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Pacific Coast Highway road trip: Gisborne to Napier

Follow the road to the places less travelled. Your journey from Gisborne to Napier is from the land of first light to the art deco town of Napier. It is the perfect weekend trip with contrasting scenery, people and culture. The drive passes surfing beaches, remote communities and towns where population decline is an issue. The temptation of indulging in geothermal Morere hot springs or the intoxicating joy of white water rafting the Mohaka River is at your fingertips. Start the journey and be memorized by the loving labour of tree planting and the legacy of the outstanding arboretum, EastwoodHill.

Trip Overview

Rere rockslide, EastwoodHill Arboretum, Morere, Wairoa, Mohaka, White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve is a drive from quiet settlements to bustling Napier


  • EastwoodHill National Arboretum
  • Morere Hot Springs
  • Rere rock slide
  • Mahia Peninsula
  • Wairoa lighthouse & river walk
  • Mohaka River jet boating, horse riding and farm stay
  • Mohaka Railway viaduct lookout picnic area
  • White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve waterfall and native forest
  • Shine waterfall walking trail

Duration: 1 - 3 days
Start Gisborne
Finish Napier

Gisborne is fun, it is family friendly with numerous holiday options that are not expensive. There are beaches for surfing or swimming and the iconic Rere rockslide. Foodies are catered for with wineries and delis as well the art scene is a showcase of New Zealand talent. You can explore New Zealand’s cultural identity with Maori tours who are passionate about their home. Gisborne has plenty to see and do for visitors. Gisborne beguiles the senses with the strong cultural connections to Maori culture, local passionate feelings about their place and the pride in showing visitors what makes Gisborne tick.

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EastwoodHill Arboretum


EastwoodHill Arboretum deciduous trees in spring, New Zealand
EastwoodHill Arboretum

As you leave Gisborne and drive through the Poverty Bay flats, past vineyards and orchards look for signage EastwoodHill Arboretum. As state highway 32 merges into the roundabout for state highway 2 take the turnover for Wharekopae Rd for an outstanding detour to one of New Zealand’s gardens of international significance, the EastwoodHill Arboretum.

Perhaps you have visited the arboretum before yet every time the trees and extensive plantings will offer seasonal differences for visitors to experience and enjoy.

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Rere rock sliding

Active adventure

Rere Falls, Gisborne, New Zealand
Rere Falls, Gisborne

Rere Falls, a wide waterfall cascades down a smooth rock face. Adventure sport down a natural rock waterslide at the Rere rockslide is exhilarating. Only 30 minutes inland from Tairāwhiti Gisborne, you will find the not so hidden gem, a natural water slide. The rock slide is 60 metres long with a water weathered smooth rock surface. Grab a body board, a spare tyre inner, your friend’s T-shirt and have fun. Scream and laugh as you slide into the pool below. And it is free.

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Te Wherowhero Lagoon & Nicks Heads
Te Wherowhero Lagoon, a tidal estuary on the edge of Poverty Bay, New Zealand. The headland in the background is called Young Nick`s Head
Te Wherowhero Lagoon

A tidal estuary parallel to the beach between Waipaoa River mouth and Te Kuri / Young Nicks Head. The estuary is a critical ecosystem for shorebirds and other life dependent on tidal flows. From the untamed expanse of Browns Beach observe Te Kuri a Paoa / Nicks Head, named by Captain Cook to recognise the cabin boy’s eyesight in spying the land mass. The traditional name honours the dog of Pāoa, Pāoa was the captain of the Horouta waka (canoe) , one of the original East polynesian navigators to land on the East Cape.

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Mahia Peninsula
Mahia Peninsula white limestone cliffs, New Zealand
Mahia Peninsula white limestone cliffs

Another detour where you might be beguiled into staying longer, especially if you have a surfboard. Mahia is a journey into the beach culture of a New Zealand summer holiday. The peninsula is a detour through farmland and remnants of lowland forest. Vistas open up to sweeping views of white cliff faces and the surf beaches of the Mahia Peninsula. The area was once an island; gradual sand accumulation formed New Zealand’s largest tombolo landscape. Watch the flurries of sand being whipped into the air. You can feel the particles busy at work building sand hills.

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@Kahungunu Community Marae - Nuhaka
@Kahungunu Community Marae - Nuhaka

For visitors interested in Maori architecture the small settlement of Nuhaka is home to the elaborately-carved Kahungunu Marae and the historic Nuhaka general store which has been open for more than 100 years. The Nuhaka Marae carvings were completed by returned servicemen and women (World War II). The building was opened in 1949. There is a notable carving of Ruawharo,a senior tohunga (priest) on the Tākitimu canoe, and settled at Te Māhia.

