As much as we love to travel, both New Zealand and the world, we call New Zealand home. So to us, it has been important that our children see the real New Zealand. We have traveled with them extensively throughout New Zealand and will continue to do so throughout the rest of this year.
And when we do make it overseas again, after this global pandemic, we know that we will be able to proudly show off our homeland. We have been tourists in our own country. And we can make recommendations about the real New Zealand. Beyond the mainstream travel brochures.
The East Coast of New Zealand is one of those regions. You will not find it in your travel brochure alongside the glitz of Auckland and the kapa haka performances of Rotorua or the crisp blue lakes of Queenstown. You will find real New Zealand here.
Travel around the East Coast is usually broken down into multiple trips to the different regions, i.e. the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, East Cape, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, and Wellington. Although we did complete this all in one road trip, I’ll break it up for the purpose of this blog. There is just too much to see and do to fit into one blog!
This blog post is a highlights roll, each of these regions will have a blog post of their own over the next few weeks. That way I can give you all the hot spots and best tips for each destination in glorious detail.
The Coromandel, whilst arguably not the East Coast, was the start of our East Coast trip. The Coromandel has a special place in our hearts, thanks to my husband’s family history. His family has a bach (or a crib if you are from the South Island, both mean a holiday home) at Waikawau Bay. Waikawau Bay is a beautiful white sand surf beach, the Bay is complete with an Estuary, beautiful bush, a DOC camp, and native birds. It is a place my husband has spent every summer holiday since he was born, as have our girls.
We were married on the beach at Waikawau Bay, and our children are named after its beautiful coastline.
So given this was a summer holiday trip, we started our journey in the Coromandel, camping at Waikawau Bay. Every morning I’d go for a walk along the white sandy beach. We took the girls down to the Estuary to kayak. They would play on the rope swing at the DOC camp. Or slide down the rock slide at the freshwater swimming hole. There are bush walks to do and fish to catch off the rocks or the boat. Rockpools to explore. And day trips to Coromandel town, or north to Port Charles. Campfires and marshmallows to roast in the evenings.
Bay of Plenty and East Cape
Whereas the Coromandel has earned a place in my heart later in life, the Bay of Plenty is home. I grew up here, at the beach. I fell asleep at night listening to the sound of the waves crashing. As a teenager we would hike over the hill to the surf beach and fall asleep on the sand, waking up burnt to a crisp.
If you are traveling the East Cape you will go through Whakatane and Opotiki. It is after Opotiki that you seem to step back in time. This is the East Cape in all its beauty and character.
At its most Eastern tip, you can climb the 800 steps to the East Cape Lighthouse and watch the sun come up. Until recently, this was the first place in the world to see the sunrise! (this changed when American Samoa changed its timezone and claimed the title to the first place in the world to see the new day’s sun).
Along the way, there are historic churches and penguin colonies to visit. Macadamia ice cream to try, New Zealand’s largest Pohutukawa Tree to visit and New Zealand’s (second) longest wharf built in Tolaga Bay in 1929. There are wineries and rock slides, empty surf beaches, and great coffee. There are hot pools, friendly people, and a satellite launch site. And New Zealand’s best pies, although that is a hotly contested title!.
The Gisborne area is a great wine-growing region thanks to the dry, sunny climate and rich soil. We were lucky enough to visit the Matawhero winery on a Saturday afternoon where we could sit outside on beanbags, taste wines, and listen to live music. Matawhero has a particularly yummy rose and a divine chardonnay. You can often find these wines in restaurants throughout New Zealand, I definitely recommend you try them if you have the chance.
The land of wine, food and art deco. What is not to love? There are amazing wineries. Parks, and cycle tracks. And if that is not enough, the entire city was rebuilt in Art Deco style after the 1931 Earthquake and fires, making it a rare gem to explore in style.
The highlight of this trip was the tractor ride along the beach to Cape Kidnappers to visit the world’s largest, most accessible mainland gannet colony with Gannet Beach Adventures.
Wairarapa is another unique wine region! The Wairarapa is more of a boutique wine region, it makes up only 3% of New Zealand’s wine-growing land, and produces only 1% of its wine. But the wine it does produce is unique in flavor, particularly its renowned pinot noir.
We stayed in Martinborough. Martinborough is an idyllic little town with fantastic cafes and wine bars. Our campsite was within walking distance of the township, and surprisingly, wineries! In fact, there are more than 20 wineries within cycling distance of the village itself. No driving required.
As we were a bit over moving the caravan by this stage, we stayed camped at the Top 10 in Martinborough and used it as a base for day trips.
Cape Palliser is one of those worthwhile day trips. Not only is there another lighthouse ( at the most South East Cape of the North Island… we are ticking them off), there is the North Island’s largest fur seal colony, and the Pinnacles Walk (Lord of the Rings filming location…).
There are many little towns to explore in the region. Greytown is a quaint little town, with antique stores to explore, old fashioned bicycle shops, and a chocolate boutique. Ngawi on the other hand is a little fishing village complete with a row of diggers to safely launch fishing boats. The diggers were a unique solution to a windswept coastline and a rough swell. Now the colorful lineup has also become a unique tourist attraction.
Martinborough is also within reach of Wellington for another day trip. We spent a stormy, rainy day down in the Capital at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. We got to enjoy Sir Peter Jackson’s incredible Gallipoli exhibition. Entry is free for the museum. It’s well worth spending the day there and wandering along Wellington’s waterfront.
Although we originally wanted to complete our circumnavigation of the North Island by traveling back up along the west coast, we were tired of the caravan and yearning for our own bed. So we cut through the middle of the Island, stopping for dinner on the lakefront at Taupo on the way home. The West Coast is still on our bucket list for another day.
Taupo is another place that keeps a little bit of my heart every time it turns on a stunning day, whether in the height of summer or on a crisp winter’s day. There are things to do here all year-round. I’ll expand on these in a more focussed Taupo blog, but in the meantime, so you know how much there is to do, here is a snippet!
- Dig a hole in the hot water beach to bathe, or spend some time in the hot springs at Spa Park, all completely free. Spa Park also has an awesome playground for kids, complete with a flying fox. Or if it’s raining, try the water slides at the AC Baths.
- Play mini put. Take a soak in the hot pools at either De Bretts or Wairaki Terraces (complete with a massage if desired).
- Walk around Craters of the Moon, visit Huka Falls, watch the rapids at Arohina as they release the water from the Dam (do not climb down to the water’s edge)… Take a boat ride out on the lake.
- Ski on Mt Ruapehu. Have high Tea or cream and jam on scones at the Chateau, with a picture framed view of the snow-capped mountains.
And once again, time to come home to our comfortable bed!
The Place I call Home Series
This article does not contain affiliate links. Any recommendations are my own honest accounts. I will not receive any commission from any of the recommendations I have made in this article. However, I will have helped support the New Zealand tourism industry post-Covid-19 lockdown.
This blog is part of The Place I call Home Series, a #NewZealandTravelBlog. Earlier blogs in this series include:
- The Place I call Home, a New Zealand Travel Blog
- The Place I call Home, a New Zealand Travel Blog, Northland in a Campervan Part 1.
- Northland in a Campervan, Part 2.
#travellocal #supportNewZealand #tourismNewZealand #NewZealandTravelGuide