The East Cape of New Zealand is wild and empty and relatively untouched by tourism. Its a long drive to get there but the rewards are great indeed. Our starting point was the lovely town of Gisborne where there are vineyards and beaches galore. A good place to get your bearings is at the Titirangi Domain where you can get panoramic views of Poverty Bay and the township itself. Gisborne is also home to the New Years Festival Rhythm and Vines which is always a lot of fun, attracting big acts from all over the world.
A neat side trip while staying in Gisborne is driving 45 minutes inland to Rere Rockslides. This place is incredibly unique and is a natural rock waterslide, so bring a body board or a tube and slide on down the mossy rocks.
Just north of Gisborne are the incredible beaches of Wainui and Okitu, these beaches are great for both swimming and surfing or merely lounging in the sunshine. Being only 10 minutes from Gisborne they should be frequented at any sunny opportunity.
Continuing northwards another 40 minutes is Tolaga Bay which is a good place to stop for lunch and to take a stroll along the wharf.
Just 20 minutes north of Tolaga Bay is the beautiful Anaura Bay and it is the perfect place to camp for a few days. This is one of the places that Captain Cook landed and we met up with a few of our friends at the Anaura Bay Motorcamp. There is a DOC campsite nearby, however, it is incredibly basic, with no toilets etc. This private campground is only NZ$20 a night and has everything you need. Anaura Bay is gorgeous and is probably the most beautiful beach we have ever visited. Hike up the hill for a view of the area and start a bonfire on the beach in the evening with a few drinks. We could have stayed here forever.
Just before you hit Hicks Bay, at Te Araroa, stop in for a visit at Te Waha O Rerekohu which is the oldest Pohutukawa Tree in New Zealand at 600 years old. Another good lunch picnic stop on your way around the East Cape.
About 2 and a half hours from Anaura Bay is Waihau Bay and just further on is Maraehako Bay Retreat Backpackers. Its owned by a quirky and slightly grumpy man but the location is second to none. Maraehako Bay Camping is also around the corner if you are up for a very basic campground. The beaches along this part of the East Cape are gorgeous and deserted. Being only 2 hours from Whakatane (Bay of Plenty), it is the perfect spot to complete your East Cape road trip.
The East Cape of New Zealand is stunning and if you have the time then a camping trip in the area should definitely be on your list. Gisborne has a lot of affordable accommodation options for camping and backpackers, as well as a lot of options on AirBnB. For the rest of your East Cape trip I recommend camping as most of the beaches are remote and there are not many places to stay. This part of the country is pretty cheap and, if camping, you’re looking at around NZ$50 a day.