Eastland Road Trip Itinerary: Gisborne to Opotiki
An Eastland Roadie: 7-day itinerary
Get off the beaten track in New Zealand and take a road trip on State Highway 35! State Highway 35, or the “Pacific Coast Highway”, runs 334km around the coast of the Eastland and Bay of Plenty regions. Starting in either the laidback surf city of Gisborne or the mountain bike mecca of Opotiki, travel on a coastal highway taking in the stunning scenery, finding hidden beaches, and seeing some amazing cultural sights. We’ll capture all the highlights in this Eastland road trip itinerary.
For the purpose of this seven-day itinerary, we are starting in Gisborne and ending in Opotiki, although the trip can be achieved in reverse. We’ve also kept driving times to under two hours each day so you have plenty of time to spend on your chosen activity. Although this Eastland road trip itinerary encompasses some of the highlights of the region, we haven’t included absolutely everything, so be sure to check out some of the links to more information that we have provided. So without further ado, here is our epic seven-day road trip itinerary in Eastland!
The Eastland itinerary route summary
- Day 1: Spend a full day exploring Gisborne city
- Day 2: Gisborne – Wainui Beach – Tolaga Bay – Tokomaru Bay (95km/1h20mins drive)
- Day 3: Tokomaru Bay – Mt Hikurangi (60km/1h10mins drive)
- Day 4: Mt Hikurangi – Tikitiki – Te Araroa (62km/1h15mins drive)
- Day 5: Te Araroa – East Cape Lighthouse – Hicks Bay – Waihau Bay – Maraehako Bay (110km/2 hours drive)
- Day 6: Maraehako Bay – Opotiki (84km/1h15mins)
- Day 7: Spend a full day in Opotiki doing hikes or mountain bike trails
Day 1: Spend the Day in Gisborne
Woah, woah, woah! Before you go anywhere, take the time to explore the easy-going coastal city of Gisborne! “Gizzy”, as the locals say, is rich in history from the first Polynesian settlers to the landing-place where the first Europeans set foot on New Zealand.
Visit the Tairawhiti Museum
A great place to learn more about the history of Gisborne and New Zealand is at the Tairawhiti Museum (10 Stout Street). At only NZ$5 entry for visitors, the Tairawhiti Museum is an affordable way to see some pretty awesome historical relics from Maori weapons to stepping inside a ship’s wheelhouse. There are heaps to explore, so you could easily spend an hour or two here.
Spend some time on the waterfront
More history is told through the statues and memorials of the Main Beach Walkway. Simple head toward the ocean and you’ll find the boardwalk beside the beach. To really make the most of Gisborne’s Main Beach, why not hire a surfboard or learn to surf right here?!
Get a great view
For an awesome vantage point over the city, head up Kaiti Hill to the Kaiti Hill Lookout. Access is via Kaiti Beach Road. For more walks in and nearby the city, check out 10 Gisborne Walks You Can’t Miss
Experience a quirky cinema
In the evening, experience the city life of Gisborne at the Dome Cinema (Corner of Customhouse Street and Childers Road). Relax in an oversized beanbag with a glass of local wine and a pizza while watching some art-house cinema.
Places to Stay
If you have more time in Gisborne…
For more things to do, check out:
Day 2: Gisborne to Wainui Beach to Tolaga Bay to Tokomaru Bay
It’s time to hit State Highway 35/the Pacific Coast Highway! This section of the journey is 90km taking about 1h20mins to drive. However, you can easily split the journey up with heaps of awesome things to do!
Watch the sunrise or feed the stingray
Getting up early is all part of an Eastland road trip. Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sunrise due to where it is placed in the world’s dateline. Drive to Wainui Beach (6km from central Gisborne along SH35) and watch the sunrise. Alternatively, join a tour with Dive Tatapouri (532 Whangara Road, SH35) to feed the stingray (the time of the reef tour is usually dependent on tide times so plan ahead to see if this fits in your itinerary and book).
Walk down Tolaga Bay Wharf and Hike to Cooks Cove
From Wainui Beach, it’s a stunning 40-minute/50km drive along the coast to Tolaga Bay. There are plenty of safe places to park up and take some photos of the beautiful beaches along the way. At Tolaga Bay, walk down New Zealand’s longest wharf found at the end of Wharf Road. Either spend some time relaxing here, having some lunch from the food truck or head a little further backup Wharf Road to the huge Department of Conservation sign for the Cooks Cove Walk (2h30mins). Hike over coastal cliffs and forest to a sheltered cove and back capturing stunning views. Interpretation signs will tell you the history of the place along the way. For more walks around Tolaga Bay, check out 9 Pacific Coast Highway Walks You Can’t Miss
End the Day in Tokomaru Bay
If you haven’t seen enough historic and scenic wharfs today, then check out the one a Tokomaru Bay (Waima Road).
Places to Stay
day 3: Tokomaru Bay to Mt Hikurangi
If you are not much of a hiker, then you can skip this day out altogether (just add the extra drive time onto the next day). Otherwise, you have an awesome adventure ahead of you. Before taking this hike and book your spot in the hut, permission must be obtained about seven days before you plan to do it. Contact Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou on +64 6 864 9004 or Hikurangihutt@tronp.org.nz or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drive 1h10mins/60km from Tokomaru Bay to Mt Hikurangi taking State Highway 35 north then turning left onto Tapuaeroa Road after you have crossed the Waiapu River. Once you reach a fork, turn left again onto Hukanui Road and follow it to the car park at the end at Pakihiroa Station.
