Amidst driv­ing rain, boom­ing thun­der and forked light­ning, I headed through the Waioeka Gorge, pass­ing by a bare­footed sur­vival­ist fam­ily of four, all decked out in iden­ti­cal cam­ou­flage fleece be­fore slow­ing for yet another bout of road works. I am yet to fathom ex­actly why the pow­ers that be con­tin­u­ally think it is log­i­cal to dig up main roads dur­ing the peak hol­i­day sea­son. Listed as New Zealand’s long­est scenic re­serve, the gorge of­fers an eco-friendly smor­gas­bord of sign­posted sites to ei­ther camp or park up the mo­tor home overnight. The re­serve at Man­ganuku looked es­pe­cially invit­ing. The gorge fea­tures nu­mer­ous rest ar­eas, com­pris­ing of river stone built fea­tures, benches, ta­bles and in­for­ma­tion boards. With mist ris­ing off the ranges, the gorge pro­jected an al­most mys­ti­cal qual­ity. Cell phone cov­er­age was non-ex­is­tent as were ra­dio fre­quen­cies for the best part of an hour. I won­dered how long the driv­ers of sev­eral bro­ken down ve­hi­cles that I passed, had waited be­fore be­ing re­con­nected with civil­i­sa­tion.

Rock falls are a com­mon oc­cur­rence in this neck of the woods and sev­eral treach­er­ous sec­tions were heav­ily for­ti­fied by con­crete bar­ri­ers and sturdy, steel cage-like fenc­ing. I spied an enor­mous tree trunk dan­gling pre­car­i­ously be­tween two stumps on a steep cliff-like verge, re­cently cleared by a forestry gang.

The tiny fron­tier like set­tle­ment of Matawai is sit­u­ated pretty much half­way be­tween Opotiki and Gis­borne. The whole place was closed by 6pm mid­week upon my ar­rival with the ex­cep­tion of the pub. De­spite its iso­lated lo­ca­tion, Matawai is an at­trac­tive place. An enor­mous an­chor out­side the Matawai Gallery was all the ex­cuse I needed to en­gage in a spot of tiki tour­ing.

I was sur­prised by the brac­ing cli­mate. It felt like snow was im­mi­nent which came as some­thing of a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing it was early Jan­uary. Hav­ing left home four hours ear­lier in swel­ter­ing heat, I was ques­tion­ing my de­ci­sion to pack lightly for this East­land ad­ven­ture.

Af­ter sev­eral snap­shots of the mis­placed mar­itime arte­fact, I trun­dled across to the Matawai Ho­tel. This iconic, coun­try wa­ter­ing hole houses a most pe­cu­liar nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non, the metic­u­lously pre­served dou­ble headed lamb!

Step­ping in­side the old boozer is like go­ing back in time. An old tim­ber bar which runs nearly half the length of the premises is adorned by plaques bear­ing the names of lo­cals, each with their own stool. The friendly but slightly ec­cen­tric bar maid kept busy, box­ing up Xmas dec­o­ra­tions.

I over­heard two lo­cals com­ment­ing on the arc­tic like con­di­tions out­side. “Should have snuck a woollen sin­glet un­der my shirt,” one old timer mum­bled. “We might have to start or­der­ing a warm beer,” the other cack­led.

Back be­hind the wheel, af­ter crank­ing up the ther­mo­stat I headed for Gis­borne. Af­ter pass­ing be­neath a steel bridge used to move sheep to and from the wool shed, the land grad­u­ally flat­tened. Vine­yards and or­chards her­alded a new land­scape while wel­com­ing blue skies beck­oned on the hori­zon.

Upon ar­riv­ing in Gis­borne, an un­ex­pected nat­u­ral emer­gency was in progress. A land­slide burst a main wa­ter pipe, se­ri­ously jeop­ar­dis­ing the city’s in­fra­struc­ture. The Qual­ity Ho­tel Emer­ald was en­forc­ing en­tirely rea­son­able pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures to con­serve wa­ter which I was more than happy to abide by. What­ever it took, I was will­ing to help out. Brush­ing my teeth with mer­lot was a sac­ri­fice I was quite pre­pared to make.

GIS­BORNE REMINDS ME in many ways of a bustling North­ern Queens­land coastal town with its palm lined, spa­cious streets and hot sun.

While ex­plor­ing the main street I ducked into Muir’s book­shop, one of a se­lect group of in­de­pen­dent literary spe­cial­ists still ply­ing their trade in New Zealand. Not only does Muir’s pos­sess an amaz­ing se­lec­tion of qual­ity pub­li­ca­tions (in­clud­ing NZTO­DAY of course) down­stairs, they also run a bustling café on the sec­ond floor, with a bal­cony over­look­ing Glad­stone Street. Their food was top notch, and my iced cof­fee was strong enough to keep me wired for the re­main­der of the morn­ing.

