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East Cape - Opotiki to Gisborne (Coastal Route), Part 2

Driving Tour of the North Island: Whangaparaoa Bay to Gisborne

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East Cape Lighthouse

East Cape Lighthouse

Image Courtesy of Malene Holm

The second part of this driving tour (from East Cape – Opotiki to Gisborne (Coastal Route), Part I) continues from Whangaparaoa (Cape Runaway), with the road heading inland from the north easternmost point of the journey.

All distances noted are from the starting point, Opotiki.

Potaka (134km)

Nearly 16km further on from Whangaparaoa Bay, a side road on the left from the small settlement of Potaka leads to the coast at Lottin Point. This is the east coast at its best - isolated and beautiful coastline, alternating between rocky headlands and pretty sandy bays.

The scenery from here for the rest of the trip is quite different to what has gone before, mainly taking a path away from the coast, but joining it again at some beautiful beach settlements.

Hicks Bay (151km)

The first of these beaches is Hicks Bay which was named after a member of Captain Cook's crew. From the main highway, a road to the left leads to Onepoto Bay (Horseshoe Bay), a quiet and lovely spot, with Hicks Bay itself beyond.

Traveling further on the main road, more coastline comes spectacularly into view as the road leads up the hill. Near the top, opposite a motel, is one of the largest puriri trees in New Zealand.

Te Araroa (161km)

Te Araroa is one of the bigger settlements so far encountered on the coast, with fuel and a couple of stores. It is well worth a stop to look at the biggest pohutukawa tree in the world; this stands in the grounds of the local school, right down on the beachfront.

From here there is also a side trip to the East Cape lighthouse, which is the most easterly lighthouse in the world. Although 20km in each direction, and along a mainly gravel road, this is a very worthwhile diversion.

Tukituki (187km)

This is another Maori settlement. St Mary's Church is an artistic highlight of the whole trip, housing some of the finest Maori art in New Zealand.

Ruatoria (206km)

This is the first real town since leaving Opotiki, with banking, fuel and other facilities. Ruatoria is also the center for the local Ngati Porou tribe.

In the distance is also visble Mt Hikurangi, the tallest non-volcanic mountain in the North Island (1754 meters). There is a walking track to the summit (permission required). Mt Hikurangi is also the first place in the country to see the sun each day.

Te Puia Springs (233km)

As you enter Te Puia Springs you will detect the distinct aroma of sulphur from the surrounding thermal activity. There is a Visitor Information Center in the town which will direct you to local points of interest.

Tokomaru Bay (244km)

With an eight kilometer stretch of golden sandy beach, this is a lovely township which becomes very popular in summer. There is a good selection of holiday accommodation, including backpacker hostels and a campsite.

Anaura Bay (267km)

This is a 7 kilometer detour off the main road but is well worth it. The beach and surrounding coastline are exceptionally beautiful. There is also a lovely two-hour coastal walk of about 3.5km in length.

Tolaga Bay (279km)

Only 55km from Gisborne, this is the largest town on this tour. It was a landing spot for Captain Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, and all of the streets are named after members of his crew.

The most notable feature of the bay is the wharf, which is the longest in New Zealand. It was completed in 1929 and for many years was an important contributor to trade in and out of this part of the coast. It ceased to be used for shipping in 1968. Now, sadly, it is in poor condition although local efforts are underway to save it.

There is also a wonderful and renowned 5km (2.5 hours) coastal walk, the Cook's Cove walkway; here there are magnificent views over Cook's Cove and a hole in the cliff.

Waihau Beach (298km)

Just under 5km from the main road is another spectacular stretch of secluded beach. It is an ideal beach for swimming as well as surfing and fishing. There is also an abundance of coastal bird life, including the protected dotterel.

Tatapouri (324km)

From here the road follows the coast. At only 13km from Gisborne itself, this is beautifully scenic and has good options for swimming, surfing and other water sports.

Wainui Beach (330km)

On the outskirts of Gisborne, Wainui Beach is another superb great swimming beach and also well known as a great surfing spot. Only minutes from the city center, it makes an ideal base to explore the whole Gisborne area.

Gisborne City

The end of our trip, Gisborne is a beautiful city, filled with historical interest, good cafes and shopping, and of course some of the best wines in New Zealand.

Although a long distance, the coastal route from Opotiki to Gisborne is truly one of the most memorable journeys in New Zealand.

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