Hike up Mt Hikurangi
From Pakihiroa Station, it is 10km (about 4-6 hours) to hike up to the Hikurangi Hut. This provides breathtaking scenery of the surrounding mountains as you climb the North Island’s highest non-volcanic mountain. Mt Hikurangi is a sacred mountain to the local Maori people.
Places to Stay
Book your stay in the Hikurangi Hut with Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou (contact details above). The hut has a potbelly stove, toilet, communal bunks (sleeping bag needed) and a limited supply of freshwater. Be prepared by checking out How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand and 9 Tips to Prepare for a Multi-Day Hike in New Zealand.
Day 4: Mt Hikurangi to Tikitiki to te Araroa
Catch the sunrise at the summit and hike back down Mt Hikurangi
Mt Hikurangi is the first place on New Zealand’s mainland to the see the sun each new day due to its height location on the international dateline. For sunrise is a good time to hike to the summit, if you haven’t already. It is 2.5km or 1-2 hours to reach the summit from the hut. This is the steepest section of the Mt Hikurangi Walk and may be icy in winter. After that, it’s back down the way you came, probably taking you less time to come down than it did on the way up (about 3-5 hours).
Drive to Tikitiki and check out the church
Now you have a 38km/50-minute drive ahead of you back the way you came yesterday and continue north on State Highway 35 to a must-have pitstop in Tikitiki. St Mary’s Church, just off State Highway 35, is beautifully decorated with Maori carvings, so is well worth having a look inside. The church is open to the public except when the church is in use.
Spend the evening in Te Araroa
Drive 24km/23-minutes through a mix of exotic and native forest on State Highway 35 on the way to Te Araroa. If you still have energy, check out New Zealand’s largest Pohutukawa tree (Kahukura Street) – New Zealand’s “Christmas tree” which blooms red flowers around Christmas. This tree, in particular, is amazing to walk around.
Places to Stay
- Te Araroa Backpackers (bring cash to pay)
- Te Araroa Holiday Park
- East Cape Campsite (14km down the East Cape Road)
Day 5: Te Araroa to the East Cape Lighthouse to Hicks Bay to Waihau Bay to Maraehako Bay
Experience a sunrise from the east cape lighthouse
One last sunrise is well worth getting up for from the East Cape Lighthouse. Drive 25km down the gravel East Cape Road. Park up on the grass beside an easily-missed East Cape Lighthouse sign. Now you have 800 steps to climb (it’s not as bad as it sounds) to the East Cape Lighthouse, which looks out into the ocean and an off-shore island.
Go to the beach in Hicks Bay or take the Choppers Track
Now return back down the scenic gravel road that you can appreciate more in the daylight, stop by some beaches if you feel like it, and return to Te Araroa. Check out the Pohutukawa tree if you didn’t yesterday (see above). Then drive to Hicks Bay, 12km/12minutes, for some awesome swimming beaches and the Chopper’s Track (one hour return) – more information at 9 Pacific Coast Highway Walks You Can’t Miss.
Enjoy a coastal drive and stop off at Waihau Bay
It’s time to relax and take in the sensational coastal scenery as you continue on State Highway 35 to Maraehako Bay which is 62km, taking about an hour to drive. To split the journey up, turn off at Waihau Bay (about 44km from Hicks Bay) to pick up supplies at the post office and general store and get a beautiful photo from the jetty.
See a beautiful church and Arrive at Maraehako Bay
Take a photo of the Raukokore Church which stands all alone on a rocky outcrop beside the ocean. You can’t miss this century-old Anglican church with its steep spire. Just a couple more kilometres along State Highway 35, you’ll reach Maraehako Bay. Whether you decide to camp or stay in the lodge, just enjoy and relax in this wonderful coastal area.
Place to Stay
- Maraehako Bay Retreat
- Maraehako Camping Ground
Day 6: Maraehako Bay to Opotiki
One last Pacific Coastal Highway Drive
The last day of driving along the Pacific Coast Highway coastal scenery comes between Maraehako Bay and Opotiki, which is 84km/1h15mins. Embrace the scenery, pick up an ice cream from Te Kaha store (about 66km from Opotiki), stop at the lookout at Maraenui (about 37km from Opotiki), and have a swim or stroll on the beaches around Torere (about 21km from Opotiki).
Arrive in Opotiki and check out the Hukutaia Domain
Welcome to Opotiki! After your road trip, we recommend checking out one of the short walks in the area, like the Hukutaia Domain on Woodlands Road. We have more ideas in 15 Opotiki Walks You Can’t Miss! Relax and take a breather after your road trip.
Places to Stay
Day 7: Do the Motu Bike Trails or check out the Waioeka Gorge
Do the Dunes Trail…
There are three bike trails in the area that encapsulate diverse scenery and can be done by all abilities. Hire a bike and do the Motu Trails! If you’re looking for something easy yet fun along the coast, do the Dunes Trail (19km). Opotiki has a number of bike hire operators that can do shuttle drop-offs and pick-ups. Find out more in The 3 Eastland Motu Trails. Alternatively, you can walk the Dunes Trail starting from Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge and walking as far as you like and return the same way. More walks can be found on 15 Opotiki Walks You Can’t Miss!
… or Delve into the Waioeka Gorge
The Waioeka Gorge is a stunning inland drive following the Waioeka River in the midst of towering mountains covered in native forest. There are a number of walks in the gorge and scenic places to stop off at. Try the Tauranga Bridge Track (2-3 hours return) which is a mere 27km/20-minutes from Opotiki giving you a great taste of the Waioeka Gorge and its scenery.
Either return to Opotiki or continue 115km through the Waioeka Gorge all the way back to Gisborne!
Places to stay
- Opotiki Holiday Park
- Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park
- Royal Opotiki Backpackers
- Opotiki Beach House
- Agassiz House