Top things to do on the East Cape
The East Cape is a special place in New Zealand – wild, remote and rich in culture it’s worth a road trip all to itself. We’ve put together some of the top activities – paid and free – that you must tick off your list when planning a trip to the Cape.
1. Dive Tatapouri Reef Ecology Tour
Ever wanted to pat a friendly stingray in the wild? The Dive Tatapouri Reef Ecology tour is renowned and one of the most memorable wildlife tours you could ever do – what’s more, kids and adults alike will love it. You will be kitted out in waders, and the guide takes you out at low tide to see all sorts of reef wildlife such as kingfish, crayfish, eel, and octopus. But the stars of the show? Friendly short tail and eagle ray stingrays. Unafraid and keen for snacks, the puppy-like stingrays will rub up against your legs, receive pats on their satiny backs and if you’re game, these incredible animals will politely take food (provided by the guide) right out of your hands. Tatapouri Beach is 15 minutes north of Gisborne.
2. The East Cape Lighthouse
The East Cape Lighthouse on Otiki Hill is an iconic piece of East Cape history and one of the must-visits in the area. The track up to the lighthouse is accessible from a carpark at the end of the East Cape Road, about 21km past Te Araroa. It’s an 800-step workout to the top – so take a water bottle! You cannot enter the lighthouse, but the insta-worthy views take in beaches, hills and of course the magnificent Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is most Easterly lighthouse in New Zealand, but it wasn’t always located on the Cape. It was built in 1900, with keepers and all, on the nearby Whangaokena (East Island). The island was unstable and so the lighthouse was shifted to the Cape in 1922. Its last keeper left in 1985.
3. Maunga Hikurangi
The first place on the planet to see the sun each day is the peak of Maunga Hikurangi (the highest non-volcanic peak in the North Island), so a sunrise experience here is unmissable. This mountain is a place of great spiritual and cultural significance to Ngati Porou, and our Te Urunga-Tu Sunrise experience will take you from Ruatoria to two-thirds the way up in a 4WD, off-roading under a starlit night sky. As the dawn breaks, you willl find yourself standing before nine magnificent whakairo (carvings), each with their own legend, which the guides will bring to life. This is certainly one of the more profound cultural experiences you can have (you can also do a day tour if you’re just not a morning person).
4. Titirangi/Kaiti Hill
Titirangi/Kaiti Hill in Gisborne is perfect to get your bearings of the city and surrounds. Walk up from the port or drive up through the reserve, stopping along way at lookouts for views over the city, the three rivers, the plains with a myriad of vineyards and produce, the port loading its log ships, Young Nick’s Head and of course the sandy beaches on the Pacific Ocean.
Ngati Oneone are the hapu (sub-tribe) of this area. In the past there was a great pa (fortified settlement) on Titirangi and these days at its base, is the newly redeveloped Te Poho-o-Rāwiri marae, the centre of many community functions and gatherings. It was also at the base of this hill that in 1769 Captain Cook first set foot on New Zealand shores.
5. Wainui Beach
If you’re a water baby, a surf at Wainui Beach should be on your bucket list. The white sand Wainui beach is renowned in New Zealand, and its consistent, fast breaking barrels attract surfers from all over. Being out on the water amongst perfect swell lines is one of the more uplifting travel moments you could have! Watching the pros from the shore is also exciting (and drier). There’s toilets and showers at the Wainui surf club, and coffee at the Okitu Store. Makarori a couple of kilometres up the coast is also a popular surf break among locals (it has extensive rock pools to entertain the kids too).
6. Tolaga Bay Wharf
Tolaga Bay wharf – a Category One Heritage NZ Site and one of the top 100 historic sites to visit in the country. This wharf is famous and incredibly picturesque – its 660m make it the longest wharf of its type in the southern hemisphere (allow about 5-10 minutes to get to the end). It has beautiful views of the ocean and the incredible crumbling cliffs on the coast. If you’re a keen fisher you could take fishing rods and try your luck, or if you’re brave enough you could even do a bomb off the side – look for where the locals do it.