Cape Lighthouse is the furthest point east on the New Zealand mainland, from there you head back south west towards Gisborne.

In the town of Ruatoria we noticed something strange, there are a lot of rubbish bins.

How many rubbish bins can you find in this picture
How many rubbish bins can you find in this picture

Captain James Cook spent time in Tokomaru Bay while he rested on his journey down the east coast. The bay was also used by passenger ship for shelter and in the 20th Century it was a whaling station. Today whales can be seen resting in the bay.

tokomaru bay wharf
Tokomaru Bay wharf

Tolaga Bay is shallow. To allow ships to berth, the wharf was made 600m long to reach deep water. This makes it New Zealand’s longest wharf. The small township has its own diftwood stick sign

Tolaga Bay
Tolaga Bay

Tolaga Bay Wharf
Tolaga Bay Wharf

There isn’t much between Tolaga bay and Gisborne and we just headed straight for the city.

Gisborne city centre
Gisborne city centre

As I said earlier, Gisborne has made a name for itself as the first city to see the sun. Outside of new years however, the city is quiet and there isn’t much to do. Most of the cities attractions are at the beach or a short drive inland.

Gisborne's coast
Gisborne’s coast

About an hours drive west of Gisborne is the world famous Rere Falls & Rere Rockslide.

ReRe Falls
Rere Falls

YouTube film maker DevinSuperTramp featured the Rere Rockslide in a video called the Worlds Most Epic Waterslide.

The drive from Opotiki to Gisborne is a wonderful drive full of beautiful countryside with amazing views and few people. There are many side trips that take you down to little beaches and coves with scenery that speaks for itself. State Highway 35 from Opotiki to Whakatane is sealed all the way. If you want to take one of the many side trips, the roads will narrow, windy and unsealed  travelling over hills and though valleys but the reward is worth it.

 

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