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The Eastlands or East Cape, is a region on the North Island visited by few people. The reason is simple...There is not lots of information about the place, neither accommodation, restaurants, or tourist facilities. I mean, there is, but all facilities in the area are sparse including fuel. Well, that is the reason we think this area is of the most beautiful and remote on the North Island of New Zealand. During 7 years we lived on Mt. Maunganui, in the Bay of Plenty, we never met anyone going there and this fact woke up my curiosity. We decided to explore the area, not knowing where to stay or nothing about the places we were going to pass by. The result was one of the most interesting tours we did in our car in New Zealand, and we will report how it was below. The only thing we knew before departure was that we were going to start from the city of Whakatane, go around the cape and arrive in Gisborne, 500 km later. It was a really surprise and a nice trip.

When we left Whakatane  the first thing you will notice is the a drop in the number of vehicles on the road. The first leg till Ohope there are still some people and cars around, because the places is a weekend and holiday spot to many.  But after you pass this town (don't forget to fill up the tank there) the movement on the road become only from local farmers and a few residents. Another thing you note, is a change of terrain and colours (photo). Suddenly what was flat, becomes mountainous with lots of trees and green areas. The road is good, kind that inspires a driver to keep following it, and beautiful panoramas appears very often. The first town in the route is Opotiki, small, nicely organized and one of the last place to fix something in the car and put fuel, or buy some snacks and drinks for the trip. From there on starts the real beauty.

The first surprise is that from now till the Cape Runaway, the road literally margins the beach, in a succession of bays, beaches and coast so gorgeous, that is capable of take the breath off any human being. By now on the road, you will cross with one or another vehicle in many minutes, and houses becomes also something you will see only from time to time. Sheep farms and Maraes become a characteristic of  the Maori lands. Some plates and signs reinforce the Mori presence in the region including one sign saying..." By determination of Chief  'A'  the capture of Crayfish and Mussels are prohibited up to 50 metres far from the beach or reefs".

 As close to the Cape we get, the mountains became higher and higher, and the road starts to become winding and narrow. In many parts, the construction guys had to cut a dent into large extension of the rock to make space for the road. The bays become breathtaking, one after another, point after point. The road becomes difficult to make, not because of gravel (it is all asphalt) but due to curves that are to be made at 25 Km/h or you will finish in cold water. The progress becomes very slow, not only because the winding road but because you feel like stopping every curve to take photos and appreciate the gorgeous panorama, and it is repeated curve after curve. By this time, there aren't any souls around. The road is completely empty and during one of our stops for a lunch, we counted 32 minutes without any vehicle passing by, and all we could hear was the gentle blow of a breeze and birds singing. We head a distant thunder and it came out to be a jet flying really high. Everything around inspired peace, solitude and plenitude.

After the cape Runaway the road changes again. It turns right and leaves the coast to a mountainous ride. The Vegetation gives place to an mountainous and grassy landscape probably consequence of land movement and old earthquakes in the area. By now the road is more like a gym for the driver with turns every 50 metres or so. Gear change is necessary every minute to deal with the narrow road. I feel very tired of driving by now and all I want is to arrive in some place, have a cold beer and relax my arms and legs from the driving. We left about 10 am and now it is 4 pm. From the cape to Hicks Bay (photo) should be only 94 Km, but it took 2 hours ( or an average of 47Km/h). We've found a place to stay in Hicks Bay, but the price was well above our budget, so after a rest, we decided to go to the next town on the map 10 Km ahead called Te Araroa

Te Araroa on our map looks like a big yellow spot instead of white which means a big town at least. But when we arrived (photo) the beautiful day became cloudy and for our surprise the town had only one street and some sparse blocks with some houses. I was desperate to find a petrol station because we were running out of gas. Oh yes! There is one pump in front of the local convenience shop but no gas satiation, just a single and sole pump. The next step was to find a place to sleep due the fact I had no more condition to drive again. There is one Hotel right in front of the beach but it was closed for renovation. Feeling my despair, the owner offered a room with reduced rate due the mess the hotel was at the time. He asked 30 minutes to make the beds and clean the room, while I grabbed a beer a decided that this great day was over to us. The weather went worse and the rain came down, but who cares.