One place to avoid if pos­si­ble on Fri­days is the ANZ Bank, not be­cause there is any­thing wrong with the ex­cel­lent ser­vice that the staff pro­vide, rather the bank’s pop­u­lar­ity meant an enor­mous queue of loyal cus­tomers snaked right out the front door and onto the street. “It’s al­ways like this,” one of the tell­ers cheer­ily in­formed me. “Even when there are twelve of us work­ing here it’s busy as.”

Smash Palace lo­cated in the heart of Gis­bornes in­dus­trial sec­tor is a bar with a dif­fer­ence; a place where busi­ness­men wear­ing suits drink along­side black leather clad bikies. Every­body is wel­come at Smash Palace. It’s not ev­ery day that you can wan­der into a li­censed premises to find burnout marks in the mid­dle of the floor from a Har­ley David­son.

“Womble” who has worked on the door at Smash Palace for nearly 25 years, re­vealed the busi­ness was once a wine bar, but not for long. It now re­sem­bles a wrecker’s yard with all types of ve­hi­cle parts and twisted steel hang­ing from ev­ery nook and cranny. There is even a full size plane hang­ing above the gar­den bar.

Womble is a rather large hu­man be­ing. De­spite my 108kg, I felt like a small child while stand­ing along­side the big fella. Any­one who has worked the door for a quar­ter of a cen­tury must have en­dured some tor­rid sit­u­a­tions.

The for­mer sol­dier just shrugged his mas­sive shoul­ders be­fore ad­mit­ting, “I’ve picked up one or ex­tra two holes in my head over the years. But I’ve al­ways loved work­ing here. The staff and pa­trons are just like one big happy fam­ily.”

Womble is a lovely bloke. He spent most of the evening sta­tioned on the front door with a cup of cof­fee and cig­a­rette in tow next to his Har­ley which was in im­mac­u­late con­di­tion.

Smash Palace was gear­ing up for one of its much awaited an­nual events. Eleven heavy metal bands would be play­ing (the next day Jan­uary 11th) be­tween 11am and 11pm. Womble was ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing a busy day at the of­fice.

MENG FOON IS NOT YOUR USUAL mayor. The son of Chi­nese im­mi­grants, young Meng be­came flu­ent in Maori and English from a young age while grow­ing up in Gis­borne and work­ing in the fields for his fam­i­lies’ mar­ket gar­den busi­ness. Now in his fifth term as Mayor, the hugely pop­u­lar 54 year old be­lieves that New Zealan­ders will vote for the best per­son for the job, ir­re­spec­tive of a can­di­date’s eth­nic­ity.

“When I first ran for coun­cil I won­dered if peo­ple would elect a Chi­nese per­son. I found that Ki­wis will ac­tu­ally choose the per­son that will best rep­re­sent and serve them. It’s no dif­fer­ent from you choos­ing the best plumber at home. It’s ex­actly the same with the mayor.”

It be­came im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that Meng has a great love for his com­mu­nity and it’s clearly a two way street. Dur­ing lunch a lo­cal lady whose fam­ily were soon to shift to Christchurch, stopped by to give Meng a hug, say good­bye and thank him for his years of ser­vice.

Meng spends a good deal of his time on the road, trav­el­ling through­out the Tai Rawhiti elec­torate which en­com­passes 8,355 square kilo­me­tres and in­cludes around 46,000 con­stituents.

His vis­its in­clude far flung out­posts like Matawai, Tiniroto and Motu. “We have an ac­tion plan in place,” Meng ex­plains, “to do one town­ship up ev­ery year. The beau­ti­fi­ca­tion makes the peo­ple who live there feel part of our re­gion as well. This year it’s To­laga Bay’s turn. Matawai was done up last year and Te Araroa the year be­fore.”

“Tourism keeps our small towns alive. The Mo­torhomes all stop to buy an ice cream or a pie. Oth­er­wise the small com­mu­ni­ties could not sus­tain a dairy or a petrol sta­tion.”

“We live here for life­style,” he states “and call this place our par­adise, first to see the sun by the grace of Hiku­rangi,” said the Mayor over lunch. “The beauty about our re­gion on the East Coast is that 70 to 80 per cent of the land is owned by Maori and will stay for­ever green. This is par­adise. We love it here. But I must say the whole of New Zealand is a nice place.”

Be­ing able to speak Te Reo flu­ently in an area with a large Maori pop­u­la­tion is an amaz­ing skill for any pub­lic fig­ure to pos­sess. Meng was quite re­as­sur­ing about the daunt­ing task of mas­ter­ing a new lingo. “I have a love of lan­guages,” said Meng who also speaks Can­tonese. “All you need to do is fo­cus on learn­ing one new sim­ple struc­ture a day. That’s all it takes.”

