We woke and set off early, with lots to see before the day was over. Heading north-east from Gisborne, we followed the coast in the van. We passed through Pouawa, a small town situated on a beautiful beach known for its freedom-camping; then Tolaga Bay, which is home to New Zealand’s longest wharf.
The road north from Tolaga Bay is winding, sometimes hugging the coast and at other times dipping inland. Our home on wheels took the corners nicely, despite being loaded up with everything we needed to survive for a few days. However, we took the opportunity to stop where we could, admire the view, and get some fresh sea air.
About 100 kilometres from Gisborne, we reached the village of Te Puia Springs. This quaint town consists of one hospital and one shop, and a population of about 400 people. Its namesake natural springs flow throughout it, and the locals claim the hot waters of the springs have healing properties. Paid access to the hot pools is available via the Te Puia Springs Hotel for $5, and we stopped for a quick soak. The locals might be right! With muscles relaxed and soothed, we continued on the road.
Before heading inland to bend around to the most Eastern point of New Zealand, we passed through Tikitiki, which has strong ties to Maori culture and heritage. The St. Mary’s Church here integrates rich Maori design, art and architecture, creating a beautiful and historic site worth stopping for. Then it’s north through Raukumara Forest Park, where there remains lots of native wildlife, such as Tirairaka, Kereru, and Tui.
Once we hit the coast, the road turned gravel, and we knew we were getting close to the East Cape. When the road ran out, we walked to the lighthouse by climbing some 700 steps. The walk got us puffing, but it was certainly worth the view at the top! Sandy beaches stretch out at the base of the hill, and looking out to the South Pacific, it’s easy to imagine why the sun hits this part of the world first every day. If you want to witness the sunrise here, there is a very remote camping site with an honesty box to stay overnight at.
Heading back down the road and through the tiny coastal settlement of Te Araroa, we spotted New Zealand's oldest and largest pohutukawa tree. At around 600 years old, the tree is magnificent to behold. From Te Araroa, it was just over an hour to get to our next pit stop - the Maraehako Camping Ground.
At Maraehako, we found a spot for the van right in front of the beach, underneath pohutukawa trees. With no fire ban on the beach here, we were able to build a campfire, and we shared a few drinks as we cooked our food over it. The sun set and cast soft hues across the sea. Another fantastic day!
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