Extending into the pounding Pacific Ocean, Gisborne in the Tairāwhiti Eastland region has a warm, dry climate and relaxed coastal lifestyle where authentic Māori culture, vast outdoor spaces, and exceptionally good wine and food make it well worth the journey.
Award-winning wineries, just minutes from the city centre and airport, are nestled in fertile valleys basking in year-round sunshine - each within close proximity and sharing a special community vibe.
Although recognised as the capital of Chardonnay, the region is also exciting wine critics with new varieties and vineyard sites. A mix of large producers, boutique wineries and entrepreneurial growers produce a diverse range of wines from full-flavoured and fruit-driven to critically claimed biodynamic classics.
Vineyard tours are popular – there are self-guided and guided options or you can cycle through the vines and along Gisborne’s picturesque coastal cycle way. Most wineries have a café or restaurant and almost all have cellar door and tasting facilities.
Staying at a vineyard also offers the additional and unique pleasure of waking up knowing you’re the first in the world to greet the day. One of New Zealand’s most popular annual events, Rhythm and Vines, a three-day music festival, is held amongst Gisborne’s wineries and popular with domestic and international visitors wanting to be first to welcome in the new year.
Gisborne has a strong history being the first landing site for both early Māori and European arrivals to New Zealand - although they were centuries apart. A fascinating city walk highlights many places of historical significance including Kaiti Beach where British explorer Captain Cook first stepped ashore in 1769.
Only 40 or so years later, missionaries planted Gisborne’s original Chardonnay vineyards - although by mistake. By the time the missionaries realised they were not further south, in the Hawke’s Bay region, the vines had matured and were beginning to produce great wine.
Gisborne’s fertile river valleys and warm dry climate are perfect growing conditions for a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and along with highly productive farms, the region offers a bounty of fresh quality goods to entice foodies. Kaimoana (seafood) from the ocean is also plentiful and locals enjoy catching their own, either fishing from boats and the beach, or eeling in the rivers. Highlights include crayfish (lobster) or fish and chips from the local shop, both good for a picnic on the beach.
Away from the city, Eastland's landscape is wild and rural, with forests, mountains, beaches, rivers and lakes providing a vast outdoor playground. There are many rewarding walks and cycle paths, and Gisborne’s wild beaches have some of the best surf breaks in the country. Fishing, diving, waka (canoe) trips and horse-riding are great ways to explore some of the more remote areas and with such a large Māori population (48.9% compared to the national average of 14.9%) no visit to this region is complete without a cultural experience. A sunrise tour to sacred Mt Hikurangi with the local Ngāti Porou tribe is memorable. The maunga (mountain) is the legendary resting place of the waka used by Maui when he fished up the North Island.
Flying is the most direct route to Gisborne, taking an hour from most North Island cities. Those with more time may enjoy the extremely picturesque drive – either south from Auckland along the Bay of Plenty coast (six hours) or north from Hawke’s Bay (three hours).
Don’t miss: Off-the-beaten-track Rere rockslide is a 60 metre (196 foot) smooth, natural water slide. Constant running water has smoothed the rocks creating a 60-metre-long natural water slide finishing in a fresh water swimming hole.