A Flying Visit
It might not have been the largest plane in the world but it certainly was the friendliest. As we disembarked to the hot sticky tarmac, the pilot literally poked his head out of the cockpit to say “bye” to each of us, adding a cheery “Welcome to Gizzy!” The city’s known for a lot of things including being first to see the Sun, landing place of Captain Cook, brilliant beaches and Rhythym & Vines – but this weekend was going to start with the isolated, rural, "Boy"-ish East Coast.
State Highway 35 is the vein of the Coast, linking a collection of towns that have risen and fallen with the ebb and flow of resources, people and politics. Tolaga Bay, 45 min north of Gisborne was my first stop.
The biggest township on the East Coast happens to have the longest wharf in New Zealand, a stirring sight as waves crash against it at dawn. From there it was down the road – a quick stop at ‘secret’ Anaura Bay where my parents still go to “get away from it all” – before moving on towards the East Cape. Beyond the rumbling logging trucks and idling cows there wasn’t a lot of traffic. You get the feeling that’s the way the locals like it.
Tokomaru Bay, Te Puia Springs and Ruatoria all deserved a visit before arriving at one of the most majestic Maori churches in the country – the ornate St Marys in Tikitiki. With tukutuku work and intricate wood carvings, the church is dedicated to the Ngati Porou soldiers who died in World War I. Of course, no trip up the Coast would be complete without venturing to Te Araroa to see the world’s largest Pohutukawa, and the sign politely asking kids not to play on it.
Back in Gisborne a few hours later there was only one thing to do under the sun… wine tasting. I thought I’d misheard when, at The Works, a winery located on the wharf in town, they’d suggested “ 7 tastings for $10”. Out they came as the owner patiently took me through each glass, explaining the origin and various other things that I can no longer remember due to 7 wine tastings. Gisborne has no shortage of fine wine with names such as Milton Estate, Montana, Lindauer, Matawhero, Huntaway and Bushmere Estate all calling the region home.
Time to walk it off and luckily I’d picked up a Gisborne, A Historic Walk brochure from the Visitor Information Centre beforehand. Marking the landing of the first European on New Zealand shores in October 1769 is the Captain James Cook memorial. The first hongi between Pakeha and Maori took place on a rock just opposite this statue. Further along, another statue, that of Nicholas Young - “Young Nick” – who was the first on board the Endeavour to sight New Zealand and who has the brilliant white cliffs south of the city named after him.
Then the beach. Aficionados will argue about which Gisborne beach is better: Waikanae, Midway, Kaiti, Makarori… the fact there are so many to choose from tells you something. White sandy expanse? Check. Room for your huge towel and beach umbrella? Check. Offshore swell? Check. Icecream store with generous double scoops? Check. Yes, the beaches are something else and the locals know it. They teach surf school here.
At dusk the city comes into its own. No longer the sleepy town of the 80s, Gisborne has more hotels, bars and clubs than it rightfully should. Whether it be an Irish pub, a waterside wine bar or an upmarket restaurant you won’t be disappointed by either the service or the entertainment. And when the big Kiwi names go on their summer tours guess which town is always on the list?
If you just want to take time out though, like I did for my final afternoon there, you can appreciate this pretty city by strolling through Gisborne’s Botanic Gardens. An oasis for lovers to relax and admire one of the rivers flowing through the city, the gardens also house a decent aviary, some noisy ducks, and oh yes, some beautiful plants. 48 hours didn’t quite seem long enough though, and I felt a little cheated that I hadn’t dedicated more time to exploring this part of the country. It was hard getting back on the plane to leave, but somehow I knew that even that would be friendly.
Air New Zealand flies to Gisborne up to 7 times a day from Auckland and 4 times a day from Wellington. www.airnewzealand.co.nz
State Highway 35 from Gisborne to Te Araroa on the East Coast is approximately a two hour drive one way.
Wines of Gisborne a handy guide and a good starting point to book tickets to the annual wine festival http://www.gisbornewine.co.nz/
Gisborne Surf Report: Webcams, swells, winds, conditions and “stoke ratings” http://www.surf2surf.com/reports/gisborne