New Zealand’s easternmost city, GISBORNE, is the first to catch the sun each day, and, thanks to the isolating mountain ranges all about it has been spared from overdevelopment. Warmed by long hours of sunshine, broad straight streets are lined with squat weatherboard houses and shops and interspersed with expansive parkland hugging the Pacific, the harbour and three rivers – the Taruheru, Turanganui and Waimata.
It was here in October 1769 that James Cook first set foot on the soil of Aotearoa, an event commemorated by a shoreside statue. He immediately ran into conflict with local Maori, killing several of them before sailing away empty-handed. He named the landing site Poverty Bay, since “it did not afford a single item we wanted, except a little firewood”. Despite the fertility of the surrounding lands, the name stuck, though many Maori prefer Turanganui a Kiwa – honouring a Polynesian navigator.
Early nineteenth-century Poverty Bay remained staunchly Maori and few Pakeha moved here, discouraged by both the Hau Hau rebellion and Te Kooti’s uprising. It wasn’t until the 1870s that Europeans arrived in numbers to farm the rich alluvial river flats. After a decent port was constructed in the 1920s, sheep farming and market gardening took off, followed more recently by the grape harvest and the rise of plantation forestry. Today Gisborne’s Maori and Pakeha population is almost exactly 50:50, and the city’s relaxed pace and easy-going beach culture make it appealing to visitors in search of a little sun and surf.