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Pacific Coast Highway road trip: East Cape Te Araroa

Adventure beckons, on Gisborne’s East Cape. The East Cape is isolated and lightly inhabited and is an experience for visitors wanting something different and unique. The road winds around the coast leaving New Zealand behind. You are entering an area where the original language Maori continues to be spoken in schools and settlements. The stewardship of the land is protected by local Maori communities. Surprises for visitors include Mt Hikurangi (Ruatoria) where Aotearoa, NZ first sees the sunrise, a world class manuka operation with its gift shop and cafe, to extraordinary church architecture. Buildings are set against stunning headlands and windswept beaches where wild horses roam. Revive and reset in one of New Zealand’s special places.

Trip Overview

Tauranga past Te Kaka, Hicks Bay, Cape Lighthouse, heritage churches, Mt Hikurangi sunrise and Tolaga Bay wharf to Gisborne


  • Raukokore Church
  • Tikitiki ornate Maori church
  • Manuka Honey Centre
  • East Cape Lighthouse walk and views
  • Marae architecture throughout the region
  • Scenic coastal views interspersed with bush clad hillsides
  • Mt Hikurangi and the first sunrise
  • Tolga Bay 660m wooden wharf
  • Rongokako Marine Reserve

Duration: 2 - 3 days or longer
Start Tauranga
Finish Gisborne


Visitors will see the area has pockets of economic decline manifested in abandoned buildings and closed premises yet the East Cape is not blighted by vandalism. The Cape is a treasure house of rich Maori heritage, a relaxed way of life centered around Te Moana (the ocean) and family.


October to mid-May

Abandoned workshop & washing machine and honey hives in nearby field, nearby Kaitaia, Northland, NZ
East Cape abandoned farmhouse

The beautiful East Cape drive is on narrow winding roads. Allow plenty of time and, ideally, spread the trip over several days. Pull over and observe the glorious carved architecture of local Marae’s (meeting houses). Remember do not enter property unless invited. There are quiet bays offering a chance to fish and swim. A superb honey centre with an adjoining gift shop and cafe to linger in and plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs including 700 steps to the stunning views of the East Cape Lighthouse.

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Opotiki Primary School entrance

Photo moment

Opotiki Primary School entrance is a striking example of Maori interpretation
Opotiki Primary School entrance

A beautiful school entrance encourages student attendance, together with a reminder of what standards were expected of nineteenth century teachers. Opotiki is a small rural town with a quiet main street. There are elements of economic deprivation with closed shops. Opotiki has to compete with Ohope beach for business as well as proximity to Whakatane. Opotiki definitely understands humour with its teacher’s instructions on good behaviour proudly displayed along with contemporary notices.

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Omaio - Otuwhare Marae
Otuwhare Marae, Omaio, Te Kaha vicnity East Cape, North Island, New Zealand
Otuwhare Marae, Omaio

This is a photo moment of the exterior of the Marae. Do not enter the private area unless invited.  Another nearby marae, Te Kaha Marae illustrates the importance of military tributes to fallen soldiers. These tributes and memorials are significant cultural landmarks throughout the East Cape. Te Kaha Marae (to stand firm) is an elaborately carved beautiful meeting place. Look for the remains of the old redoubt. Te Kaha, in the nineteenth century was a whaling settlement and a place of missionary activity with nearby Mangaroa Marae having an original whaling boat in the grounds.

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Military service and the ultimate price
TE KAHA vicnity Marae with its military memorial, New Zealand
TE KAHA vicnity Marae with its military memorial

A rocky bay is home to a busy Post Office store / grocery store. The original store was established by James Walker who established his business interests here in the 1870’s. Kea Creations & the Waihau Bay General Store have local information on the coast and local sea conditions. The area is lively with locals popping in for the mail, a chat and a coffee. There is an active deep sea fishing club with a concrete boat ramp. Boat charters can be arranged with the local grocery store. A local coastguard (VHF Channel 63) manned during daylight hours.

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Waihau Bay
Waihau Bay view of iconic white spire of Raukokore church, New Zealand
Waihau Bay view of iconic white spire of Anglician Raukokore Church

On the left 3km from School House Bay is the Maungaroa Marae with a whale boat on display.  This is the historic “Greyhound” that in 1993 was returned to the coast from Gisborne Museum.  The ruins of the original boat shed can be seen on the beach below the marae. Look for the signs indicating the path between two mature pohutukawa trees to the grave of Princess Te Rangi Pai and her husband John Howie.  The grave is marked with a guardian angel. The couple lived in “Kopuakoeaea” at Maungaroa.

