East Cape - 'a private beach', Eastland New Zealand 2015                  image portfolio

I credit Linn Lorkin and her song "Family at the beach" with my title, and there are many private beaches on this part of the East Coast. We start our journey to Te Kaha and beyond, at Opotiki. A small Bay of Plenty town on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island having a population of approximately 4200 people.  It has a remarkable number of heritage buildings, many of which are well preserved but somewhat spoiled by modern signage. A wide variety of quality street art is unique in Opotiki, most noteable being the 'Mosaics by Children'.  On it's eastern side the Pacific Ocean rolls into the coast whilst inland the Raukumara mountain range rises to 1750 metres at Mt Hikurangi. The area is blessed with a temperate climate by virtue of it's location exactly at latitude 38S, with frosts being rare. The wide range of established horticulture in the district is evidence of this.


There is much early Maori history associated with the Opotiki District, with the first European contact by Capt. James Cook in 1769. The early 1800s brought visits from European whalers and traders. The beautiful St Stephen's Anglican Church, in predictably Church Street, was completed by the Rev Karl Volkner in the 1860s. Rev Volkner was murdered in an Utu killing in the mid 1860s.

Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is at 'Fruit Forest', an organic orchard owned and run by Jan and Ewen Willis. About 12 kms further up the coast, at Omarumutu, we turn right onto a small side road which takes us to Fruit Forest's blue letterbox. Through a couple of gates, driving under large heavily laden avocado trees, slightly left, over a small brow and we arrive at the backdoor of our spacious studio. Owner Ewen, and Coco the boxer, greet us enthusiastically, letting us in then leaving us to settle. Fruit Forest is not right on the coast, but occupies an elevated site with marvellous views over native forest, green farmland and out to sea, looking north east towards the volcanically active White Island. A tour can be locally arranged to visit the Island. Ewen and Jan, who have lived here since the early 80s created all that we see around us from overgrown farm paddocks.  They tell me that we are looking out over mature RewaRewa, a stately dark green glossy native. Some native flax in the foreground and a clump of Alstromeria nearby, attracts a cloud of large bumble bees. There's quite a 'buzz' going on! Our four legged pal Tammy thinks she is in heaven. Ewen has briefly restrained exuberant Coco who is a bit too much for tiny Tammy! Our 2 nights at Fruit Forest pass very agreeably with a return to Opotiki for heritage building photography and a lunch at Two Fish - highly recommended. Taking our leave of Ewen, Jan and their friendly 4 legged pals we are sent on our way with a large bag of Fruit Forest organic avocados. Some just ready, others will ripen over the next few days - perfect.


SH35 mainly hugs the coast, rising over headlands and falling down to the many beaches. Wide elevated views over the Pacific, demanding a photostop make for a slow onward journey. Passing through Opape, Torere, Hawai, Maraenui and Omaio we slowly cover the 50 odd kms to Te Kaha. Maori legend of this area claims  descent from the 13th century first landfall made by the Tainui Waka at Whanga-paraoa (Cape Runaway).

At Torere we are impressed by the immaculate Te Kura O Torere School with it's extensively, finely carved entrance. There are more than 150 Maraes through the East Cape district, demonstrating how significant the area is to Maori.

Unfortunately quite a number of the beaches on this stretch of coast have a 'Rahui' in place which effectively closes access for the passing traveller. We are not sure whether this action by local people is legal or not, but it is a shame that only glimpses of quiet beaches, shaded by ancient Pohutukawa, can be gained from the road.

Well tended kiwifruit orchards lend an orderliness to the landscape with tall hedges and trellised vines laden with hanging brown furry fruit. The exotic Chinese Gooseberry has definitely come of age.

Coming into Te Kaha we are in nice time for morning coffee and a fresh blueberry muffin on the terrace of the Te Kaha Beach Resort. The service is very friendly and the coffee and the muffin are excellent, but the Resort buildings look neglected.  Although occupying an enviable foreshore position, it is a long way from anywhere and has had several reincarnations but somehow you have to love it. Just back from the resort we turn sharp left up Church Road and quickly come to St Paul's Anglican Church. What a 1900s gem, closely linked to the East Cape Maori Anglican Ministry. The first New Zealand soldier killed in WW1 is remembered here and the opening service in 1900 was attended by Sir Apirana Ngata, a future MP.