Meng’s view re­gard­ing the is­sue of young peo­ple leav­ing Gis­borne is re­fresh­ing. “It’s nice to have your fam­ily but they’ve got their own minds and ca­reers. It’s quite nice to have my chil­dren out as well. It give us a pur­pose to travel and see them. And when you look at our com­mu­nity, the num­ber of peo­ple who have come from other places to join our par­adise from school teach­ers, to doc­tors, ac­coun­tants and builders. They’ve all come from some­where else and have brought with them new ideas and skills.”

“My thoughts are this is a free world. And the world is our home. Some peo­ple care more about their roots than oth­ers. We all live here for the life­style.”

Away from his Mayoral du­ties, Meng loves spend­ing time with his fam­ily, sup­port­ing oth­ers in busi­ness, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­mu­nity, mu­sic (he plays the ukulele) and is a mem­ber of the New Zealand Rugby League Board.

“I guess my gen­eral phi­los­o­phy in life is lit­tle and of­ten. Noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. There is no right or wrong way to live, but I think while you are able, you should live life to the fullest.” I found my meet­ing with Meng re­ally in­spir­ing.

LATER IN THE AF­TER­NOON I made my way over to the Cidery. Hamish Jack­son, the man­ager of Bul­mer Har­vest Ciders, New Zealand’s lead­ing Cider pro­ducer, knows a thing or two about ap­ples and cider. He has ei­ther been pro­duc­ing or sam­pling the stuff for a fair por­tion of his life.

Ap­ples are first picked, pulped, frozen and kept in a cool store be­fore be­ing de­liv­ered to the Cidery in Cus­tom­house Street, where they are mixed with a yeast to fer­ment.

The Cidery pro­duces the award win­ning Har­vest, Scrumpy and Bul­mer brands which can be pur­chased in su­per­mar­kets na­tion­wide. Own­ers Brian and Irene Shanks first ex­per­i­mented with cider in 1988 to make use of fallen fruit af­ter Cy­clone Bola. A year af­ter, the cou­ple were in full pro­duc­tion mode, sell­ing 5,000 litres. The Cidery is now ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing that quan­tity in a sin­gle day. The Shanks cur­rently re­side in Vir­ginia where they are spear­head­ing the res­ur­rec­tion of Cider in the United States.

New flavours have re­cently been con­cocted to ap­peal to a dif­fer­ent mar­ket. Hamish in­tro­duced the new range which in­cludes Wa­ter­melon & Cu­cum­ber and Ap­ple & Gin­ger. “You just can’t go wrong with cider,” in­structed Hamish. “Af­ter all an ap­ple a day keeps the doc­tor away.”

A hi­lar­i­ous or­deal that I must re­count (not cider re­lated) was an evening visit to the Odeon Cin­ema, or “ODear” as we later re­named it.

With the 5:50pm screen­ing of Philom­ena im­mi­nent, the ticket booth manned by a sole op­er­a­tor was strug­gling to clear the back­log of im­pa­tient cus­tomers. A chang­ing of the guard which de­fied be­lief oc­curred when a woman clearly in her eight­ies took over the pro­ceed­ings be­hind the counter.

Af­ter mak­ing it to the con­fec­tionary stand, a glum teenager di­rected us back to the ticket booth, to the the­atre’s sole Eft­pos ma­chine. For the record I’ve never had an ice-cream with such a thick and hard coat­ing of choco­late.

Upon ar­riv­ing in The­atre Five, we were sur­prised to find that Philom­ena was al­ready un­der­way, at least five min­utes be­fore its sched­uled start time! Nev­er­the­less I set­tled into an ex­tremely com­fort­able seat and set about re­mov­ing the choco­late coat­ing off my ice cream with a pick axe.

The movie it­self was com­pelling, al­though the el­derly chap who an­swered his phone (which had an ex­cru­ci­at­ingly an­noy­ing ring tone) and con­tin­ued his con­ver­sa­tion in a boom­ing voice dur­ing one piv­otal scene, de­tracted slightly from the mo­ment. Ban­ished to the cor­ri­dor by his wife, the old fella soon re­turned only to pro­vide the en­tire au­di­ence with a blow by blow ac­count of his re­cent call.

In con­clu­sion I thought the movie was ex­cel­lent and de­spite a few mi­nor glitches, the Odeon ex­pe­ri­ence is one not to be missed.

