The drive along the Pa­cific Coast High­way is one of New Zealand’s most scenic, writes Stu­art Perry.

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The East­land sec­tion of the Pa­cific Coast High­way, State High­way 35, is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. There is some­thing spe­cial about the iso­la­tion, the some­times stark beauty and the in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters you meet along the way.

There is an amaz­ing con­trast be­tween the north and south sides of this sec­tion of the Pa­cific Coast High­way. The drive up the north side of State High­way 35 from Opotiki to the East Cape hugs the coast­line most of the way. The beaches and coves are starkly beau­ti­ful, mys­ti­cal and spooky with their black, al­most vol­canic look­ing rocky in­lets and na­tive bush grow­ing with wild aban­don. The coast has a high Maori pop­u­la­tion.

You’ll see many Marae with or­nately carved gate­ways; please re­mem­ber to show re­spect as these are pri­vate prop­erty. At Hicks Bay and Te Araroa you’re in one of the most iso­lated parts of New Zealand but as with all of the East­land re­gion, there are plenty of good ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions.

The lit­tle church at Raukokore, perched poignantly on the edge of the world, com­plete with wild horses graz­ing on the grass in front, is one of the most pho­tographed sights on the jour­ney.

When you reach the most east­ern point of New Zealand and start head­ing south to­wards Gisborne: The road takes you in­land and the land­scape trans­forms into lush rolling high coun­try farms.

A jour­ney Out East must in­clude a trip to the East Cape light­house to ex­pe­ri­ence the first sun­rise in the world. It takes about 30 min­utes to drive to the light­house from Te Araroa and there are about 700 “easy” steps to the top. The view is well worth the climb.

Perched above a sharp hair­pin bend in Tik­i­tiki, just north of Ru­a­to­ria, is the Tik­i­tiki church. Built in 1924 as a trib­ute to those who fell in WWI, it is a stun­ning ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when two cul­tures are mar­ried to­gether in har­mony. From the stained glass win­dows to the carved al­tar and pul­pit, you will strug­gle to find a more beau­ti­ful and true work of art any­where.

Leg­end has it that Te Ika a Maui (the North Is­land) was fished up by the Maori god Maui from his ca­noe (the South Is­land) and that Mt Hiku­rangi, just in­land from Ru­a­to­ria, is the fi­nal rest­ing place of his ca­noe. As such Mt Hiku­rangi holds great spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance to Maori, par­tic­u­larly to the lo­cal peo­ple of the Ngati Porou tribe. A plateau near the sum­mit of the moun­tain hosts a num­ber of stun­ning carv­ings that de­pict the leg­ends of Maui.

Thirty min­utes south of Ru­a­to­ria is the char­ac­ter coastal set­tle­ment of Toko­maru, the lo­ca­tion of an­other of the coasts his­toric wharfs as well as a num­ber of his­toric places and a beau­ti­ful long sweep­ing beach. A ma­jor re­de­vel­op­ment and restora­tion project is planned for the wharf.

Just 40 min­utes north of Gisborne, To­laga Bay is a thriv­ing lit­tle coastal town with a huge heart. The lo­cals’ pride and joy is the To­laga Bay Wharf, which has been lov­ingly re­stored in an epic com­mu­nity project that saw this tiny town­ship raise mil­lions of dol­lars to save their wharf. At 660 me­tres long, the con­crete struc­ture is the long­est of its kind in the south­ern hemi­sphere.

A high­light of the jour­ney around the coast is the Eco Marine Tour at Dive Tat­apouri, where the stars of the show are the gen­tle and grace­ful st­ingrays, some of which are as big as a din­ing ta­ble. As you wan­der out on to the reef in fish­er­man’s waders and stand in line, your guide will tap on a plas­tic bucket to bring the sea life to you. Within a sur­pris­ingly short amount of time, the sea will be alive as reef dwellers gath­ered around for the feed. Dive Tat­apouri is one of only a few places in the world ( and the only place in New Zealand) that you can feed st­ingrays in the wild, al­though you have to be care­ful the gi­ant king­fish don’t get your of­fer­ings first. You can look, touch or feed the st­ingrays: You can even snorkel with them if you wish!


Opotiki is a great place to slow down and get into the mood of East­land. There are beaches to wan­der, forests to ex­plore

and rivers to ride. This is also the start­ing point for the Motu Trail, one of Cy­cle NZ’s great rides. Re­flect­ing the area’s im­por­tance for Maori, the main street of Opotiki is dec­o­rated with the works of mas­ter carvers. To get a picture of lo­cal his­tory, take a guided walk with a Maori his­to­rian or visit the mu­seum. Opotiki was one of the first places set­tled by Maori; it was also a cen­tre for the Hauhau re­li­gion. In sum­mer, the town fills up with hol­i­day mak­ers who come to en­joy the surf beaches, fish­ing and river ac­tiv­i­ties.

The nat­u­ral beauty of Out East is hard to sur­pass, and it’s the beaches that make this most ev­i­dent from the north­ern gate­way to the East­land re­gion that is Opotiki to south­ern gate­way of Wairoa with its nat­u­ral na­tive bush.

Gisborne en­joys some of the best weather in New Zealand, thanks to the high, hot sun­shine hours, fer­tile clay loam soils and some of the most ac­claimed wine­mak­ers in the coun­try. Gisborne is fa­mous for pro­duc­ing ex­cep­tional Chardon­nay, Gewürz­traminer, Viog­nier, Pinot Gris, Mer­lot and Mal­bec.

Rich in his­tory, Gisborne has played a cru­cial role in the story of Aotearoa/ New Zealand’s ori­gins ( it is where Pakeha and Maori first met) but re­ally, Gizzy – as it’s fondly known – is all about beaches and surfing. There are many stun­ning beaches to choose from, a fact that is well known within the surfing fra­ter­nity, with surfers from around the world vis­it­ing Gisborne to make the most of the leg­endary waves.

Im­age: Sun­set at Mako­rori

Im­age: The To­laga Bay wharf

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