Raukokore  is a further 20 or so kms after Te Kaha, but we don't notice the tiny settlement except for the unmissable Anglican Church standing white and proud on the foreshore with it's small associated cemetery. A beautiful and simple setting. Lunchtime connects with Waihau Bay and it's waterfront Waihau Bay Lodge. Terrace seating suits us with Tammy and lunch is well presented, fresh and satisfying.

Cape Runaway itself, only another 10kms further, is a place steeped in Maori history. It is here that the 2 famous canoes - Tainui and Arawa first made landfall in New Zealand about 1350AD. Kumara (sweet potato) may have been introduced to New Zealand here. Road access to the Cape is not available but a walk can be locally arranged. The best we can do is some long range photography. After Cape Runaway SH35 cuts inland through to Hicks Bay with the only possible side trip to Lottin Point.


SH 35, although sealed is not in good condition with lots of undulations and patches. The route is heavily used by articulated logging trucks, making the twisty road quite dangerous and which when fully loaded would exceed 50 tonnes so ongoing road damage is inevitable. Even though the distance from Opotiki to Gisborne via East Cape is only 334kms SH 35 is a 40km average speed road. So 7 to 8 hours should be allowed for the journey and this doesn't truly allow for any photo or food stops let alone the 20km side trip to East Cape lighthouse which is absolutely a 'must do'.

Lottin Point and Hicks Bay are places of interest before East Cape. The drive to Lottin Point, of about 10kms is on a narrow road sealed 3/4 of the way where we arrive at a picturesque, heavy shingle - stoney beach, shrouded by Pohutukawa. Walking along the lower part of the beach we find small green copper nuggets. One early geological report of the district I recall reading mentions copper as an economic prospect, but I am not sure if this was ever pursued. Hicks Bay faces directly east, it's name derived from the first officer on Cook's Endeavour, Zachary Hickes whose ship sailed these waters in 1769. The Hicks Bay wharf enabled coal deliveries for the local freezing works from 1925 and coastal shipping continued operations until the 1950s. The historic wharf today is an interesting relic of the past.

And so to the jewel in the crown - East Cape and the East Cape Lighthouse, the most easterly lighthouse in the world. Turning left at Te Araroa (from the Opotiki direction) the 45km return run to the lighthouse is on a mainly unsealed road which is very narrow in places but in good condition. In some spots there are steep drops and care must be taken. Vehicles over 6 metres or caravans are definitely not recommended. The prize at the end is well worth the effort.

We are confronted with a 700 wood step winding pathway, which is well maintained but physically challenging. Tammy, our 4 legged pal is left happily in the airconditioned California with plenty of water and treats,  (I doubt she even woke up) whilst we set forth on the climb to the lighthouse above. The path winds upwards through the bush, quite suddenly emerging at the summit, with the lighthouse and trig right there in front of us. What a view out over the coast, East Island and the South Pacific. The way back to Te Araroa, offering a reverse coastal view, is a visually rich experience.

Te Araroa to TikiTiki (23kms) is inland and has no points of interest but this quickly changes at TikiTiki when we come upon St Mary's Church sited on it's small hill above SH 35. Dating from 1926 St Mary's interior is elaborately carved and decorated in traditional Maori style and is dedicated as a memorial to Maori soldiers of WW1. The intricately carved pulpit was contributed by Te Arawa and the splendid stained glass window above the altar depicts 2nd Lieutenant Henare Kohere and Captain Pekama Kaa who both lost their lives in the war.

Ruatoria invites us in for a not too bad coffee at Sharons. There is not really much to see in this area which is central to the Ngati Porou tribe where Sir Apirana Ngata lived.

Te Puia Springs is in a charming setting beside a small lake with the hotel having old world charm, however it looks closed up, although in reasonably maintained condition.


Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is at Tokomaru Bay, 90 kms from Gisborne. We love Chris's seaside house in Arthur street with its uninterrupted views out over the bay. Sandflies are said to proliferate here although we are not bothered. The Bay has quite a number of heritage buildings, mainly closed up and some in danger of collapse. At the eastern end of the bay the old wharf, freezing works remains and the still standing, but barely, New Zealand shipping Company depot, convey a sense of loss and waste for what could have been. Of course, economics terminate enterprises in these remote areas but some modern taxpayer input to historic building structural maintenance is warranted before the irreplaceable visible history is just a memory. Lunch at the Te Puka Tavern on our last day is a pleasant experience. The front verandah seating giving a wide view of the bay.