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Hicks Bay
Hicks Bay beach with local inhabitants, wild horses, New Zealand
Hicks Bay beach with local inhabitants, wild horses

For abandoned industrial buildings Hicks Bay is a must do stop with its freezing works slowly rusting, collapsing into the surroundings. The once busy wharf is now a decaying reminder of the days when ships tied up to load up frozen meat. Look out for wild horses that frequent Hicks Bay for the seaweed treats, and crop grass on the beach verges. The town has a general store, takeaways specialising in fish n chips, and a local marae Hinemaurea ki Wharekahika. There are toilets opposite the general store.

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Te Araroa
Te Araroa streetscape with an abandoned building and cheerful side art, New Zealand
Te Araroa streetscape with an abandoned building and cheerful side art

Tiny coastal settlement with Te Waha-o-Rerekohu, New Zealand’s oldest and largest pohutukawa tree. It’s around 600 years old, and stands solidly in the grounds of the local school. Check out What’s so great about Te Araroa.

Te Araroa marks the detour to the historic East Cape Lighthouse.

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East Cape lighthouse
East Cape Lighthouse walk entrance with wild horses deciding where to graze next, New Zealand
East Cape Lighthouse walk entrance

The lighthouse is located on the most easterly point of mainland New Zealand. The historic East Cape lighthouse stands 154 metres above sea level and is accessed by a walking track with 700 steps.

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Tikitiki Church
Tikitiki Church, New Zealand
Tikitiki Church

Sitting on a hillside surveying the countryside is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s finest Maori churches. In 1924 the church was built honouring the soldiers of Ngāti Porou who died in World War I. Your access is based on trust that you will respect the place for its spirituality. The exterior is typical church architecture yet the stunning interior reflects Maori design principles. It is stunning. Koha (donations) are encouraged to support the maintenance of this culturally significant church.

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@Te Puka Tavern
@Te Puka Tavern

Te Puka Tavern – Tokomaru Bay. Located 40 minutes drive from Ruatoria is beachfront accommodation in Tokomaru Bay.

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Mount Hikurangi sunrise

Another day

@Maunga Hikurangi
@Maunga Hikurangi

Experiences offered by Ngati Porou Tourism include both sunrise and day tours commencing from the base of Mount Hikurangi. Visitors are escorted in a 4WD across private farmland (Pakihiroa Station) to Hikurangi. You will hear stories of Maori origin legend and the importance of the area to the identity of the Maori. Ngati Porou Tourism is the only commercial operator with permission to provide guided tours of Maunga Hikurangi.

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Tokomaru Bay
Tokomaru Bay, East Cape, New Zealand
Tokomaru Bay

Tokomaru Bay is another wharf largely abandoned to its fate as the ocean eats at the structure. It’s heyday was as a port exporting wool and meat from local meatworks closed in 1952. The centre of Tokomaru Bay’s economy between 1911 and 1952 was the freezing works at Waimā, at the northern end of the bay. Local activities include fishing and surfing Waimea Bay.


Tokomaru Horse Treks, trading as Eastender Horse Treks, appears to be permanently closed. Fishing is very popular, off the rocks, from the shore or on your boat. Tokomaru Bay Wharf is a recognisable landmark in the bay.

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Tolaga Bay

Must visit destination

Tolaga Bay restored wharf, New Zealand
Tolaga Bay restored wharf

Must visit destination

The wharf that was saved as a historic landmark. Over $5 million was raised by volunteers to restore the wharf to its former glory. The story of Tolaga Bay is told with a series of plaques. Walk the length of the wharf to get a sense of what an achievement a local community has pulled off.

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Rongokako Marine Reserve
Rongokako Marine Reserve picnic area, New Zealand
Rongokako Marine Reserve picnic area

The marine reserve has been awarded kiwi guardian status (Department of Conservation programme) and is a very special place. This is an ideal place for families and kids with the tidal flats, river flow and rock pools creating safe places for water play. The main beach is primarily an ocean surf. There are no lifeguards. There are toilets and a picnic area.



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