Gisborne: Winter sunshine (+photos)

By Kerri Jackson

Gisborne and its surrounds are renowned as a summer playground filled with perfect beaches under clear blue skies. But as one of New Zealand's sunniest regions, this part of the east coast also makes for a great mid-winter getaway.

Here are some suggestions for things to do that need not involve summer sun.

1. Drink and be merry.
As one of New Zealand's largest grape-growing areas, Gisborne is a mecca for wine lovers. Although traditionally known for its chardonnay (the city regularly hosts the International Chardonnay Challenge - the next one is May 2009), it's becoming increasingly known for other varieties as well, particularly gewurztraminer and chenin blanc. There are many wineries dotting the landscape, and almost all of them provide cellar door tastings, and some have restaurants or at least offer platters. Several also offer vineyard tours. It is wise to call ahead as some scale their services down in winter.

Some of our picks are Kirkpatrick Estate Winery (KEW), Bushmere Estate, Brunton Road, Amor-Bendall, and Millton Estate.

Visit www.gisbornewine.co.nz for downloadable maps of the winery region or pick one up from Gisborne information centre.

2. Drink a little more.
There are two other delicious boutique beverages coming out of Gisborne - cider and beer.

The Sunshine Brewery, in Disraeli St in the centre of town, prides itself on making an award-winning range of unpasteurised, no-added-sugar beers under the Gisborne Gold label. The brewery offers free tastings and tours by appointment.

The Cidery, in Customhouse St, is part of Bulmer Harvest, makers of a delicious range of ciders made from local apples. It has also branched out to include honey, mead and liqueur, again made from local honey, in its range. Inside the cidery you can head up to a viewing platform to watch your tipple being made as you sample the wares.

3. Tune out.
If it's peace and communing with nature you're after - mixed with a little luxury - Knapdale Eco-Lodge, just 8km from Gisborne, is worth a look. Simply tuck yourself up and enjoy the lodge's gorgeous surroundings and food, made largely from local ingredients and accompanied by those tasty local wines. Or use the lodge as a base to explore some of the forests and walks nearby. One must-do outing for nature-lovers is the world-famous Eastwoodhill Arboretum - about 45 minutes from the lodge - home to the largest collection of northern hemisphere plants in the southern hemisphere.

4. Soak it up.
If you want to venture further afield, try making the drive to Morere Hot Springs, about 60km southwest of Gisborne. There's a large hot pool near the entrance to the facility, but an easy 5km walk into the bush you'll find two small hot pools and a colder plunge pool, nestled among the trees. The pools close at 5pm in winter but later access can be negotiated - especially if you opt to stay at the Moonlight Lodge across the road from the hot springs. A night-time post-soak stroll through the forest, complete with glow worms, is not to be missed. For the active there are several other bush walks in the area.

5. Explore history.
As the site of Captain Cook's first landing in New Zealand, Gisborne and Eastland are awash with history. Take a stroll along Kaiti Beach in town. As well as being the site of Cook's first steps on New Zealand soil - marked with the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve - the beach was also the landing site for the canoes that first brought Maori to the area. From there take a drive up Kaiti Hill lookout where a statue of Cook overlooks Young Nick's Head - the first New Zealand land sighted by the Endeavour crew.

Alternatively you could head 45 minutes north along SH35 taking in the stunning scenery of the Pacific Coast Highway to Tolaga Bay. The town is home to the historic and photogenic Tolaga Bay Wharf, built in the 1920s. At 660m it is the longest in New Zealand. While you're there, stroll to Cooks Cove Walkway for views of the countryside. The crew of the Endeavour sheltered in the cove for several weeks during their exploration of New Zealand.

For more information on Gisborne, visit www.gisbornenz.co.nz

- Detours, HoS

- Herald on Sunday

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