Leaving Tokomaru behind, 36 kms on is Tolaga Bay - more well known than Tokomaru but with less to offer visually. On the way down the coast we make a worthwhile side trip to Anaura Bay where Capt. James Cook's 1769 landing is comemorated. At Tolaga the most imposing building is the Tolaga Bay Inn, on the corner of Cook St and SH35 - you can't miss it. Some of the town's streets are named after Capt. Cook's crew.

The historic wharf is of interest being the longest in New Zealand at 600 metres. Because the bay is shallow the length was to accommodate larger trading vessels. To walk out to the end of the now refurbished wharf in the teeth of an onshore gale is quite spectacular.

Enroute to Gisborne from Tolaga, it is worth taking the side trip to Waihau Beach, or Loisels Beach as it is otherwise known. The 6km road is narrow and steep. Interesting to note that on the East Cape journey there are 2 Waihau Beaches, the first just before Cape Runaway and this one 20 kms on from Tolaga.  SH 35 runs along the coast after Pouawa with views of Tatapouri and Makorori Beaches.


Our Gisborne accommodation for the next 2 nights at the Oasis Motel, is handily located at the northern end of Gisborne on Sponge Bay Road. Sponge Bay is at the northern end of Waikanae Beach and looks directly over to Young Nicks Head, a view often likened to the White Cliffs of Dover.

Gisborne, a boutique city of about 35000, lies on the east coast of the North Island in Poverty Bay. A walk up Kaiti Hill at the northern end of town above the port provides us with a panoramic view of the city and inner portion of the bay. The southern and seaward side of Kaiti is the log depot and port able to handle large oceangoing log carriers, whereas the inner port area has been given charmingly over to boutique bars and bistros. We try 2 - Soho and Gisborne Wine Centre. Both very good. This is also a working port for smaller fishing vessels and charter boats giving the whole an engaging industrial tone.

A walk down the main street - Gladstone Road - through the CBD is quickly completed, as although there are some worthwhile early C20 buildings they are not photogenic at all, being 'adorned' with garish modern business signage. I know that some promotional signage is essential but perhaps a consistent minimilist strategy could be developed. Busy Verve Cafe at #162 Gladstone is our relaxed and excellent breakfast venue on our first morning.

The Gisborne district is blessed with a benign natural climate encouraging many types of horticultural endeavours. Gisborne vineyards are well known and also of note are large areas of buttercup squash for the Japanese market, brocolli and lettuce (Leader Brand) for New Zealand wide markets, sweetcorn and tomatoes for processing and other orchard crops - apples, nashi, feijoas and kiwifruit.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa hails from Gisborne as does the 19th century Maori Chief, Te Kooti.

The Eastwoodhill Arboretum at Wharekopae Road Ngatapa is not to be missed. Unfortunately their policy of no dogs means we skip a visit this time, but having visited some years ago, now with full maturity of many of the plantings the Arboretum would be even more inspiring.

There are 3 choices for exiting Gisborne - south through Wairoa to Napier, north via the Waioeka Gorge to Opotiki or east on SH35 to East Cape. We take the 2nd option on this trip through the narrow and very picturesque Waioeka Gorge. This can be a dangerous road in winter, the narrow gorge and low lying sun creating black ice on the road surface well into the day.

On SH 2 coming through Ormond, about 12 kms out of Gisborne City, a great vista of vineyards opens up and at this time of the year all the vines are heavy with crop.

Our Waioeka experience really starts at Matawai where we stop for a coffee at the Harddrive cafe. Aptly named as a few kilometres on the road acquires hairpin bends and steep drops into the Waioeka river tens of metres below in some places. Very scenic but slow, with the nearly 60kms long Gorge road taking the best part of 2 hours. Very good recent improvements have been made to the road by creating safe stopping shoulders - not intended for a picnic, but for emergency or a brief photostop. There are several off road picnic areas available throughout the drive. The first of these from the Gisborne end is at Manganuku where the historic Manganuku 'Howe' Truss bridge can be viewed. The bridge was once part of the Gorge road. The second stop is to inspect another bridge - the Tauranga Bridge. Built in 1922 it is a Harp suspension spanning 60 metres and one of two remaining in New Zealand, the other at the Brunner Mine site on the West Coast of the South Island.

We are back where our East Cape journey started - Opotiki. We have learnt a lot about New Zealand's early history and enjoyed the visual feast enormously.

2 nights at Lake Tarawera brings us back home to Mt Eden Auckland.