Travel: A roadtrip through the remote Eastern Cape, New Zealand

People seldom visit the Eastern Cape of the North Island because of its complete isolation from the rest of the country’s bustling travel routes. It’s quiet in terms of other cars – there are none, except for the occasional local farmer and logging truck ferrying wood from forests to the port in Gisborne.  It’s an eight hour long drive between Gisborne and Opotiki in the Eastern Cape. It’s just you, your car and the road – there is something profoundly kiwi about that kind of isolation. There is a rugged, lonely and windswept beauty to these parts of New Zealand, and gigantic conch shells, and faded driftwood. Beach foraging here for treasures is next level. Peace and quiet here is abundant, other than the wild lashing wind.

The video

I also filmed our road trip. The track you are hearing is Halcyon&On&On by Orbital, a rave-era classic I love and it always makes me feel uplifted and happy and ready to embrace life with an open heart and open hands.

I superimposed some of my interesting oil, glitter and water experimentations over the top of my footage to get the full wavy-gravy trippy effect. In some parts I created a trippy glitch effect especially over the seagull.

I hope you enjoy my journey through the Eastern Cape.

Gisborne

We started our road trip in Gisborne to see my nan. What can you really say about Gisborne. It has lovely beaches but mostly the place lives up to its namesake of Poverty Bay, because there are a lot of people here who don’t get the right opportunities to reach their full potential. Overall there is a bit of a depressing vibe here.

Although I won’t harp on about the negatives about Gisborne, there are many positives too. There is a real sense of tight-knit community. If you have a car break down here you will get five people stopping within the first ten minutes. I saw this in action when I had a cousin break down on the main street, within minutes she had three carloads of people stop and ask if she needed help. My nan and I got our nails done in the local nail salon and it was really lovely. A lot of my distant relatives live here, it’s like going home, even though I have never lived there.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
My nan and I getting our nails done

Turihaua beach

This was a rugged, beautiful beach about 16km out of Gisborne with gigantic conch shells and driftwood that visitors had formed into lovely huts. A local artist has erected a sign saying Turihaua which made me remember the name . It was particularly windy and sunny this day, which made the windswept beauty more vivid and enjoyable. There’s a camping ground there and not much else, but if you are after complete isolation and a beautiful wild beach, then this is the place and probably my favourite beach in the Eastern Cape.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island

Tolaga Bay Wharf

Continuing up the eastern cape, we came to Tolaga Bay wharf. This is a crumbling relic of a bygone era that has been faithfully restored by the local community. It stretches out 100m and used to be used to ferry goods to the area before the Second World War, after this it fell into disuse. Walking along it with the white cliffs, the whole area was very scenic and great for photos.  

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island

Tokamaru Bay

We stopped along the way in Tokamaru Bay. This area had a real hippy, slightly abandoned atmosphere, as though it had seen better times. Some of the buildings had been completely abandoned, or otherwise looked shabby, which gave an eerie feeling to the place. A tiny beach hidden in a cove there with a jetty was home to some local artists and sculptors, what a lovely place to go off the grid! 

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
Broken down factories in Tokamaru bay

Raukokore Church

On the edge of the world it seems, there resides a windswept and century old church where parishoners have congregated and worshipped and families have grown and flourished. From looking at the poem in the church I could sense all of the lived history of the locals here. I love old and lonely churches, especially in the late afternoon as the sun streams through their leadlight windows. This one had a humble, peaceful and serene vibe, it smelt of warm wood and musty sea salt. I could sense all of the people singing there across the ages. I could have stayed in there a long time but I was hastened to go by my driving partner.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island

Pukehina Beach

We ended up road trip through the East Cape in Pukehina Beach, a little beachside hamlet located in the Bay of Plenty in the North Island of New Zealand between Opotiki and Tauranga.

We stayed in an amazing accommodation there – a renovated shipping container with funky retro décor inside.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
Comfy bed in a shipping container through Airbnb Pukehina beach – was amazing!
A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
Staying in a shipping container through Air Bnb Pukehina beach
A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
A big luxurious bath in a shipping container through Air Bnb Pukehina beach

The area features a long peninsula of land with the Pacific ocean on one side and a wetlands behind it. A long, long road of about 10 km in length features baches (Kiwi beach houses) and a quirky, arty, laid-back vibe. There is one pub which doubles as both a café and dairy during the day along with a small fish and chip shop. There is something genuinely Kiwi about this place that made me want to live here.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
Beachy vibes in Pukehina beach
A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
An unconventional house in Pukehina beach

People have set up unconventional houses here, with renovated corrugated iron sheds and shipping containers as homes. I really admire this kind of DIY aesthetic, where anything goes and it’s a bit chaotic. This kind of approach to design tends to result in a lot of weird eclectic things which go towards making a place unique.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island

On the beach there were kms of houses facing the ocean, along with vacant blocks. On browsing online I found that these blocks were selling for about 300K. Not bad compared to Auckland prices. I had fantasies about moving here, although really there’s nothing you could do here in terms of work unless you either worked remotely, worked in the local fish and chip shop or sold weed. Any of those options might work. It’s idyllic, very quiet, and almost somnambulant in pace.

A sea-dwelling visitor

While walking along the sand we came upon a sea-dwelling visitor. A baby seal which looked slightly bothered by us walking past. He seemed to have a minor head injury, as though a dog had tried to take a piece out of him. Although that didn’t stop this plucky little beast from rearing up at us and chortling in a strange and amusing way.

 A few years back I made the mistake of calling up Department of Conservation about baby seal that was wiggling itself perilously close to the road in Ruatoria, and was without its mother. I was told by the ranger to leave it alone and let nature run its course. This is a bit harsh in my opinion but anyway. So this time, seeing a seal with a minor head wound – I knew not to meddle any further.

6 thoughts on “Travel: A roadtrip through the remote Eastern Cape, New Zealand

    1. Yeah…nice nature, wild and wind-swept. Great if you want to be as far removed as possible from city life.

  1. I’ve recommended ‘Whale Rider’ to numerous people I’ve met on this trip. Wonderful film, nice blend of all sorts of things (I love the supernatural in it) and captures life in small-town NZ as I hope more or less stays for a long time yet.

    1. Yeah! I know Whale Rider is such a perfect depiction of the east coast. In terms of the windswept beaches and the wide open space you can’t beat it really. This place also has that feeling of silence, I guess a tiny bit like the Mongolian steppes but probably nowhere near as intense. There is that feeling of being on the edge of the earth though which is both unsettling and nice. Also another more fun and upbeat film that was set in the same area is Boy – I think that was also filmed on the east coast. The whole broken down Dairy and Fish and Chip shop thing that is in Boy I can totally see that as an East Coast thing.

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