1. Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Ngātapa
Eastwoodhill Arboretum at Ngātapa has an outstanding collection of Northern Hemisphere trees, regarded as the largest and most comprehensive south of the equator. Planted by the eccentric Douglas Cook who used to wander around the property stark naked apart from gumboots and a sunhat, the arboretum encompasses over 131ha planted in exotic and native trees, shrubs and climbers. The arboretum is 30 minutes’ drive (34.5km) from Gisborne via the Wharekōpae Rd.
The many pathways are lovely to walk any time of the year but the trees are at their most spectacular in autumn when the leaves are on fire with red, gold and amber.
Our children used to love playing hide-and-seek there, burying themselves in deep beds of leaves.
2. Haurata Walks, Mātāwai
In 2008 Jane Tombleson had a bright idea. Having walked and ridden the hills of their back-country farm for years, she decided it was time to share the outstanding rugged beauty and history of the region with the rest of the world.
At the time, her husband Warwick was a little dubious about the merits of such a scheme but eight years later, Haurata Walks are booming. TV crews from Country Calendar, First Crossing and Māori TV visited and Haurata is suddenly not quite the hidden gem it once was.
There are long and short loop walks of varying degrees of difficulty, each with their own unique features. This is big, steep country so a reasonable level of fitness is required.
The landscape is spectacular – steep escarpments and bluffs, bizarre sandstone formations, native bushland, waterfalls, swimming holes, rock slides, native birds, sheep, cattle, wild goats and deer. At night you can see glowworms.
The four to six-hour Top of the World walk takes hikers to the highest point in the region which offers 360-degree panoramic views over Gisborne-Tairawhiti, Mt Hikurangi, Young Nicks Head and Panekiri Bluff.
Te Kooti’s Retreat, a three to five-hour walk, ends at a historic pā site on top of Ngātapa Mountain where, in 1869, the famous Ringatū church leader Te Kooti was surrounded by the English constabulary and Rōpata from the Ngāti Porou tribe before escaping over the cliffs into the Urewera ranges.
Accommodation at Haurata is available in the Farm House, a four-bedroom holiday home with all the luxuries including an outside tub, or the Backpacker Cottage which offers basic, budget accommodation with all the amenities you need for a great walking or country holiday. Meals can also be arranged.
3. Te Araroa – East Cape lighthouse
It’s a formidable climb up the 700 steps to the historic East Cape Lighthouse on Ōtiki Hill at East Cape, the most easterly point on mainland New Zealand and the world's most easterly lighthouse, but it’s worth the effort for the stunning view.
The lighthouse, originally built on a small offshore island, East Island, was relocated to the mainland in 1922. It was manned by three lighthouse keepers until 1985 when it became fully automated. Today the lighthouse is managed by Maritime New Zealand. To get there you follow a 22km mostly unsealed no-exit road along the coastline from Te Araroa. The lighthouse itself is not open to the public.
Did you know? In the tiny coastal settlement of Te Araroa, you'll find Te Waha-o-Rerekohu – New Zealand's oldest and largest pōhutukawa tree. It’s about 600 years old.
Down the road from Te Araroa is St Mary's Church in Tikitiki – one of the most ornate Māori churches in New Zealand. The wooden carvings and woven tukutuku panels are a tribute to local craftsmen and the cultural initiatives of a beloved Māori leader, Sir Apirana Ngata, who died in 1950.
I’ve never really fancied the thought of hanging out in the water with stingrays let alone touching and feeding them but I’m reliably informed it’s an awesome experience and totally unique to Tairawhiti. Dive Tatapōuri’s Reef Ecology Tour, 10 minutes’ drive north of Gisborne, introduces visitors to the children of Tangaroa, the Māori god of the sea.
Once you’ve been kitted out in waders, experienced guides take groups on a reef tour at low tide where you'll see stingrays and a multitude of other reefs-dwellers such as yellowtail kingfish, trevally, kahawai, crayfish, octopus and conger eel.
Dive Tatapōuri’s Snorkelling with Stingrays excursions get you even closer to the sea creatures in their natural environment.
You can touch, feed and observe wild stingrays and other marine creatures as they glide along the ocean floor.
5. Motu Trails
The Motu Trails make up one of 23 Great Rides on Ngā Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail. The trails, accessed from Ōpōtiki and Mātāwai (an hour’s drive inland from Gisborne), can be used year-round.
They range from the easy Dunes Trail, a 10km family fun ride on a wide, easy off-road trail over sand dunes to the east of Ōpōtiki; to the seriously adventurous Pakihi Track, a 21km historic wilderness experience on a narrow track with steep drop-offs; and the intermediate Motu Road Trail, a backcountry escape on a spectacular historic road that climbs to over 750m altitude.
There are a host of other trails including the Motu Trails Explorer rides. Accommodation, shuttle transport and bike hire are readily available.