Gisborne intrigues me. It’s a mix of tradition, culture and nature. Lovely beaches are right there, the town is buzzy and interesting, and there is an air of self-sufficiency about it.
I’m only in town briefly before hitting the road, so I want to make the most of it. I walk the coastal path, joining locals walking their dogs. The town’s main street, wide and shaded by fan palms, lures me with its collection of shops, including the famous bookstore that’s been there forever. On Childer’s Rd, I find a buzzing cafe, a cinema, an art space, and shops selling fabrics, ceramics, New Zealand-made craft and clothes.
At Waikanae Beach, I take fish and chips and eat them hot while watching after-work surfers enjoy a mild swell. After a long walk along the beach, I head back to my digs for the night.
First stop, mid-morning, is Mōrere, where I stop for coffee. Over the road from the café is the Mōrere Hot Springs, with its pools set in the native forest and birdsong to accompany the soaking. It’s busy with happy families.
In Wairoa I swing off the main road to check out the museum and the stretch of shops opposite the river. It’s a sweetheart town, with a friendly vibe. One of this town’s specialities is its second-hand shops – ranging from genuinely special vintage clothing to antique and collectable all-sorts.
Napier beckons for the night. Once I’ve found somewhere to stay, I wander into town for a meal and I’m thoroughly spoilt for choice.
I’m sad that I’ve not arranged to stay longer here because the window displays are highly tantalising. Every shop seems to have been designed for me: antiques, deco jewellery, local art, ceramics, shoes, coloured glass… I’ll have to come back.
Early the next morning, I’m back on the road. I roll through Hastings and down the line – stopping eventually on the outskirts of Waipawa at a gallery crammed with surprises – drawings of dancing figures, garden art, copper, glass, photographs, sculptures made of bits and pieces.
In Waipawa itself, a classic cafe catches my eye and I settled in for fish pie and cups of tea before visiting the town’s quality second-hand shops.
I travel through more towns with sweet cottages growing old among cerise rhododendrons and masses of healthy roses. The houses all seem to have rocking chairs on sunny verandas. Their owners surely meander down the street, baskets over their arms, to gather supplies from the butcher, baker, wine cellar. Probably it’s travellers like me who get most excited about the shops stuffed with antiques, floral frocks and original sunhats.
Near Greytown, I stop for fresh strawberries. In this sunny little town, vintage furniture and contemporary interior designs fill shop windows. A steady stream of women head into a shoe and accessories outlet store; several fashion brands are represented here. For those wanting to indulge other appetites, a tempting-looking delicatessen does brisk business.
It’s Martinborough for the night for me, so I veer off SH2, drive the last stretch in high spirits and, with sincere joy, book into the town’s iconic hotel. My suite is in the garden, past a bright starburst of climbing clematis, behind a bed of white roses.
I find a wine bar that offers tastings so I settle in with a rack of pinot noir, the last of the sun for company, mulling over the day. It’s a town to walk in so I do and end up at Circus for dinner where I also catch a movie – pretty much the perfect wind-down to a full day.
I’d heard about the baby seals at Cape Palliser. Leaving Martinborough early, I head south past Whangaimoana, past Ngawi, drive to the end, where wild country and high-edged landscape leans into the wind and the ocean spits at craggy black rocks. There are quite a few of us, tourists with cameras, looking for the baby seals. I could smell them before we saw them.
Time is up. After three days on the road, I need to be in the city and I head over the Remutaka ranges to Wellington. I’ve resisted the urge to over-shop but my camera memory stick is full.