Photo by Shellzzy, Wikimedia Commons

New Zealand's East Cape

Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr Creative CommonsMaraetotara Falls, Hawkes Bay - Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr Creative Commons

The East Cape protrudes into the South Pacific from New Zealand’s North Island, bordering the Bay of Plenty to the north and not far above the sunny Hawke’s Bay area. It is an isolated region that is a lot less developed than many other areas of New Zealand, with small towns and stunning coastlines. There is not as strong a European influence as in the rest of the country, and the Maori heritage and character are rich, with in coastal towns centered around the ocean or Te Moana. Overseas visitors may be interested to know that two well-known Kiwi films, Whale Rider and Boy, were set and filmed on the East Cape.


This road trip from Gisborne to Opotiki is not a long one, but should be spread over 2 days to allow you to really experience the area. Incorporate it as a part of a larger New Zealand Road Trip to really experience everything this amazing country has on offer! It takes you from Gisborne around the edge of the cape, through a series of small towns to Opotiki in the Bay of Plenty.

Gisborne is a sunny city with both surf and swimming beaches, a great holiday destination. The area surrounding is renowned for Chardonnay production, so venture out to some wineries if you like that particular variety of wine.

Heading out of Gisborne, get on State Highway 35 north. This route skims the coast where all the best surf beaches are, then moves inland and through the countryside. Along here is the turn-off to Whangara along Pa Road. This tiny town was the setting for the movie Whale Rider, one of New Zealand’s most successful movies. The Maori mythology behind the movie is real and at the meeting house you will see a statue of a man, Paikea, riding a whale which depicts the legend behind the arrival of the Ngati Porou tribe to Whangara.

Beach at Whangara

by Bell and Jeff Flickr Creative Commons


The first town along the main road is Tolaga Bay. For many years access to this remote bay was by boat only, and due to the shallows, the wharf extending from the bay is New Zealand’s longest. This is a popular place for holidaymakers, and there is a holiday park situated right on the beach for those who wish to park up their campervan and spend the night! There is a popular walking track in the Bay, which takes you to Cook’s Cove where Captain James Cook visited as part of his circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1769.

Tolaga Bay Wharf

by Natalia V Flickr Creative Commons


The next town is Tokomaru Bay, a small community similiar to its neighbour Tolaga. The population is predominantly Ngati Porou Maori. There are plenty of places to swim, surf and fish, and many potters and artists live there. The old wharf and several derelict buildings around town from its busier days give it a very atmospheric small-town air. As you continue along the road there are several small inland towns, including Ruatoria which is a center for the Ngati Porou tribe, and Tikitiki which has a beautiful St Mary’s Church with a carved maori entrance.

Te Araroa is right near the tip of the Cape, and is home to another great Holiday Park for those who wish to stay. From there, there is an unsealed road along which you can drive to the very tip of the East Cape, , where there is a lighthouse that is the first building in the world to see each day’s sunrise.

East Cape Lighthouse

by Kelli Taylor Flickr Creative Commons


As the cape curves back towards the main mass of the North Island, you will pass through Hicks Bay and Waihau Bay, and then the road follows the coast through a long stretch of particularly stunning  and wild coastline. There is a beautiful and picturesque church overlooking the sea at Raukokore.

Church at Raukokore

by victoria Flickr Creative Commons


The trip finishes at Opotiki, a small town placed at the convergence of coast and two rivers. There is a rodeo held here in December, and many adventure activities available in the area whenever- from horse trekking to jet boat tours.

Sunset at Opotiki

by Sally Flickr Creative Commons


A great pick up point for wider New Zealand road trips is the biggest city, Auckland. To start closer to the East Cape, a pick-up in the sunny city of Tauranga is ideal. See here for New Zealand campervan hire!







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