Eastland region experiences are a must for any serious intrepid New Zealand adventurer. New Zealand’s North Island has traditionally been a Maori stronghold of the Ngati Porou tribe and is one of the few areas where you may still hear Maori spoken in the streets, see old people walking around with ‘moko’ (traditional face tattoo- like markings) and where people still use horseback to get around.
For some inexplicable reason the Eastland often gets missed from tourist itineraries which means many of the things you can see and do here (and there’s lots) are blissfully people free.
The Eastland is a land of firsts – it is where the first Polynesian canoes landed, it is where Captain Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil and it is home to the first city in the world which sees the new sun each day. Get ready to fall in love with the Eastland – it’s not hard.
Rising 1754m above sea level this mountain has enormous cultural and spiritual meaning to the local Maori Ngati Porou tribe and access to this sacred site isn’t possible without their permission. According to Maori legend it is the first part of the North Island which emerged when demi-god Maui fished it out of the ocean and in 2000, to mark the Millennium, nine large carvings were placed on the mountain depicting these stories. Although you can hike the mountain independently, Ngati Porou also offer 4WD tours and guided walks which include the possibility of staying overnight in a mountain hut.
East Cape Lighthouse
The drive out to the lighthouse from Te Aroroa is an event in itself. Following the shoreline for most of the way it takes you past exposed reefs and tiny sandy beaches and spotting a dolphin or two close to shore is not uncommon. There is a walking track which takes you up to the lighthouse itself where the 154m elevation offers incredible views (and the possibility of being blown away on breezy days). When you pass back through Te Aroroa you might want to check out New Zealand’s largest and oldest (600 years-ish) pohutukawa tree.
Rere Rock Slide and Rere Falls
Grab yourself a body-board or inner tube (even a strip of cardboard will do) and launch yourself from the top of the natural Rere rockslide for a 60 metre fast and furious (and often way out of control) ride to land with a splash in the pool below (hopefully with nothing broken!) It is possible to slide down this rock face standing up but is only recommended for the highly skilled and/or kamikaze and those who have extensive holiday insurance. (Check out the YouTube videos.)
Close by is Rere Falls – an especially picturesque water fall where you can walk behind the cascading water curtain and take a dip at the swimming hole.
Falling as it does on the international timeline, Gisborne is the first city in the world each day to see the sun. It also has the right to claim another first – Gisborne’s Kaiti beach is where Captain Cook and crew stepped onto New Zealand soil for the first time in 1769 and, piqued at his less than open-armed welcome which left him unable to secure provisions for his ship, he dubbed the area Poverty Bay.
Today Gisborne is a fun, friendly place with a laid back pace and attitude rarely found in cities. This may be partly due to Gisborne’s thriving surf scene which draws surfers from far and wide. Gisborne has several beaches and many surf spots and if you have always wanted to try then here is a top spot to learn with lots of surf schools offering lessons and equipment hire.
Gisborne is also known as the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand and there is a comprehensive wine trail with many boutique wineries to explore.
If you have a hankering for something completely different then book yourself onto a tour which offers wild stingray feeding or shark cage diving.
Tolaga Bay marks one of the spots where Captain Cook and crew came ashore in 1769. The first settlers here were Maori and the population still is predominantly Maori. Aside from the rugged coastline to be explored here, a host of walks and the natural playground of a long sandy beach, it is also the site of New Zealand’s longest wharf, over 600m long. This part wooden structure, built in the 1920s, has a distinctly rustic (and it has to be said – rickety) charm; a walk along which makes you feel you have travelled way out into the bay when the tide is right.
Part of Te Urewera National Park, this pristinely unspoiled tranquil spot is great for lakeside camping (from super basic Department of Conservation sites to those with more facilities), endless walks of every level (including the Lake Waikaremoana walking track – one of New Zealand’s Ten Great Walks) or just a beautiful picnic spot to laze away a few hours. This area is for those who enjoy hush and immersing themselves in the natural world complete with waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, cave complexes, kiwi calls at night and a forest setting reminiscent of Jurassic park.
St Mary’s Tikitiki Church
This Maori church was built in 1924 and although it might look just like any other New Zealand European style church from the outside a peek through its door will show something else entirely. The interior features extensively carved work, ornate decorations and woven panels all created by the Ngati Porou tribe carvers and weavers. The church commemorates and is dedicated to the Ngati Porou tribe members who fell in WWI.
Exploring this complex of caves found within Te Urewera National Park might make you feel like a character from Lord of the Rings. An experience which is enhanced by the fact that many of the entrances are secret and hidden unless you start pulling aside vines or greenery and that the caves are home to giant weta (completely harmless by the way). If you really want to explore you will have to bring a torch and then you can spend hours squeezing through tiny gaps, walking down long tunnels and finding caverns both Hobbit size and far larger.
Fancy some super cheap freedom camping, absolute beach-front, iconic Kiwi style? Freedom camping isn’t just allowed here, it is positively encouraged and for decades Kiwis have been closing up their houses for summer and moving to the beach. There are 9 different sites dotted the length of the coast – all very beautiful and all but one, which has a bush setting, at the beach. You will need to get yourself a permit which costs a couple of dollars per night’s camping and includes a rubbish collection services. Have a look at www.gdc.govt.nz/freedom camping for full details and pictures which will have you rushing to get packed straight away.
Morere Hot Springs
New Zealand has plenty of hot springs but I’m yet to find one which costs as little as it does here. What’s more the rainforest setting is beautiful. Relax in the therapeutic private pools where the open sides let you look out straight into the green wilderness and then just lie back and listen to the natural orchestra of native bird song which feels like a private performance. There are also shared pools available and some lovely walks.
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