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Morere Hot Springs
Morere Hot Springs information plaque, New Zealand
Morere Hot Springs information plaque

The original lowland native forest is the setting for modern bathing and spa facilities of the Morere Hot Springs. There are a number of excellent walking tracks among the 364 hectares of forest. Stands of nikau palms are magnificent as well as rainforest staples such as ferns due to the microclimate of high rainfall and fertile soil.

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White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve
Kareaara stream in the White Pine Forest reserve Hawkes Bay New Zealand
Kareaara stream in the White Pine Forest reserve

Experience New Zealand’s remaining coastal forest on these short, easy walks that are wheelchair accessible.The short loop walk is approximately 800 metres. About halfway along the track, there are tables and chairs, a perfect spot to sit and listen to the songs of native birds while enjoying a picnic lunch. The longer loop, 1.6 km, is not wheelchair accessible. Visible are mature kahikatea trees and views of the reserve. The loop track passes a stream, looking for  small fish, eels and koura (freshwater crayfish) in the clear water.

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Tangoio Waterfalls walk
Te Ana Falls in the Tangoio Forest reserve Hawkes Bay North Island New Zealand
Te Ana Falls in the Tangoio Forest reserve

The walkway follows Karaara stream through native forest, open grassland, and old and new pine plantations to the Te Ana and Tangoio Falls. Listen for tui, kereru, bellbird, fantail, kingfisher and grey warbler in the forest and watch for freshwater crayfish in the stream. The walkway links with the short and long loop tracks in White Pine Bush Reserve path. Tangoio Walkway can be accessed from the picnic / parking areas at either the southern end of Tangoio Falls Scenic Reserve or opposite White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve.

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Wairoa River Parade walk, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Wairoa River Parade walk, Hawkes Bay

Wairoa is not usually viewed as a tourist destination. The town, similar to many rural communities, has witnessed a decline in the main street retail sector. There has been an issue with gang violence which has marked Wairoa in the country’s newspapers as a place steeped in criminal activities. Yet Wairoa is more than headline news. Wairoa’s main street borders the Wairoa River making it an attractive place to stretch the legs.

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Mohaka River
@Mohaka River Farm
@Mohaka River Farm

Mohaka Rafting is the proud owner of a 5.0 Trip Advisor rating, it’s hard to argue with star studded reviews. The Mohaka River offers something for everyone, with Grade 2, 3 and 4/5 trips available throughout the warmer months (along with multi-day expeditions to immerse yourself in the wilderness). So pack some togs (swimmers), lunch and water, and prepare for spectacular scenery, lots of laughs, a little bit of hard work now and then, and the satisfaction of a day spent with family or friends.

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Mohaka Railway Viaduct
Mohaka Viaduct, New Zealand
Mohaka Viaduct

Lookout point and picnic area. Pop into the lookout point to view the spectacular Mohaka Railway Viaduct, opened in 1937. The viaduct is steel construction, 96 metres above river level with a span of 278 metres. The Wairoa to Napier section was constructed through remote, inhospitable terrain.The completion of the Westshore road / rail bridge and embankment in 1918 was the first major step in the construction of a rail link to Wairoa. The line took 21 years to build.

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Shine Waterfalls
Shine Falls on the North Island in New Zealand
Shine Falls

Waterfall buffs will have Shine Falls on their bucket list. The horsetail waterfall drops 58 metres.Getting to the falls is a detour with the last 7 km on a gravel road. The track is well maintained and passes through farmland, lowland regenerating forest and finishes at towering sandstone cliffs. There are uphill sections and bridged stream crossings. Low-land forest includes kanuka, kawakawa, kowhai and titoki.

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Bell Rock track
Bell Rock at Boundary Stream in Maungaharuru Range near Hawke Bay, NZ
Bell Rock at Boundary Stream in Maungaharuru Range

Intrepid adventurers have Bell Rock in their sights. The entrance is from the Pohokura Road. The track distance 5.3 loop. Check Boundary stream walks, Hawkes Bay for walk details and safety advice.




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Art Deco street light, Napier, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Art Deco street light Napier, Hawke's Bay

Hawke’s Bay slogan’ Food and Wine country’ showpiece is Art Deco Napier. The town is framed by the sea, cliffs and a very attractive waterfront. Norfolk pines frame a marine parade with colourful timbered houses lining the main road into town. Victorian facades are rare in a town that suffered a devastating earthquake in the 1920’s. Out of the rubble emerged a town modelled on the art deco architecture complete with soft pastel colouring.

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