Kaiti Hill pro­vides strik­ing views of the city, its beaches and Poverty Bay it­self. Walk­ing, run­ning (or driv­ing in my case) to the sum­mit seems to be a pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity around dusk. The hill was well fre­quented by bud­ding fit­ness en­thu­si­asts, loved up cou­ples and a group of teenage girls busy cre­at­ing an enor­mous pyra­mid of re­cently con­sumed RTD drink cans.

THE NEXT DAY I WAS FOR­TU­NATE enough to be chap­er­oned around the re­gion by the one and only Stephan Keller­man, the Ex­ec­u­tive Chef and 2IC to Stuart Ged­des at The Qual­ity Ho­tel Emer­ald. A Ger­man na­tional who has been in New Zealand now for seven years, Stephan is slightly crazy, def­i­nitely ec­cen­tric and a whole heap of fun to be around. He found Gis­borne af­ter cheff­ing for the rich and fa­mous in five star ho­tels all over the world. He has even been re­spon­si­ble for feed­ing the All Blacks on sev­eral oc­ca­sions who he de­scribes as, “act­ing like a pack of big boys.”

The Gis­borne cli­mate has clearly re­vi­talised Stephan who now lives on the coast just north of Wainui and re­cently lost 20 kilo­grams through a change of life­style. “One of the gyms here is di­rectly across the road from KFC. You can sit on the chest press ma­chine and watch the chicken be­ing served,” he grins.

“Gis­borne is ac­tu­ally an outer city,” he ex­plains. “Peo­ple here don’t go home af­ter work and sit in their houses, they get out and en­joy the sun and surf.”

‘It’s a great life­style here and you can live cheaply. If you are a half­way de­cent fish­er­man, you have an abun­dant food source on your doorstep. Stephan re­vealed he set him­self a chal­lenge of head­ing up the coast to live off the sea and land for three nights upon turn­ing 40. “On the sec­ond day I packed up and drove to the shop. I was so hun­gry,” he re­vealed while laugh­ing deliri­ously.

Al­though still ad­mit­ting to miss­ing the spe­cial­ity breads and sausages of his na­tive Ger­many, he proudly calls Gis­borne home now. Most en­cour­ag­ingly af­ter a slow start, he has now man­aged to catch 10 cray­fish dur­ing the last two years.

Stephan fired up his Range Rover and spent a day show­ing me the sites. We vis­ited the Gis­borne Farm­ers’ Mar­ket where he in­tro­duced me to the city’s pre­mier DJ who hails from Brazil and English­man Andy Nimmo, owner of the award win­ning Hihi Wines.

At the base of Kaiti Hill I was shown a mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing Cook’s Land­ing which is now sur­rounded by the bustling port and an ob­scure look­ing rock in the surf which Stephan said de­fines the bound­ary be­tween neigh­bour­ing tribes (or iwi) Ngati Porou and Tairawhiti.

Af­ter be­ing shown the near ver­ti­cal steps lead­ing to the sum­mit of Kaiti and jok­ing with Stephan about how of­ten he scales them, we headed out of town to en­joy the clean, green oa­sis of Grays Bush. Back in the day, the vast ma­jor­ity of Poverty Bay’s 30,000 acre flats were cov­ered in for­est. To­day the twelve acres of Grays Bush (or 24 rugby fields ac­cord­ing to the sign) is like an is­land sur­rounded by a “sea of de­vel­oped land”.

LATER WE VIS­ITED MATAWHERO Wines just 10 min­utes south of Gis­borne city. The vine­yard was es­tab­lished in 1968 and is cur­rently owned by Richard and Kirsten Searle. The cou­ple has worked tire­lessly to re­de­velop the fif­teen acre es­tate which now hosts pri­vate func­tions, live mu­sic and wed­dings.

Af­ter a tour of the build­ings, in­clud­ing a trip to the cel­lar, Kirsten pro­duced a pad­dle built from old oak bar­rels car­ry­ing five wines for tast­ing with a cheese board. Thank­fully she also pro­vided a novice like my­self with de­tailed notes de­scrib­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each drop.

On our way home we stopped to pho­to­graph the nearby Matawhero Church which still fea­tures on the la­bel of each bot­tle, be­fore fin­ish­ing the day sam­pling a bot­tle back at the ho­tel.

THE POVERTY BAY CLUB has made huge strides since 1974, the year it per­mit­ted women in to fre­quent the salu­bri­ous sur­round­ings with their male coun­ter­parts. Forty years on, this mag­nif­i­cent build­ing houses ten sep­a­rate busi­nesses, in­clud­ing Café 1874.

I would go so far as to say that the Eggs Bene­dict at Café 1874 is the BEST break­fast I have eaten. And be warned, if you are game enough to or­der their BIG BREAK­FAST which con­sists of six toma­toes, hash browns spinach, chunky toast, mush­rooms, poached eggs and a heap of ba­con, your work will be cut out. They of­fer a smaller ver­sion for a good rea­son. I do reckon that Wes Davies (owner of SW Me­dia) would en­joy the chal­lenge!

