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Scenic drives in New Zealand: The East Cape Road

One of our favourite scenic drives in New Zealand, the East Cape Road is a little known route. But it's one you shouldn't miss because it showcases the wild and untouched side of our country.

Tolaga Bay, East Cape Drive

One of our favourite scenic drives in New Zealand, the East Cape Road is a little known route. But it's one you shouldn't miss because it showcases the wild and untouched side of our country.

WHERE:

A lonely stretch of rugged coastline, the East Cape Road tracks from Gisborne to Opotiki (or vice versa) and is known for its striking beauty, Maori culture and lack of modern amenities. On this road you'll step back in time to New Zealand as it was 30 years ago, travelling through remote farming communities and windswept bays. Resplendent in craggy cliffs, pohutukawa trees, white sandy beaches, native forests and endless ocean the area is steeped in Maori history.

You'll see wild horses, sacred Maori burial sites, quaint kiwi stores and New Zealand's Longest pier. You'll pass through the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve, and Tokomaru Bay, home to interesting ruins leftover from a more prosperous time.
Other highlights include pristine Opotiki Bay, Te Kaha - a remote 19th century whaling settlement, Oruaiti Beach - thought on be the nicest on the pacific coast highway and Opape, a site of historical interest where early Maori settlers landed in their canoes.

DISTANCE:

At just over 320 km/198 miles this drive can be done in four and a half hours at a stretch - but to truly take in all this area has to offer we recommend spending at least two nights and three days on the road.

PHOTO STOPS AND MUST-DO SIDE TRIPS:

  • Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve. 16km East of Gisborne, this reserve is a popular stopping point on the Cape Road and as well as being home to many different species of marine animals and stingray, has a beautiful beach worth exploring.
  • Tokomaru Bay. A quaint seaside settlement, Tokomaru bay was once a bustling township with a large profitable freezing works. The effects of WWII on the economy led to the closure of the works in 1953. Many of the original buildings still remain and  are interesting to look around.
  • Tolaga Bay. Home to New Zealand’s longest pier, stop here for some great photo opportunities.
  • Te Kaha. A 19th Century whaling town, Te Kaha is steeped in history and still has an original whaling boat on display.

Sunset over Waikanae Beach, Gisborne