State Highway 35 is one of the great coastal road journeys and one of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s most scenic drives.
Be sure to give yourself enough time and what you will discover are friendly people, space and freedom. Don’t be shy to say ‘kia ora’ to the locals and relax you’re now East bound!
Opotiki [Gisborne 334km] Opotiki is the gateway to the East Cape and the start/finish of SH35. At Opotiki – from the sandy, surf beach at Waiotahi to the bush-clad Raukumara mountain ranges – you can experience world-class fishing, diving, hiking and cycling. Opotiki is a start point for The Motu Trails, one of the great rides in the New Zealand Cycle Trails network, click here for more information. For detailed information about Opotiki visit the Opotiki i-SITE Visitor Information Centre or www.opotikinz.com.
Hukuwai & Tirohanga Beaches Just 3.5km east of Opotiki on SH35 you encounter the ocean. For the next 120km you will drive by dozens of idyllic beaches and coves. First is Hukuwai Beach: sandy, safe for swimming, surf-casting and long-line fishing. 3km further is Tirohanga Beach with equally good recreational qualities.
Opape [Gisborne 317km | Opotiki 17km] A sweeping sandy bay with beach access for boat launching. Safe swimming by the motor camp, a coastal walk around the headland. Muruwai meeting house overlooks the ocean.
Torere [Gisborne 310km | Opotiki 24km] A large ocean bay with deep water close to shore. Ideal for fishing. Picnic under pohutukawa’s. View the magnificent carved Maori gateway at the entrance to Torere School on top of the hill as you leave the bay.
Hawai [Gisborne 305km | Opotiki 29km] Steep shingle beach, usually covered with driftwood. Good surfing and excellent summer swimming in the Hawai river at the eastern end of the bay. This is the tribal boundary between the Ngai Tai iwi (tribe) and the Whanau-a-Apanui iwi.
Maraenui & Motu River [Gisborne 290km | Opotiki 49km] The highway climbs over a 198m coastal promontory providing panoramic views to the distant cape. Beach access at Haupoto. Descend carefully from Maraenui to the wide delta of the mighty Motu River. Cross the bridge and stop to picnic or swim if the river is running clear. Jet boat trips operate. Seaward sandbars are popular for kahawai fishing.
Whitianga & Omaio [Gisborne 278km | Opotiki 57km] Leave the Motu delta and immediately look ahead to Whitianga Bay, a beautiful, deep water cove with an indented rocky foreshore. Then drop down to Omaio, a wide, sheltered bay with a steep shingle beach. There is a general store and café. Take a sharp left turn to view the carved gateway to the Omaio marae and carry on the Hoana Waititi reserve which has a public dumping station and toilet facilities. Petrol at Omaio.
Te Kaha [Gisborne 264km | Opotiki 70km] 10km along the coast’s edge is Te Kaha, a popular holiday village which rambles along a rocky headland screened by magnificent pohutukawa trees. Good fishing, camping and boating. A kilometre on is Wharekura Point which provides a sheltered beach for swimming and boating.
Whanarua Bay [Gisborne 247km | Opotiki 88km] Access to the small but picturesque bay is so steep and narrow it is controlled by traffic lights. Not recommended for caravans or large vehicles. It’s a short walk down to the beach from the highway. Swimming, snorkeling and an excellent walk south 1km along the ocean’s edge. Back on the highway a macadamia farm has a café with macadamia products for sale at orchard prices.
Maraehako Bay [Gisborne 245km | Opotiki 90km] A near-perfect camping ground right beside the sea. Pohutukawa-shaded beach and a sheltered cove offers safe swimming and boat launching.
Raukokore [Gisborne 235km | Opotiki 99km] One of the most photographed places on the East Cape. A century-old Anglican church stands on a promontory beside the ocean. You can’t miss this lonely church with its steep spire which stands imposingly on a rocky outcrop.
Raukokore Church image by Mel Ma’afu
Waihau Bay [Gisborne 227km | Opotiki 107km] Quaint seaside village with a fishing club, boat ramp, pier, tavern and general store, petrol. Waihau Bay and the surrounding area is where the movie “Boy” was filmed.
Oruaiti Beach [Gisborne 224km | Opotiki 110km] One of the safest, sandy swimming beaches on the western side of the Cape. Walk around the rocks at low tide, fishing, snorkeling.
Whangaparaoa [Gisborne 216km | Opotiki 118km] Northern-most point of your trip around the East Cape. Cape Runaway can only be reached by foot over private land. From here the highway traverses the top of the cape for 33km emerging on the eastern coast at Hicks Bay.
Potaka & Lottin Point Potaka, half way across the top of the Cape, marks the border between the Ngati Porou iwi of the eastern side of the cape and the Whanau-a-Apanui people of the west. A side road heads north 4km to the coastline at Lottin Point with its rocky shoreline which is a mecca for surf casters, divers and boat fishermen.
