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

Travel: A roadtrip through the remote Eastern Cape of 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, but one you should make if you want to stay away from the usual tourist haunts. It’s just you, your car and the road – there is something profoundly kiwi about that kind of isolation.

My video of the trip

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 Maoris living there who don’t get the right opportunities to reach their full potential there. This makes me feel really sad when I go there and slightly depressed, because mostly they belong to the same Iwi as me and so we are all extended whanau.

Although I won’t harp on about the negatives about Gisborne, there are strong positives as well, as wherever there are Maori communities you have a lot of people banding together to genuinely help each other, to make ends meet and see things through. 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 help her. Life’s tough here, but there’s a lot of love here, and that’s beautiful.

My nan and I getting our nails done in Gisborne

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

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

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.  

Tokamaru Bay

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

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!  

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.

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
Staying in a shipping container through Air Bnb 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
Pukehina beach
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.

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.

A roadtrip through the Bay of Plenty and Eastern Cape of the North Island
A seal on Pukehina beach

We also made a lot of aimless walks along completely remote and windy stretches of beach, which was enjoyable. Collecting flotsam and jetsam on the beach is pretty much compulsory on these journeys.

7 thoughts on “Travel: A roadtrip through the remote Eastern Cape of New Zealand

  1. It’s the main corner of NZ I am yet to visit…. Speaking of seals, I’ve trudged the southern NZ coastline now for 35 odd years, and am fairly familiar with it. Last year I too rang DoC about a baby seal that was sitting alone on a pile of very recently collapsed cliff, and looked like it was at death’s door. I was very squarely put in my place with a lofty “It’s perfectly normal!”. I suspect it’s mother was below the pile of cliff and doubted the baby would have survived the night. But realistically I suppose, sick penguins you can do something for, but seals?

    1. I know right. It’s so difficult to leave them there and not meddle in their situation and listen to what DOC says with the ‘let nature take its course’ advice. Those big puppy eyes are hard to ignore or forget. I hope your seal managed to edge itself away from the cliff face and into a safer area. Have you helped a sick penguin before? I guess they must be easier to grab and less likely to turn around and bite you.

    1. Glad you liked the video and the images. Yeah the whole tiny house thing is huge in New Zealand and other places too, in Australia as well I have heard. Basically it’s all about living simply and without huge energy-guzzling homes. I really like the idea of this, and our shipping container we stayed in Pukehina Beach was about 2.5 metres by 10 metres long, so it was big enough but probably not for the long term. It was beautifully decorated with beach flotsam and jetsam and retro 70’s bach artefacts.

      I am considering buying a tiny house – have a look at this one – but my other half remains unconvinced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao-H-ZAOu4k

  2. I just thought of another one for you and Muky to see. I thought of you both there in HK when I saw this. This guy is a genius and he has made a ‘treehouse’kind of idea for his bedroom. I just love this idea. I totally geek out over these tiny house ideas they are so cool. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDIV1UGzlzs

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