Eastland, on the eastern tip of the North Island, is first in New Zealand — and the world — to feel the sun’s rays each day. Surrounded by hills and the Pacific Ocean, Eastland’s warm dry climate and relaxed coastal lifestyle offer rich local Māori culture, a vast outdoors, good food and wine.
Sunrise, in a city that’s first to wake each new day, is a unique experience. In another significant first, Kaiti beach was the first landing spot — centuries apart — for both early Māori and European arrivals. A fascinating city walk highlights many places of historical significance. Away from the city, Eastland’s landscape is wild and rural, with forests, national parks, beaches, rivers and lakes. Remote Lake Waikaremoana, in the Urewera mountains, has a four-day walking track that is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Te Urewera National Park’s vast pristine natural environment seems worlds away from civilization. The region also has many rewarding shorter walks.
Those looking to get out off the land and into the water can head to Dive Tatapouri which offers water-based experiences with Māori oral history — from swimming with seals and dolphins to stingray feeding or shark cage diving. Ocean game fishing charters chase hapuka, kingfish, snapper or tarakihi. The region also has good fishing rivers for brown and rainbow trout. The east coast is also renowned for its wild surf beaches. Getting there can be challenging, but the rewards are spectacular land and seascapes away from the crowd. Horse-riding tours explore remote beaches, and sea kayaking follows otherwise inaccessible coastal routes. Off-the-beaten-track Rere rockslide is a 60 metre smooth, natural water-slide.
Travellers wanting to sip some wine should go to Gisborne, the chardonnay capital of New Zealand. Newer vines of other varietals, particularly aromatics are now also generating interest from wine lovers. Planted by missionaries in the early 1800s, Gisborne’s original chardonnay vineyards were the result of a regional mix-up. But, by the time the missionaries realized they were not further south in the Hawkes Bay region, the vines had matured and were beginning to produce great wine. Vineyard tours in one of New Zealand’s sunniest places are a popular activity. Most wineries offer a café or restaurant for lunch, and almost all have tasting facilities.
Kaimoana (seafood) from the ocean doorstep is also plentiful in Eastland. The locals enjoy catching their own either fishing from boats and the beach, or eeling in the rivers. Highlights include crayfish (lobster) or fish and chips from the local shop, both good for a picnic on the beach.