Opotiki [Gisborne 334km] Opotiki is the gateway to the East Cape and the start/finish of State Highway 35. At Opotiki – from the sandy, surf beach at Waiotahi to the bush-clad Raukumara mountain ranges – you can experience world-class fishing, diving, hiking and other activities. For detailed information about Opotiki visit the Opotiki i-SITE Visitor Information Centre or www.opotikinz.com
Hukuwai & Tirohanga Beaches Just 3.5km east of Opotiki on SH35 you encounter the ocean. For the next 120km you will drive by dozens of idyllic beaches and coves. First is Hukuwai Beach: sandy, safe for swimming, surfcasting and long-line fishing. 3km further is Tirohanga Beach with equally good recreational qualities.
Opape [Gisborne 317km | Opotiki 17km] A sweeping sandy bay with beach access for boat launching. Safe swimming by the motor camp, a coastal walk around the headland. Muruwai meeting house overlooks the ocean.
Torere [Gisborne 310km | Opotiki 24km] A large ocean bay with deep water close to shore. Ideal for fishing. Picnic under pohutukawas. View the magnificent carved Maori gateway at the entrance to Torere School on top of the hill as you leave the bay.
Hawai [Gisborne 305km | Opotiki 29km] Steep shingle beach, usually covered with driftwood. Good surfing and excellent summer swimming in the Hawai river at the eastern end of the bay. This is the tribal boundary between the Ngai Tai iwi (tribe) and the Whanau-a-Apanui iwi.
Maraenui & Motu River [Gisborne 290km | Opotiki 49km] The highway climbs over a 198m coastal promontory providing panoramic views to the distant cape. Beach access at Haupoto. Descend carefully from Maraenui to the wide delta of the mighty Motu River. Cross the bridge and stop to picnic or swim if the river is running clear. Jet boat trips operate. Seaward sandbars are popular for kahawai fishing.
Whitianga & Omaio [Gis 278km | Opotiki 57km] Leave the Motu delta and immediately look ahead to Whitianga Bay, a beautiful, deepwater cove with an indented rocky foreshore. Then drop down to Omaio, a wide, sheltered bay with a steep shingle beach. There is a general store and café. Take a sharp left turn to view the carved gateway to the Omaio marae and carry on the Hoana Waititi reserve which has a public dumping station and toilet facilities. Petrol at Omaio.
Te Kaha [Gisborne 264km | Opotiki 70km] 10km along the coast’s edge is Te Kaha, a popular holiday village which rambles along a rocky headland screened by magnificent pohutukawa trees. Good fishing, camping and boating. A kilometre on is Wharekura Point which provides a sheltered beach for swimming and boating. Maungaroa Station P 07 325 2727.
Whanarua Bay [Gisborne 247km | Opotiki 88km] Access to the small but picturesque bay is so steep and narrow it is controlled by traffic lights. Not recommended for caravans or large vehicles. It’s a short walk down to the beach from the highway. Swimming, snorkeling and an excellent walk south 1km along the ocean’s edge. Back on the highway a macadamia farm has a café with macadamia products for sale at orchard prices.
Marawhako Bay [Gisborne 245km | Opotiki 90km] A near-perfect camping ground right beside the sea. Pohutukawa-shaded beach and a sheltered cove offers safe swimming and boat launching.
Raukokore [Gisborne 235km | Opotiki 99km] One of the most photographed places on the East Cape. A century-old Anglican church stands on a promontory beside the ocean. You can’t miss this lonely church with its steep spire which stands imposingly on a rocky outcrop.
Waihau Bay [Gisborne 227km | Opotiki 107km] Quaint seaside village with a fishing club, boat ramp, pier, tavern and general store, petrol. Stop for lunch or stay overnight.
Oruaiti Beach [Gisborne 224km | Opotiki 110km] One of the safest, sandy swimming beaches on the eastern side of the Cape. Good place to stop for a swim or a picnic or to stay overnight. Walk around the rocks at low tide, fishing, snorkeling. Oceanside Apartments P 07 325 3699.
Whangaparaoa [Gisborne 216km | Opotiki 118km] Northern-most point of your trip around the East Cape. Cape Runaway can only be reached by foot over private land. Guided scenic walks with Maori marae visits are available. From here the highway traverses the top of the cape for 33km emerging on the eastern coast at Hicks Bay.
Potaka & Lottin Point Potaka, half way across the top of the Cape, marks the border between the Ngati Porou iwi of the eastern side of the cape and the Whanau-a-Apanui people of the west. A side road heads north 4km to the coastline at Lottin Point with its rocky shoreline which is a mecca for surfcasters, divers and boat fishermen.
