Kia ora: Gisborne

Visitors will be amazed at the wide variety of attractions, writes Elisabeth Easther.

New Zealand surfer Richard Christie blasts off the top of a wave at Waikanae Beach in Gisborne during the O'Neill Coldwater Classic surf contest.
New Zealand surfer Richard Christie blasts off the top of a wave at Waikanae Beach in Gisborne during the O'Neill Coldwater Classic surf contest.

Where is it: It's New Zealand's most easterly city, 504km from Auckland and 550km from Wellington. Choose between a one-hour flight or a spectacular drive.

Origin of name: Gisborne was named for an early colonial secretary, William Gisborne, but many locals still refer to the area as Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa - the place where Kiwa stood, Kiwa being one of the first arrivals on the waka Takitimu.

Population: 35,000 in the city itself.

Town slogan: Gizzy it's the Shizzy for casual, or, more formally, First To See The Light.

Town mascot: The rugby team's mascot, Willie the Weka. Or the town's curiously flesh-coloured clock.

Early birds: Gisborne is the first place on Earth to see the sun each day.

Famous locals: Murray Ball (creator of Footrot Flats); Sir Apirana Ngata (statesman); Ngoi Pewhairangi (composer of Poi e); Mayor Meng Foon is cool; Dr Derek Lardelli wrote the All Blacks' new haka; Dame Anne Salmond (writer/anthropologist); Witi Ihimaera (author); and Ian Kirkpatrick (All Black). Enough for you?

Best website: gisbornenz.com

Main employer: Horticulture, seasonal harvesting, picking, planting, pruning, viticulture, sheep, forestry. People travel from throughout the world to work in this area. Tourism too.

Sources of pride: The people, Maori culture, wine, the beaches, the rivers and the bush.

Best reason to stop: It's the gateway to the East Cape. But don't try to do it in a day - 10 days is perfect, because this coast is all about slowing down.

Best place to pull over: Anywhere in the Waioeka Gorge, on the main road coming from north to Gisborne. Jump in and go for a swim.

Best view: Kaiti Hill for views over the city and Mahia Peninsula. The observatory is here if you fancy stargazing; the Astronomical Society opens its doors on Tuesday evenings and anyone can bowl along.

Town fiestas: Waka Ama, surfing champs, multi-sports, fishing champs. Horses are big around here too, from polo, to rodeo, show jumping to Tolaga Bay Beach Races. Speedway is also popular and held every fortnight over summer. And don't forget Rhythm and Vines, BW Summer Festival and The Gisborne Wine and Food Festival.

Best place for kids: The awesome adventure playground right on the beach. It's like Teletubby Land and right next to the Olympic Pools. The whole of Centennial Marine Drive is very family-friendly.

Best park/playground: The Botanic Gardens are very pretty, along the Taruheru River. Kaiti Hill has a super kids' playground - walking and recreation in the middle of the city.

Toot toot: Gisborne City Vintage Railway is a lovingly restored steam train and, when the cruise ships come in, the train goes to the wharf to take passengers to Muriwai for a kapa haka performance. Interestingly, the railway line goes across the airport's tarmac - find out who gives way.

Best place for a drink: Gisborne Wine Centre, collectively owned by all the local grapegrowers; go there, have a taste, book a tour, have a platter. Also the entire inner harbour is great for a libation, a bit like the Viaduct but beach-like. Plant yourself and watch the world go by.

Best dining views: Peppers on the Beach at Midway Surf Club; family-friendly, views of Young Nick's Head.

Fine dining: Some of the world's best chefs call Gisborne home. Try Ussco, Soho and The Marina Restaurant are the top three but there are heaps of other cool places.

Tops for coffee: Gisborne Deli, Verve Cafe, Zest Cafe. Or go to Villagio in Ballance St Village, a most stunning, suburban cafe in Whataupoko (translates as "head on a stick"). Best bakery: Morrell's Artisan Bakery has won more awards than you can shake a French stick at.

Yum: Gisborne Farmers' Markets every Saturday morning at 9.30 for treats, treats, treats.

Best shop: The PBC or Poverty Bay Club; 20 years ago it was gentlemen-only and a bit decrepit, now it's buzzing with the 1814 Cafe, lots of art space and craft businesses.

Well read: Muirs Bookshop is highly regarded with a lovely cafe upstairs.

Best apothecary: Manutuke Herbs, for remedies and organic foods.

Second-hand: Barwick's Auction Mart is the best for shopping. Gisborne is great for treasures.

Best cinema: The Dome for its beanbags, chandeliers, and great films.

Best museum and art gallery: Tairawhiti Museum has fabulous permanent exhibitions about Maori and colonial culture, as well as regularly changing contemporary exhibits and it's being extended right now. There's a separate building for C Company of the Maori battalion; profoundly moving

Art gallery: Paulnache Gallery. Very avant-garde, with cutting-edge artists from throughout New Zealand.

Best walk: For a simple stroll, drive to Greys Bush, five minutes out of town and on, the right, near where Rhythm & Vines happens, you'll find one of the last stands of kahikatea forest left. It takes about 30 minutes to walk around, with wide paths that wheelchair and strollers can manage, cool in the shade with lots of birds. For a big walk, Te Kuri Walkway goes up into the hills behind Gisborne. It's a bit of a climb, a four-hour round trip going through different types of bush, native, pine trees, farmland - changing landscape, stunning views.

Members of the Midway Surf Lifesaving Club in Gisborne. Photo / Alan Gibson
Members of the Midway Surf Lifesaving Club in Gisborne. Photo / Alan Gibson


Best swims: The Rere Rock Slide is a 60m slab of rock set on an angle, covered in moss so a bit cushioned, completely natural with a big pool at the bottom; it's part of the Wharekaope River, 40km from Gisborne. Or anywhere on the beach. Waikanae Beach right in the middle of town is sheltered, safe and beautiful. Makarori is also great with mean surf at one end and a sheltered reef at the other.

Best mountainbiking: The Motu Trails go all the way to Opotiki and are great for people who want to go fast. Eastwoodhill Arboretum, the National Arboretum of New Zealand opens up for mountainbiking from time to time too.

Trees company: Talking of the Arboretum, it's amazing. Douglas Cook came back from World War I and, after recuperating in grand homes in England, he brought back swags of different tree species. A century later it is an impressive forest with a strong native component too. Take a tour, enjoy the cafe. Interestingly Douglas was a nudist, and wore just the one gumboot, which he needed for pushing on a shovel.

Best soft adventure: Feeding the giant stingrays with Dive Tatapouri. They run daily reef ecology tours at low tide where you might also see moray eels or crayfish.

Best hard adventure: Shark-cage diving. Two operators take visitors out into the deep blue water for this thrill.

Wildlife: Bird life is abundant. Longbush Ecosanctuary is doing its bit for native birds and plants while Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve, about 20 minutes up the coast from Gisborne, is helping to protect the ocean. Whinray Scenic Reserve on the Motu River is also superb.

Locals say: What'd you reckon?

Visitors say: Gizzy really is the shizzy.

Thanks to Darryl Monteith from Tourism Eastland for waxing lyrical about Gisborne's abundant charms.

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