New Zealand's East Cape of the North Island is one of the most isolated areas in the country. This region has a reputation for rugged yet spectacular coastlines, rich Māori heritage and culture, and a relaxed way of life centered around te moana (the ocean). The East Cape region is where the films Whale Rider and Boy were set and filmed. Both films portray the region's lifestyle fairly well.
- Te Kaha Small community 65km drive north east from Opotiki. Te Kaha is a popular spot for fishermen and holiday makers from Opotiki.
- Whanarua Bay and Maraehako Bay These neighbouring bays offer several good accommodation options and are popular with summer holiday makers. Whanarua bay itself is accessed from the highway by a steep one way road about 200m west of the Rendezvous holiday park.
- Raukokore Featuring a picuresque Anglican church standing isolated near the shore of Papatea Bay.
- Waihau Bay Well known among sports fishermen and is the setting for the film Boy. Waihau Bay is a 100km drive north east from Opotiki.
- Whangaparaoa The easternmost settlement in the Bay of Plenty
- Hicks Bay
- Te Araroa Small beachside settlement famous for its manuka honey. There is a decent holiday park near the beach that also contains a small shop. Head 20km along East Cape Rd to see the East Cape lighthouse on top of the easternmost point of mainland New Zealand.
- Tikitiki The most easterly point of the New Zealand Highway network.
- Ruatoria With a population of around 900 Ruatoria is the second largest town in the East Coast district. Ruatoria is the home of the East Coast Rugby Football Union - the smallest union in New Zealand.
- Tokomaru Bay
- Tolaga Bay Small bay and settlement that is popular among local holiday makers and features the longest wharf in New Zealand
The East Cape region is officially part of the Gisborne District. However, the East Cape is generally referred to as the entire geographical cape between the east of Opotiki and the north of Gisborne. This area of New Zealand has a strong Māori presence and influence, with 88 percent of the population being Māori and 45 percent speaking Māori (compared to 14 percent and 4 percent respectively for New Zealand). Historical, cultural and economic ties to ancestrial land are a main contributing factor to this unique demography. Unemployment, poverty and isolation are common on the East Cape. However, its inhabitants generally offer a warm welcome to travelers.
Travelers who are interested in the Māori way of life, or who love getting off the beaten track, should find this region fascinating. Travelers making their way through this region should be aware of cultural aspects such as tapu (sacred) areas such as burial grounds and rahui (temporary ban) on fishing.
Māori is spoken regularly by nearly half of the East Cape region's population. Check out the Māori phrasebook for pronunciation tips and basic Māori words.
Take State Highway 2 from Auckland, Tauranga or Wellington. From Rotorua take State Highway 30 or State Highway 33 to the Bay of Plenty coast to meet State Highway 2. State Highway 2 meets State Highway 35 at Opotiki in the Bay of Plenty and at Makaraka about 6km from Gisborne in Poverty Bay.
Follow State Highway 35. It is the only significant road around the cape and connects most of the significant settlements and all the important side roads. To access the East Cape Lighthouse take East Coast Rd from Te Araroa.
Fuel can be hard to come by on State Highway 35 so fuel up in Opotiki or Gisborne and plan your trip to ensure you don't run empty. There are some general stores located on SH35 that provide basic fuel for a premium price. These stores have limited opening times, and may have run out of fuel all together.
Seafood (kai moana) is one of the highlights of this region. Fresh paua (abalone), crayfish, oysters, and a wide variety of fish and other shell species can be caught or collected from the coastline or traded with local fishermen (see Do section). You can usually find the fish and chip shop attached to the local holiday park.
If you are planning purchasing groceries it is a good idea to get them from Whakatane, Opotiki or Gisborne before you begin your journey as the availability of goods in this region are limited.
- Te Kaha Beach Resort, Te Kaha Hotel Rd, ☏ . Studio and luxury apartments, a seafood focused restaurant, and a bar that is most frequented by the locals.
- Oceanside Apartments, Oruaiti Beach, Waihau Bay, ☏ . Highly recommended beach bach style accommodation run by a friendly couple who can provide home cooked meals, fishing trips and kayaks.
- 1 Te Araroa Holiday Park, State Highway 35 (approx 6km west of the township), ☏ . Decent holiday park that is a short walk from the beach. There is a general store and other facilities on site. Tent sites from $11, rooms from $55.
- East Cape Lighthouse Holiday Home, 1979 East Cape Rd (directly below the lighthouse), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A 4 bedroom house available for overnight or longer stays. Ideal for those wanting to see sunrise at East Cape. Fully equipped with linen, washing machine, TV etc.