The new own­ers of Café 1874 are no strangers to the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try. The have re­cently taken over the busi­ness with a string of suc­cess­ful lo­cal eater­ies un­der their belt

Next door to Café 1874 is the Dome, a 21st cen­tury style cin­ema in stark con­trast to the old school fare of The Odeon. Movie­go­ers at the Dome are able to stretch out on gi­ant bean bags (cou­ples are able to join two to­gether for a cud­dle), while snack­ing on pizza and sam­pling an ar­ray of re­fresh­ments.

Head­ing out of Gis­borne I pulled in at Matakori to watch the na­tional surf­ing champs in progress where I met a bloke named Dou­gal with a rather eye catch­ing 1950s take­away car­a­van named the Fat Crab. I didn’t sam­ple any of Dou­gal’s wares (his spe­cial­ity is a Chia Seed and Oys­ter Omelete) but I had to ask him about the eye catch­ing graph­ics.

“The crab and the oc­to­pus were hand painted,” he re­vealed. “We gave the crab a gold tooth. Then the oc­to­pus got an ear­ring and things started get­ting in­ter­est­ing.” Dou­gal re­cently fin­ished another busi­ness in­ter­est, ap­plied for a hawker’s li­cense from the coun­cil and now cooks his way up and down the coast. “Ki­wis still love hot dogs and chips,” he states. “I sold $1400 worth in four hours’ worth re­cently. But the tourists pass­ing through are more ad­ven­tur­ous and love the chia. It’s go­ing to take off.”

A few min­utes fur­ther north, Dive Tat­apouri runs daily stingray feed­ing ses­sions on a shal­low reef about 50 me­tres from their rus­tic beach hut base. If you’re lucky, king­fish and cray­fish will also ar­rive for some tit­bits, while you’re out in the ocean, wear­ing a pair of waders. Chris and Dan Sav­age own Dive Tat­apouri. Their de­light­ful beach shack HQ was for­merly a kina and cray­fish pro­cess­ing plant. They also of­fer surf­ing lessons and for the fear­less, shark cage div­ing trips.

Of­fi­cially opened in Novem­ber 1929, the To­laga Bay wharf pro­vided an in­te­gral ser­vice for lo­cal farm­ers, al­though the enor­mous struc­ture grad­u­ally fell into a state of dis­re­pair, (roads had also im­proved pro­vid­ing a more vi­able trans­port op­tion by this stage) and ceased to be used in 1963. A re­cent five and a half mil­lion dol­lar de­vel­op­ment project has re­turned the old girl to her for­mer glory.

To­day the wharf is pop­u­lar with sight­seers, re­cre­ational fish­er­men and swimmers game enough to dive bomb into the sparkling To­laga Bay waters. It was lovely to see both the wharf and the ad­join­ing beach be­ing en­joyed by so many fam­i­lies from all walks of life. There was a lovely vibe. I saw mul­ti­ple pic­nics be­ing en­joyed, games of touch with strangers be­ing in­vited to join in, fa­thers teach­ing their young daugh­ters how to boo­gie board and hik­ers out in force ex­plor­ing Cook’s Cove.

ON THE WAY TO RU­A­TO­RIA, I no­ticed a gi­ant sow in the mid­dle of a pad­dock, scratch­ing her­self fu­ri­ously against a rusted out old Dat­sun.

Ru­a­to­ria was pretty much closed the day I vis­ited. Even the iconic Ru­a­to­ria Ho­tel was all locked up, al­though I’m sure I could hear mu­sic play­ing and the clink of pool balls as I took pho­tos of the di­lap­i­dated old build­ing. The wonky sec­ond floor bal­cony and grass grow­ing from the gut­ters just added fur­ther mys­tique to this mag­i­cal old pub.

It has been said that East Coast­ers drink more Stein­lager than any other re­gion in New Zealand per head of pop­u­la­tion. Ap­par­ently in Ru­a­to­ria they drink it in quart bot­tles, by the pal­let.

Un­der the gaze of Mt Hiku­rangi, tiny Ru­a­to­ria caught na­tion­wide me­dia at­ten­tion in the late eight­ies due to ten­sion be­tween lo­cal Rasta­far­i­ans and the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Nu­mer­ous build­ings in­clud­ing the Po­lice Sta­tion, Fire Sta­tion, Court house, Churches and a Marae were torched, po­lice were put on trial for hack­ing the dreads off one com­bat­ant and Rasta­far­ian leader Chris Camp­bell was trag­i­cally gunned down.

