9. A long and winding road trip on State Highway 35
Let us guide you through the best road trip experiences for your New Zealand holiday: here is No. 9 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
It may only be 334 kilometres from Ōpōtiki in the Bay of Plenty/ Te Moananui Ā Toi around the tip of East Cape to Gisborne on the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui, but State Highway 35 is narrow and winding, and worth doing slowly.
Little Ōpōtiki has an excellent museum, telling the story of the missionary hanged from a willow tree outside the local church. The town has a strong Māori flavour, and there’s more of that along the route – European colonisers were late getting to the Cape. There are many marae (Māori meeting grounds) to see, notable for their intricately carved gateways and wharenui, or meeting houses. Stop to appreciate the workmanship, but don’t enter without an invitation.
Villages cluster around sandy beaches, looking across to Whakaari/White island beneath a permanent plume of steam from its deadly volcano. Stop at pretty little Raukokore Church, buttressed against the wind.
Stop too at Te Araroa, where a sprawling pōhutukawa tree is claimed to be the biggest in the country. Here you should take the side road and the 700 steps up to the East Cape Lighthouse, where you’ll be among the first in New Zealand to see the light of a new day – or you could do the Te Urunga-Tu sunrise experience from Ruatōria with a local guide, who will take you up the sacred mountain of Maunga Hikurangi. You must see the ornate Māori decoration in the church at Tikitiki, the 660-metre jetty at Tolaga Bay. Finally you’ll reach Gisborne, so glad you took your time.