Photo: Strike Photography
The Top Things to Do in Gisborne
By Justine Tyerman
If you’re looking for some great ideas of the best things to do in Gisborne New Zealand, well, hold the front page…
When visitors first come to Gisborne, we take them up Kaiti Hill, known as Titirangi in Maori, to gain a historical and geographical perspective of the region. You can hike up a track with steep steps or drive up a windy road to a series of look-outs. Here you can take in the breathtaking views across Poverty Bay (soon to be known as Turanganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay) and the fertile flats dissected by three major rivers.
It’s a perfect spot to view Young Nick’s Head (Te Kuri a Paoa), named after Nicholas Young, Captain James Cook’s cabin boy on the HMS Endeavour, who first sighted the sheer white cliffs in October, 1769. Near the top, there’s a controversial statue of Captain Cook overlooking the bay. Is it Cook or not? Be sure to read the plaque at his feet which tells an intriguing story.
Cook stepped ashore for the first time on Aotearoa-New Zealand soil at a site marked by a tall obelisk at the foot of Titirangi – it’s near where the historic first meeting between Maori and European took place in 1769. Tragically, the encounter was marred by a series of misunderstandings that resulted in the deaths of several Maori.
Initially Cook had planned to call the bay Endeavour Bay after his ship, but instead he named it Poverty Bay because he couldn’t get the provisions he needed here.
More Top Things to Do in Gisborne
Be sure to visit Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery, which is one of the best regional museums in New Zealand. There are excellent permanent exhibitions about Maori and colonial history as well as regularly-changing contemporary exhibits.
Next door is the 28 Maori Battalion C Company Memorial House, a moving tribute to the 1,000 Maori men of Tairawhiti who served in WW2. Their war effort is famous in Tairawhiti.
Another must-do is to pay a visit to the Saturday morning Gisborne Farmers’ Market near Tairawhiti Museum to mix with the locals, buy fresh produce, and listen to live entertainment. The market has been operating for 10 years and has grown to incorporate a wide range of fruit, vegetables, meat, wine, flowers, and bread, including organically-grown and gluten-free products.
For wine-lovers, the best place to get an overview of our magnificent wines is the Gisborne Wine Centre based at Crawford Road Kitchen, right on the waterfront in the inner harbour. Founded over six years ago as a showcase for local wines, the centre is a great place for tasting the many different varieties grown here.
Sheltered by hills, Gisborne’s warm, dry climate and soils create fabulous, full-flavoured wines. In fact, the region is the self-proclaimed ‘chardonnay capital of the world’. The rosé is fabulous too. (You can read more about these and other great wines on LuxuryGisborne’s Sip & Savour section.)
Gisborne is not all about wine, though. Sunshine Brewery has been making delicious batch-brewed beer using all-natural ingredients since 1989. One of the oldest independent breweries in New Zealand, Sunshine is just a block from Waikanae Beach. I always chuckle when I see the sign outside that reads: ‘A lot of good surfing days were missed to bring you this beer.’
Gisborne on Rails
Gisborne’s newest attraction is The Gisborne Railbike Adventure, a unique tandem cycle ride along the scenic 90 kilometres of retired coastal railway between Gisborne and Wairoa. You pedal in pairs side-by-side along the railway tracks on bicycles joined together with a steel chassis. The wheels are secured to the tracks so all you do is pedal: no balancing or steering required.
One and two-day rides include bridges, a tunnel, and spectacular scenery. After just a few months, the GRA has been rated #1 on Stuff’s ‘Top 10 best things to do in New Zealand under $100’.
The only train that runs along the Gisborne and Wairoa line these days is a vintage steam train. Several times a year, the Gisborne City Vintage Railway take their pride and joy, Wa 165, out of the shed for a run. Built in 1897, the steam train is the only remaining Wa class engine in New Zealand. When a cruise ship visits the bay, the train pulls up at the wharf and puffs its way across a harbour bridge to a powhiri (Maori welcome) at a local primary school. It’s the only railway line in the Southern Hemisphere that crosses an airport runway. Yes, in Gisborne, planes give way to trains.
Gisborne by Sea
Dive Tatapouri’s Reef Ecology Tour, 10 minutes’ drive north of Gisborne on SH35, introduces visitors to the children of Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea. It’s the only place in the southern hemisphere where you can feed and pat wild stingrays, and even go snorkelling with them. It’s an awesome experience, totally unique to Tairawhiti, and hugely-popular with tourists.
Another fun adventure includes taking a cruise around the bay onboard the MV Takitimu, believed to be the oldest pilot vessel in New Zealand still in operation. Some cruises feature local historians Joe Martin and Anne McGuire who will take you on a fascinating journey exploring 1,000 years of seafaring tradition and navigating history. Along the way you’ll visit the place where Captain Cook anchored HMS Endeavourin 1769, and where the first exchanges between the ship’s crew and local Maori took place.
Gisborne on Foot
There’s no better way to get to know a place than on foot. The Oneroa Cycle and Walkway linking Waikanae Beach to Midway Beach is a must. Wheelchair and pushchair-friendly, it’s 100 percent flat and accessible to all. The views of the bay, the sunsets and cliffs of Young Nick’s Head, stark white against the blue-green sea, are stunning.
Okitu Bush Scenic Reserve walk is an easy 20-30 minute loop track near Wainui Beach through beautiful bush that’s rich in native birdlife. The track climbs to a lookout with fabulous views over Wainui Beach to Tuahine Point.
The Makorori Headland walk between the surfing beaches of Wainui and Makorori is just across the road from the Okitu walk. At the top, look out over the vast blue Pacific Ocean as far south as Mahia Peninsula and Portland Island and north to the Tatapouri Headlands.
Te Kuri Farm Walkway is a challenging 2-3 hour, 5.6km loop track with multiple ups and downs and some steep climbs. However, the awesome panorama of Poverty Bay from a lookout point at Town Hill (290m) makes the considerable effort all worthwhile. On a clear day, hikers can see as far south as Mahia Peninsula and as far west as Maungapohatu on the eastern fringes of Te Urewera National Park. Remnants of native bush along the way provide a home for native birds.
Great Surf… Great Food and Wine
With 30 percent of New Zealand’s best surf breaks within 10 minutes of the city, surfing is a big deal in Gisborne. The experts tell me our consistently-great surf is due to the strong swell that passes our coast, the wide open beaches, and the steady sea breeze. The surf at Wainui Beach is known to be world-class. Further up the East Coast, there are stunning, remote white and golden sand beaches where you might often find yourself the only one there.
Finally, celebrate spring this year in Gisborne. It’s become a tradition here to shake off the winter with great exuberance at the annual Wine and Food Festival held over Labour Weekend in October. The festival celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2018 and is still going strong.
You can read my story here in The New Zealand Herald.
Contributing Editor Justine Tyerman is an award-winning travel writer, journalist, and sub-editor from Gisborne, New Zealand, with 20 years’ experience in newspaper and freelance work. Check out her work at www.just-write.co.nz and Tyerman’s Travels Facebook.