Nearby at Tik­i­tiki rests Ge­orge Nepia, one of the greats of All Black rugby. Nepia toured with the 1924 In­vin­ci­bles, set­ting the rugby world alight with his daz­zling skills, clever foot­work and pow­er­ful boot. Nepia is buried in a small Urupa, down the road from the lo­cal rugby grounds bear­ing his name. A uniquely carved tiki hold­ing a rugby ball, com­plete with sil­ver fern and the name Ge­orge in­scribed on its chest greets those pass­ing through the church gates.

Ev­ery lit­tle East Coast set­tle­ment is quite unique in its own dis­tinct way. At Te Araroa, the town you pass through to visit the East Cape light­house (154 me­tres above sea level, 700 steps), I found a sign read­ing “Play­ground: No Horses”. Lo­cals cheer­ily wave as you pass through their slice of par­adise.

PURIRIS COT­TAGE OWNED by Graeme and Pauline Sum­mersby, sit­u­ated close to SH35 on farm­land over­look­ing Hicks Bay, is a stun­ning lo­ca­tion to recharge the bat­ter­ies. The fore­ground land­scape of lush pas­ture com­plete with graz­ing cat­tle, a deep aqua coloured ocean and the set­ting sun are mind blow­ing.

Orig­i­nally from Gis­borne, the Sum­mers­bys have lived and raised their fam­ily in Hicks Bay for the last 35 years. Graeme, who has been heav­ily in­volved with both Hicks Bay and East Coast rugby for un­told sea­sons, is em­ployed by a lo­cal con­trac­tor clear­ing roads in the forests while Pauline works close by for the East Coast Manuka Com­pany. If that isn’t enough, they also run cat­tle and goats, keep chick­ens, bees, grow Protea flow­ers com­mer­cially and op­er­ate their bou­tique B&B.

Over a hearty home­made beef lasagne, we dis­cussed the cou­ple’s life at Hicks Bay. “Trav­el­ling is part and par­cel of liv­ing on the coast,” says Pauline. “If you want to play golf you need to travel an hour each way. That’s just the way it is. If you go nowhere you go nowhere.”

“Our kids live in Auck­land, Wellington and Feild­ing. It’s al­ways won­der­ful to see them but we need to set aside two days just for trav­el­ling each time we make a trip,” says Graeme. “I don’t mind though,” adds Pauline. “It’s nice to do some shop­ping on the way!”

Play­ing rugby on the coast is no dif­fer­ent. I re­mem­ber watch­ing rugby on the coast once while re­search­ing for a book I was writ­ing. A young Hicks Bay player broke his arm dur­ing a hard fought tus­sle against Tokararangi and then had to en­dure a three hour trip to Gis­borne Hos­pi­tal. “We also have play­ers who live and work in Gis­borne come back up here to play for their clubs ev­ery Satur­day,” said Graeme.

Suc­cess in life on the coast is not mea­sured by what type of car you drive or what sort of la­bel cloth­ing you may have stashed in your wardrobe. Loy­alty and self-re­liance are highly val­ued traits. There are no state-of- the-art gym­na­si­ums here to prove your strength or dura­bil­ity. Be­ing able to hunt, fish and pro­vide for your whanau and com­mu­nity is the true test of man­hood.

Just be­fore Christ­mas, Ty­rone De­lamere, the Hicks Bay cap­tain and Ngati Porou East Coast rugby iden­tity called into the Sum­mersby homestead to drop off a leg of wild veni­son, which he and Graeme then hung up on the back deck and went to work bon­ing out to­gether.

It was a real plea­sure to spend an evening with the Sum­mers­bys, such a wel­com­ing, hum­ble and hard­work­ing cou­ple who no doubt will cringe at the length I have taken to de­scribe them. “There are oth­ers far more de­serv­ing and in­ter­est­ing than us liv­ing around here,” com­mented Graeme dur­ing din­ner. BE­FORE HEAD­ING FOR Te Kaha I had to back­track slightly to drop the cot­tage key off to Pauline who was at work. I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the East Cape Manuka Fac­tory, Visi­tors Cen­tre & Café from Di­rec­tor Mark Kerr.

East Coast based Manuka En­ter­prises has recorded ex­po­nen­tial growth in re­cent years. Sci­en­tists have found the lo­cal Manuka pos­sesses spe­cific prop­er­ties which sep­a­rates it from other species grown around the coun­try. Manuka Honey as a nat­u­ral rem­edy is hugely pop­u­lar through­out China, Ja­pan and Sin­ga­pore while the ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits of Manuka Oil are favoured by Euro­pean coun­tries.