Hicks Bay [Gisborne 183km | Opotiki 151km] At Hicks Bay, or Te Wharekahika, you have arrived on the eastern side of the cape. Here there is a post office, general store and takeaway food. At the northern end of Hick’s Bay, beneath the headland of Matakaoa Point, the crumbling ruins of the old freezing works can be seen near an old wharf which is popular for fishing. Swimming hole in the Wharekahika river, a few hundred metres up a track from the one lane bridge. Hicks Bay Motel P 06 864 4880.
Onepoto Bay (Horseshoe Bay) [1km round trip] A small cove in the shape of a horseshoe, nestled beneath the high cliffs at the south end of the bay. A lovely seaside hideaway with a settlement of baches and holiday homes by a safe and accessible sandy beach. Boats can be launched off the sand and there is often excellent surfing. An ideal family beach. There is a scenic, steep walking track up the bushclad cliffs.
Te Araroa [Gisborne 174km | Opotiki 161km] Drive over the steep Haupara headland, with a lookout providing coastal views, and drop back to sea level at the north end of Kawakawa Bay. Here there is a holiday park with access to the nearby sandy, surf beach. 3.5km south along the bay, after crossing over a one lane bridge, there is the East Cape Manuka Oil And Honey Visitor Centre And Café. Just off the highway is Te Araroa which has a general store, takeaway food and petrol. Nearby is the largest pohutukawa tree in the world, “Te Waha o Rerekohu”, reputed to be 600 years old, along seaward Moana Parade by the high school.
East Cape Lighthouse [44km round trip] Drive due east along the East Cape Road from Te Araroa. The road is unsealed following the coastline, passing numerous sandy coves, to the East Cape Lighthouse standing 154 metres above sea level, accessed by a walking track of some 700 steps. It’s a return trip to Te Araroa but for most SH35 travellers it is part of the pilgrimage to stand at the most-easterly place in mainland New Zealand. If you are there at dawn, you can bank on being amongst the first in the world to see the sunrise that day.
Tikitiki [Gisborne 147km | Opotiki 187km] Back at Te Araroa you climb into the hills heading south and away from the coast. It’s a hilly drive across the horn of the Cape to Tikitiki. Nearly a ghost-town, Tikitiki’s cherished jewel is St. Mary’s Church which is one of the icons of the entire East Cape journey. The church has a Maori architectural design and wonderful carvings and tukutuku (woven panels) inside and considered one of the finest Maori churches in New Zealand. Built in 1924 as a memorial to the soldiers of Ngati Porou who died in World War I.
Rangitukia [16km round trip] A side road northeast out of Tikitiki following the Waiapu River. Here there is unsealed access to the wild, driftwood-strewn beach at the mouth of the Waiapu River. If you have the time, you can explore the area on horseback.
Mount Hikurangi [32km round trip] From Tikitiki the highway follows the Waiapu River for 20km towards the village of Ruatoria. The turn-off to Mount Hikurangi is at the Tapuaeroa Road. It is 18km along an unsealed road to the base of Hikurangi. Hikurangi at 1752m is the highest non-volcanic mountain in the North Island. It is surrounded by several other impressive buttresses and highpoints, creating a dramatic alpine landscape. The mountain is sacred to the Ngati Porou people and is the first place in mainland New Zealand to see the rays of the rising sun each day. If you are planning to visit, please make contact with the Ngati Porou Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre offers 4x4 Tours to the Maui Whakairo, as well as a summit guide and an overnight guide. Permission is essential to climb the mountain and to use the alpine hut from the Ngati Porou Visitor Information Centre at Ruatoria P 06 864 8660.
Ruatoria [Gisborne 128km | Opotiki 206km] Ruatoria is 3km off State Highway 35. Call in here to refuel and refresh, to visit the Ngati Porou Visitor Information Centre, the foodmarket, the local Westpac Bank or the Ruatoria hotel. Adventurous travellers with robust vehicles can venture north and east from Ruatoria along winding, dusty roads to explore the Waiapu River delta or the isolated beaches of Reporoa and Tuparoa, the latter route traversing a riverbed for several kilometres. Advice and directions should be obtained first.
Te Puia Springs Golf Club [1km off highway] If you’re a golfer with clubs in the car, this is a must. Follow the dusty track up the hill for 1km to an absolutely stunning 18 hole golf course high in the hills overlooking Waipiro Bay far below.