Woke up and had a shock. The beach right in front was completed covered with huge logs and peaces of trees. We went for a beach walk without understanding why so many logs were dumped on the beach. My host told us that in 1985 a very strong cyclone hit the area  with heavy rains. The consequence was  avalanches all over the coast and high seas deposited all the broken trees on the beach. I asked why nobody, council or local people didn't take the tree out of the beach, and the response was that the trees are not only on the beach but they spread to about 10 metres deep. They tried to burned them for good but the result was a fire that never stopped burning, so they had to put it off. After some more interesting talks with the owner we decided to get on the road again and finish the adventure in Gisborne still today.

The road is still the same Zig-Zag as before, and I start to feel that I've never drove in a strait road before to a point that a started to enjoy it. It seems that I drive left and right since I was a kid. Again, no cars on the road. On small trunk passed and that was all, and the road no longer follows the coast. After a curve, we got face to face with one of the most beautiful mountains we ''ve seen yet. It is called Mt. Kikurangi part of the Ruaukumara Ranges, rising almost 2000 metres in the blue sky. I was slowing down to stop and take photos when I heard a heavy breaking behind me. Can you believe that after hours driving with nobody around, this time there was a huge truck at my mirror, so I had to give gas and accelerate to scape the monster. No Photos of the incredibly beautiful maintain. The number of cars on the road start growing and we arrive at Tokomaru Bay, which is a seaside nice Maori village. For the first time in 2 days we could see a police car passing by, meaning we were back to civilization. The bays now don't have such exuberant vegetations as before. The landscape is bald and grey but even so beautiful. Talaga Bay is our next stop. It is bigger, with many houses, accommodation and eateries. Asking why this town was bigger I've got as response that people from Gisborne used to holiday here all the time they have a break. We took the opportunity to visit the longest Pier in New Zealand that enters 600 metres out of sea, but the pier was close due to much rust and thorned apart from high seas. I don't think they will recuperate it.

The Mystery was solved, and now we know why the East Cape is all about. Now we also understand why some people that went before sometimes decides not to come back again. The fact is that it is an unforgettable trip, but it is far away with a road that takes you to heaven but at the same time is a nightmare for the motorist sometimes. All the landscape, beaches, bays, mountains, are breathtaking and for sure we recommend anyone who like pristine and untouched place to do this trip. For surfers, we've seen some good breaks like this one on the photo, with nobody to ride it. The whole region is fantastic despite the cat that there is not much to do except enjoy nature. May be, with better  infra structure, more accommodation and facilities in the future the place will attract more Kiwis and International Tourist alike.

Tips to the trip:

  • Fill up the tank in Whakatane or Gisborne (if going the reverse way)

  • The road can be a nightmare for heavy or towing vehicles. We rented a manual vehicle but I wish I had an automatic due the zillion of times I was required to change gear. 

  • Bring extra batteries and memory card for you camera. There are no places to buy or recharge it along the way except in the hotel.

  • Bring some snacks and drinks

  • Check if your spare tire and jack are in good condictiones before the trip. Remember you may wait long periods for a car to pass for some help. Cell phones don't work in most parts of the road.

  • Respect the owners of the land and Maori local laws. Do not camp on their land or enter a Marae without permission.

  • Enjoy one of the most beautiful areas of New Zealand.

Distances by road from:

Whakatane - Opotiki 54 km  45 min.
Opotiki - Te Kaha 66 km  1 hour
Te Kaha - Te Araroa  94 km   2 hours
Te Araroa - Tokomaru  90 km  1 hour & 30 min
Tokomaru - Talaga 36 km  30 min.
Talaga - Gisborne 54 km  45 min
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