Af­ter be­ing cut, baled, mulched, steamed, con­densed, ex­tracted, tested, re­fined, bot­tled and pack­aged by a lo­cal work­force of around 30 in­di­vid­u­als, 90 per cent of the East Cape Manuka prod­uct is ex­ported over­seas.

The whole op­er­a­tion is en­tirely sus­tain­able with bushes be­ing trimmed and left to re­ju­ve­nate while lo­cal farm­ers are now paid to grow blocks of Manuka on their prop­er­ties. Mark also es­ti­mates five to six mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of pay­outs were awarded within the East Coast re­gion alone last year to land own­ers for keep­ing hives on their prop­erty.

Two as­pects of East Coast life have no­tably im­proved since my first visit here; the qual­ity of the roads and hous­ing. I vividly re­mem­ber see­ing scores of shacks and car­a­vans with lean to’s at­tached as I passed through th­ese parts thir­teen years ago. In­ci­den­tally most of the houses sported SKY satel­lite dishes on their roofs. I doubt many of the in­hab­i­tants had coun­cil con­sent to build their rick­ety dwellings. Very few of the sub­stan­dard home builds re­main, in their place stand more mod­ern dwellings.

Head­ing to­wards Te Kaha I over­took a boy driv­ing a quad bike, with another even smaller young fella (quite pos­si­bly his brother) rid­ing shot­gun be­side him with Dad over­see­ing their ac­tions. Never too young to learn!

And whose voice did I find my­self lis­ten­ing to while head­ing north and tun­ing into Ra­dio Ngati Porou?

Meng of course! His ko­rero was not only pas­sion­ate and in­for­ma­tive, he also had me in stitches while in­struct­ing the im­por­tance of clean­ing the catch tray and burn­ers of your BBQ, his doc­tor’s in­struc­tions not to eat too many take­aways, his list­ing of ev­ery food out­let in Toko­maru Bay and his plea for con­stituents to phone the coun­cil and ask for a RFS (Re­quest for Ser­vice Form) if any work needed do­ing in their area.

Once again Meng was in ex­cel­lent form, full of grace and good hu­mour. He is so down to earth, quick wit­ted and sounds just like one of the boys. He flicked be­tween Maori and English seam­lessly and of­ten dur­ing his two hour slot on 105.3fm.

A com­ment I heard time and time again while talk­ing to a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple from Gis­borne to the East Cape, was that Meng truly is the mayor for the peo­ple.

Another gem of a spot on the way to Te Kaha is Wai­hau Bay, which many will recog­nise as a lo­ca­tion from the movie ‘Boy’. It was here that I wit­nessed the most in­cred­i­ble dis­play of driv­ing.

While re­vers­ing an old Ford trac­tor with his foot hard down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal, a young bloke ef­fort­lessly backed a huge trailer around a tight cor­ner on his first at­tempt. He then roared straight down the ramp squeez­ing be­tween two re­cre­ational boaties at the wa­ter’s edge with pin point pre­ci­sion. Af­ter hook­ing the winch to a large com­mer­cial ves­sel, he jumped back in the driver’s seat, hooning off up the road with ten tonnes of fish­ing boat in tow, all in the space of about twenty sec­onds. I was com­pletely spell­bound.

THE FI­NAL NIGHT OF MY HIKOI was spent in the Bay of Plenty coastal set­tle­ment of Te Kaha.

By this stage I was in need of some TLC. The Te Kaha Beach Re­sort proved just the tonic with mil­lion dol­lar ocean views from my sec­ond floor bal­cony. Hav­ing been on the road for the best part of a week, the wash­ing ma­chine and drier in my bath­room meant I could once again slip into clean clothes the next morn­ing.

The Te Kaha Beach Re­sort also in­cludes a mod­ern bar fre­quented by lo­cals and trav­ellers alike, a restau­rant, café, shop and pool. While in­ves­ti­gat­ing the bar I found a se­ries of framed black and white his­tor­i­cal photographs of Te Kaha which in­cluded (Gree­nies please turn away now) sev­eral in­trigu­ing snap­shots of whole whale car­casses be­ing pro­cessed on the ad­ja­cent beach.

The staff at the re­sort were won­der­ful, in­clud­ing the Rus­sian chef whose duck leg main course was first class! The meat just fell off the bone.

The Te Kaha Beach Re­sort would be a per­fect overnight stop, par­tic­u­larly if you are trav­el­ling with kids and mak­ing your way down the coast to­wards Gis­borne. The pool com­plex will keep young­sters amused for hours while par­ents can unwind and su­per­vise from the bal­cony.