Hicks Bay [Gisborne 183km | Opotiki 151km] At Hicks Bay, or Te Wharekahika, you have arrived on the eastern side of the cape. Here there is a post office, general store and takeaway food. At the northern end of Hick’s Bay, beneath the headland of Matakaoa Point, the crumbling ruins of the old freezing works can be seen near an old wharf which is popular for fishing. Swimming hole in the Wharekahika river, a few hundred metres up a track from the one lane bridge.
Onepoto Bay (Horseshoe Bay) [1km round trip] A small cove in the shape of a horseshoe, nestled beneath the high cliffs at the south end of the bay. A lovely seaside hideaway with a settlement of baches and holiday homes by a safe and accessible sandy beach. Boats can be launched off the sand and there is often excellent surfing. An ideal family beach. There is a scenic, steep walking track up the bushclad cliffs.
Te Araroa [Gisborne 174km | Opotiki 161km] Drive over the steep Haupara headland, with a lookout providing coastal views, and drop back to sea level at the north end of Kawakawa Bay. Here there is a holiday park with access to the nearby sandy, surf beach. 3.5km south along the bay, after crossing over a one lane bridge, there is the East Cape Manuka Oil And Honey Visitor Centre And Café. Just off the highway is Te Araroa which has a general store, takeaway food and petrol. Nearby is the largest pohutukawa tree in the world, “Te Waha o Rerekohu”, reputed to be 600 years old, along seaward Moana Parade by the high school.
Te Waha o Rerekohu image by the BackpackerGuide.NZ
East Cape Lighthouse [44km round trip] Drive due east along the East Cape Road from Te Araroa. The road is unsealed following the coastline, passing numerous sandy coves, to the East Cape Lighthouse standing 154 metres above sea level, accessed by a walking track of about 700 odd “easy” steps! It’s a return trip to Te Araroa but for most SH35 travellers it is part of the pilgrimage to stand at the most-easterly place in mainland New Zealand. If you are there at dawn, you can bank on being amongst the first in the world to see the sunrise that day.
East Cape Sunrise image by the BackpackerGuide.NZ
Tikitiki [Gisborne 147km | Opotiki 187km] Back at Te Araroa you climb into the hills heading south and away from the coast. It’s a hilly drive across the horn of the Cape to Tikitiki. Nearly a ghost-town, Tikitiki’s cherished jewel is St. Mary’s Church which is one of the icons of the entire East Cape journey. The church has a Maori architectural design and wonderful carvings and tukutuku (woven panels) inside and considered one of the finest Maori churches in New Zealand. Built in 1924 as a memorial to the soldiers of Ngati Porou who died in World War I.
Tikitki Church image by the BackpackerGuide.NZ
Rangitukia [16km round trip] A side road northeast out of Tikitiki following the Waiapu River. Here there is unsealed access to the wild, driftwood-strewn beach at the mouth of the Waiapu River. If you have the time, you can explore the area on horseback.
Mount Hikurangi [32km round trip] From Tikitiki the highway follows the Waiapu River for 20km towards the village of Ruatoria. The turn-off to Mount Hikurangi is at the Tapuaeroa Road. It is 18km (some unsealed road) to the base of Hikurangi.
Some places are so special they demand reverence, and once experienced, hold an unassailable place in your memory. Hikurangi, the sacred mountain of Ngati Porou, is one. This mystical spot is the first in the world to greet the sun each new day. At a lofty 1,754 metres (the highest non-volcanic peak in the North Island) and with its cloak of bush and coterie of surrounding peaks, Hikurangi dominates a landscape of scenic splendour. At 1000 metres above sea level are nine carvings depicting Maui and his whanau (family). There are many legends about the feats of Maui. The most famous of which is the creation of New Zealand / Aotearoa when Maui fished up the North Island (also known as Te Ika a Maui or The Great Fish of Maui). It is said that the final resting place for Maui’s waka is on Mt Hikurangi.
You can arrange guided tours with Ngati Porou Tourism, no one can give you the local history like those who live and breathe it. Click here for more information.
Ruatoria [Gisborne 128km | Opotiki 206km] Ruatoria is 3km off State Highway 35. Call in here to refuel and refresh. Adventurous travellers with robust vehicles can venture north and east from Ruatoria along winding, dusty roads to explore the Waiapu River delta or the isolated beaches of Reporoa and Tuparoa, the latter route traversing a riverbed for several kilometres. Advice and directions should be obtained first.
Te Puia Springs Golf Club [1km off highway] If you’re a golfer with clubs in the car, this is a must. Follow the dusty track up the hill for 1km to an absolutely stunning 18 hole golf course high in the hills overlooking Waipiro Bay far below.
Te Puia Springs [Gisborne 101km | Opotiki 233km] The only hospital on the Cape, and the Gisborne District Council East Coast offices and Information Centre. Te Puia Springs has constant thermal activity and was once a well-known spa, but unfortunately the thermal activity is no longer viewable. General store and petrol.