Te Puia Springs [Gisborne 101km | Opotiki 233km] The only hospital on the Cape, and the Gisborne District Council East Coast offices and Information Centre. Te Puia Springs has constant thermal activity and was once a well-known spa, but unfortunately the thermal activity is no longer viewable. General store and petrol.
Waipiro Bay [12km round trip or 13km loop] Take the 6km drive down to the coast and one of the most scenic of all the isolated coastal settlements. Once a vibrant town with a movie theatre, shops, hotels and a maternity hospital, Waipiro Bay is now just a ghost of its past. Sandy beaches ideal for swimming and surfing, plus reef and rock environments for all styles of fishing. Freedom Camping is allowed on the beach near the impressive Anglican church and also at the end of McIlroy Road (north end of beach). There is a road north out of Waipiro rejoining SH35 11km north of Te Puia.
Tokomaru Bay [Gisborne 91km | Opotiki 243km] 10km south of Te Puia Springs is Tokomaru Bay, a beachside settlement with evidence of busier times before the urban drift evidenced by the faded facades of former banks and businesses. A well-stocked supermarket operates here, Tokomaru bay 4Square with Post Office, ATM and petrol. 8km of sandy beaches for surfing and fishing. There is a Freedom Camping area right on the beachfront and public toilets.
Waima [8km round trip] Take Beach Road along to the Te Puka Tavern, a modern complex with stylish accommodation, bars, a café and bistro with a million dollar view. 2km further you enter a living museum at the settlement of Waima, which was once a thriving port serving a busy meat processing factory. The works closed in 1952 and the harbour in 1963 but the ruins are still evident and the old wharf is a must to photograph or to try your luck at fishing.
Anaura Bay [14km round trip] 3km from Tolaga Bay there is a side road to Anaura Bay, 7km to another beautiful bay with a 2km curve of sandy beach backed by bush-covered hills. There is a designated walkway of 3.5km (two hours) along with all the seaside pleasures of swimming, surfing, boating and fishing. There is a full-time camping ground and a seasonal Department of Conservation camping area further north along the beach road. Anaura Beachstay/Willowflat Farmstay P 06 862 6341. Rangimarie Anaura Bay Beachstay P 021 633 372.
Kaiaua Beach [12km round trip] Just north of Tolaga Bay there is a turn-off to Kaiaua Beach, a 6km drive to a long, sandy bay protected by large headlands offering all the best qualities of a wild New Zealand beach. Freedom Camping allowed in season. Good for surfing and surfcasting.
Tolaga Bay [Gisborne 55km | Opotiki 279km] The largest of all the villages on your East Cape traverse with several café and eating options, petrol station. Freedom Camping is allowed at the northern end of the bay at “Blue Waters”. Tolaga Bay has a 9-hole golf course and a visit to the nearby Tolaga Bay wharf is a must.
Cook's Cove & Tolaga Wharf [4km round trip] The side road to the Cook’s Cove Walk and the Tolaga Bay Wharf is 1km south of the town, from where it’s about 2km to the beach. The walk to Cook’s Cove and the Hole In The Wall is 5km over farmland and through bush. It is quite steep in places and takes 2.5 hours return. Near the start of the walkway is the world-famous Tolaga Bay Wharf which reaches out into the blue Pacific for 660 metres, itself dwarfed by the massive cliffs of the nearby headland. It’s a East Cape tourer’s rite of passage to walk the length of this historic pier. Camping ground at the wharf site and a safe, sandy beach for swimming, surfing and walking.
Waihau Beach (Loisel's Beach) [9km round trip] 20km south of Tolaga there is a turn-off at the top of a hill heading 4.5km to the coast. A wide and secluded sandy bay offers great swimming, surfing, fishing, diving and walking. Freedom Camping allowed in designated area.
Pouawa Beach [Gisborne 16km/Opotiki 318km] Pouawa Beach and the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve (2450 hectares) is the start of the home run into Gisborne. Nature-lovers may want to stop here to walk the beach or snorkel the reef to view New Zealand marine life in its unplundered state. Freedom Camping is allowed.
Turihaua & Tatapouri [Gisborne 13km] Pass by sheltered Turihaua beach and around the corner to Tatapouri Bay, a reef-protected beach with a boat ramp and channel providing the closest access to Aerial Reef 6km offshore. A popular stingray viewing activity operates here and there is a camping ground right on the edge of the sea.
Makarori & Wainui Beaches [Gisborne 5km] Just minute’s from Gisborne Makorori and Wainui beaches offer a variety of reef, beach and point surf breaks and are both lovely beaches to walk along or to enjoy a picnic in the sand dunes.
Gisborne city is just a five minute drive.