Re­sort man­ager Jade Bi­dois and his wife Erana ar­rived in Te Kaha from Auck­land af­ter work­ing in the Bangkok ho­tel in­dus­try. It didn’t take long for the cou­ple to adapt to their new sur­rounds. “I now have large a vege gar­den at home, which we both eat from reg­u­larly. I love get­ting out on the boat for a fish when we have time. Te Kaha is an amaz­ing place, you can’t beat this view,” he smiled.

The Re­sort comes com­plete with a he­li­copter pad, which a vis­it­ing Amer­i­can fam­ily an­nu­ally use while stay­ing here dur­ing the Rhythm and Vines fes­ti­val. Wak­ing up to hear the ocean roar­ing be­low with spec­tac­u­lar ocean views from my bed was a won­der­ful mem­ory to savour be­fore head­ing home.

This re­gion’s rel­a­tive iso­la­tion cre­ates close knit com­mu­ni­ties. Those who live here know how to make their own fun, sup­port each other and en­joy the great out­doors.

I lost count at the num­ber of horses I saw frol­ick­ing on the beach, not to men­tion the easy go­ing lo­cals who waved or winked as I made my way up the coast. The kai was won­der­ful and the lo­cal grapes weren’t too bad ei­ther. By the time I got home I looked like a bull­frog who had swal­lowed a sheep. The coast­ers I met were an ex­tremely friendly, re­silient and adapt­able bunch who have the most amaz­ing back­yard, some­thing they have ev­ery right to feel ex­tremely proud of.

QUAL­ITY HO­TEL EMER­ALD I couldn’t fault the Qual­ity Ho­tel Emer­ald for its cen­tral lo­ca­tion, ser­vice, se­cure free park­ing, clean­li­ness or the qual­ity and size of my suite. What sets this es­tab­lish­ment apart is the friend­li­ness of its staff. The morn­ing greet­ings were al­ways sin­cere, the re­cep­tion and wait­resses gen­uinely cared that I was en­joy­ing ev­ery as­pect of my stay.

All guests, whether they’re vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries or fam­i­lies on their hard earned an­nual hol­i­day, re­ceive the same level of at­ten­tion and cour­tesy.

Gen­eral Man­ager Stuart Ged­des dis­plays an in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm for his vo­ca­tion and a knack for mak­ing his cus­tomers feel right at home. The Zimbabwean, in uni­son with his Ger­man Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Stephan Keller­man, strives to cre­ate a fam­ily like en­vi­ron­ment with their loyal staff.

This ap­proach also ex­tends to the wider Gis­borne com­mu­nity. The Ho­tel sup­port and spon­sor a lo­cal Kapa Haka group.

The ho­tel’s phi­los­o­phy is val­ues driven which in­cludes ad­her­ing to green prin­ci­ples. As a re­sult of their ef­forts, the Ho­tel was awarded the pres­ti­gious Qual­mark Sil­ver Enviro Award in 2013.

At a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial short­fall, Ged­des made a courageous de­ci­sion af­ter a re­cent land­slide threat­ened Gis­borne’s wa­ter sup­ply. The GM closed his ho­tel’s restau­rant for evening meals, re­stricted avail­abil­ity of the pool, dis­trib­uted pa­per cups in guest rooms to re­duce dish­wash­ing costs and po­litely asked the guests to con­sider mon­i­tor­ing their per­sonal wa­ter use.

“We want to be a real part of the Gis­borne com­mu­nity,” ex­plains Ged­des. “So cut­ting back on our wa­ter use dur­ing the emer­gency was one way we can prove how com­mit­ted we are to our city.”

Walk­ing the walk in a time of cri­sis sums up this ho­tel’s fun­da­men­tal ethos to a tee. “The cor­ner­stone of any busi­ness is be­ing com­mit­ted to its com­mu­nity’s needs,” says Ged­des who has be­come a staunch sup­porter of his newly adopted re­gion. “When I go to Auck­land now I al­ways ask why Gis­borne wines aren’t on the menu,” he smiles. “Af­ter all, one third of New Zealand’s best wine is pro­duced here.”

To­laga Bay Wharf.



Meng Foonon and me.

Womble and me.

Muir’s book­shop and cafe.

Gis­borne Wharf.

Glad­stone Street and Clock.

Gis­borne Port, Kaiti Hill.



Gis­borne Mu­ral.

Glad­stone Street Carv­ing.

Matawhero Wines. Right Stephan show­ing off his page in FEAST cook­book.

Cap­tain Cook, Kaiti Hill.

Cafe 1874.

Dou­gal and Fat Crab.

To­laga Bay Wharf, and wharf jumpers.

Toko United.

GraveTik­i­ti­kichurch. Ge­orge Nepia .


Pauline and Graeme Sum­mersby Hicks Bay.

East Cape Manuka Com­pany Manuka oil be­ing ex­tracted. Room with a view Te Kaha Beach Re­sort.


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