Waipiro Bay [12km round trip or 13km loop] Take the 6km drive down to the coast and one of the most scenic of all the isolated coastal settlements. Once a vibrant town with a movie theatre, shops, hotels and a maternity hospital, Waipiro Bay is now just a ghost of its past. Sandy beaches ideal for swimming and surfing, plus reef and rock environments for all styles of fishing. Summer Camping is allowed (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email email@example.com) on the beach near the impressive Anglican church and also at the end of McIlroy Road (north end of beach). There is a road north out of Waipiro rejoining SH35 11km north of Te Puia.
Tokomaru Bay [Gisborne 91km | Opotiki 243km] 10km south of Te Puia Springs is Tokomaru Bay, a beach side settlement with evidence of busier times before the urban drift evidenced by the faded facades of former banks and businesses. A well-stocked supermarket operates here, Tokomaru Bay 4 Square with Post Office, ATM and petrol. 8km of sandy beaches for surfing and fishing. There is a Summer Camping area right on the beachfront (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and public toilets.
Waima [8km round trip] Take Beach Road along to the Te Puka Tavern, a modern complex with stylish accommodation, bars, a café and bistro with a million dollar view. 2km further you enter a living museum at the settlement of Waima, which was once a thriving port serving a busy meat processing factory. The works closed in 1952 and the harbour in 1963 but the ruins are still evident and the old wharf is a must to photograph or to try your luck at fishing.
Anaura Bay [14km round trip] 3km from Tolaga Bay there is a side road to Anaura Bay, 7km to another beautiful bay with a 2km curve of sandy beach backed by bush-covered hills. There is a designated walkway of 3.5km (two hours) along with all the seaside pleasures of swimming, surfing, boating and fishing. There is a full-time camping ground and a seasonal Department of Conservation camping area further north along the beach road.
Kaiaua Beach [12km round trip] Just north of Tolaga Bay there is a turn-off to Kaiaua Beach, a 6km drive to a long, sandy bay protected by large headlands offering all the best qualities of a wild New Zealand beach. Summer Camping is allowed in season (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email email@example.com). Good for surfing and surfcasting. The Kaiaua Beach Horse Races are held every year around the new year period (please check our events listings for this years date), a fun day out for the whole family.
Tolaga Bay [Gisborne 55km | Opotiki 279km] The largest of all the villages on your East Cape traverse with several café and eating options, petrol station. Summer Camping is allowed at the northern end of the bay at “Blue Waters” (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email firstname.lastname@example.org). Tolaga Bay has a 9-hole golf course and a visit to the nearby Tolaga Bay wharf is a must.
Tolaga Bay Wharf image by Vaughan Gillard
Cook’s Cove & Tolaga Wharf [4km round trip] The side road to the Cook’s Cove Walk and the Tolaga Bay Wharf is 1km south of the town, from where it’s about 2km to the beach. The walk to Cook’s Cove and the Hole In The Wall is 5km over farmland and through bush. It is quite steep in places and takes 2.5 hours return. Near the start of the walkway is the world-famous Tolaga Bay Wharf which reaches out into the blue Pacific for 660 metres, itself dwarfed by the massive cliffs of the nearby headland. It’s a East Cape tourer’s rite of passage to walk the length of this historic pier. Camping ground at the wharf site and a safe, sandy beach for swimming, surfing and walking.
Cooks Cove image by Mel Ma’afu
Waihau Beach (Loisel’s Beach) [9km round trip] 20km south of Tolaga there is a turn-off at the top of a hill heading 4.5km to the coast. A wide and secluded sandy bay offers great swimming, surfing, fishing, diving and walking. Summer Camping allowed in designated area (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email email@example.com).
Pouawa Beach [Gisborne 16km/Opotiki 318km] Pouawa Beach and the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve (2450 hectares) is the start of the home run into Gisborne. Nature-lovers may want to stop here to walk the beach or snorkel the reef to view New Zealand marine life in its unplundered state. Summer Camping is allowed (permit required please enquire at one of the regions i-SITE Visitor Information Centres or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Turihaua & Tatapouri [Gisborne 13km] Pass by sheltered Turihaua beach and around the corner to Tatapouri Bay, a reef-protected beach with a boat ramp and channel providing the closest access to Aerial Reef 6km offshore. You can do a reef ecology tour at Dive Tatapouri which will take you on a fascinating journey of Tatapouri Bay to see Nga Tamariki O Tangaroa – the children of the god of the sea. The interactive reef tour is famous for its wild stingray feeding and is one of the most popular and unique things to do in New Zealand. You can look, touch, feed or even swim with the stingrays – its up to you! Click here for more information.
Dive Tatapouri’s Reef Ecology Tour image by the BackpackerGuide.NZ
Makarori & Wainui Beaches [Gisborne 5km] Just minute’s from Gisborne, Makorori and Wainui beaches offer a variety of reef, beach and point surf breaks and are both lovely beaches to walk along or to enjoy a picnic in the sand dunes.
Makorori Sunrise image by Brett Cronin
Gisborne is just a five minute drive from Wainui Beach. It’s always good to get out and stretch your legs along the way. If you fancy getting some fresh air and taking a walk check out some of the awesome Hikes and Walks in Eastland.
There are a variety of motels, backpackers, B&Bs and campgrounds along the way, something for all tastes, click here for all accommodation options.