Wainui Beach. © Tairāwhiti Gisborne

Wainui Beach: sunrises without peer


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Because he came from the west, Cook encountered the eastern side of the North Island of New Zealand’s North Island first.

The white headland at the southern end of what Cook misnamed Poverty Bay was spied from the Endeavour’s rigging by cabin boy, Nicholas Young – and Young Nick’s Head bears his name to this day.

Daylight approaches from the same direction and, thanks to New Zealand’s proximity to the International Dateline, the first city in the world to see the sunrise on each new day is our very own Gisborne. That’s what made it a mecca for merry-makers when the new millennium ticked over.

Those who stood on Wainui Beach just to the city’s north and sipped local chardonnay as the sun heaved over the horizon that morning felt themselves to be among the luckiest people in the world.

Wainui is a beautiful stretch of white sand that receives a nice, clean Pacific swell in westerly weather – and happily, the prevailing winds are from the westerly quarter. And with nothing between spectators and South America but the wide, wide horizon, the sunrises are without peer.

Inland from Gisborne, the alluvial plains are among the most fertile, wine-growing soils in New Zealand.

Wine was first grown there when a band of Marist missionaries landed in Gisborne instead of their intended destination, Hawke’s Bay, in 1850. They planted a few vines before they realised their mistake.

A hundred years later, there were a couple of growers scratching their heads at the massive yields from their white grape vines. And 50 years later again, Gisborne has become New Zealand’s third largest wine-growing region. White grapes predominate, with Chardonnay making up over half of the region’s vines. But other varietals are doing well, too – notably, Gerwütztraminer – and others, such as Muscat, Viognier, and Merlot, show promise.

The best time to appreciate this aspect of our most easterly city is during Gisborne’s Wine Week when events such as the International Chardonnay Challenge – featuring the hard-to-resist Italian Long Lunch – and the Gisborne Wine and Food Festival are celebrated. But wine tours are available at any time of year, and Gisborne’s climate is highly conducive to rounding off a day at the beach with a lightly chilled Millton Organic Gisborne Chardonnay.

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