Jutting into the South Pacific northeast of Opotiki and Gisborne, the little-visited East Cape (also known as Eastland) is an unspoilt backwater that’s a reminder of how New Zealand once was. Between Opotiki and Gisborne, the Pacific Coast Highway (SH35) runs 330 scenic kilometres around the peninsula, hugging the rugged coastline much of the way and providing mesmerizing sea views on a fine day.
As soon as you enter the region you’ll notice a change of pace, epitomized by the occasional sight of a lone horseback rider clopping along the road. Maori make up a significant percentage of the population – over eighty percent of land tenure here is in Maori hands, and locals are welcoming, particularly once you take time to talk to them and adjust to the cape’s slower pace.
The coast is very much the focus here but there are also hiking opportunities, and just about everywhere you go there will be someone happy to take you horse trekking, either along the beach or into the bush. The towns, such as they are, don’t have much to recommend them and you’re better off planning to stay at scattered places in between, perhaps by a rocky cove or wild beach.
Inland, the inhospitable Waiapu Mountains run through the area, encompassing the northeastern Raukumara Range and the typical native flora of the Raukumara Forest Park. The isolated and rugged peaks of Hikurangi, Whanokao, Aroangi, Wharekia and Tatai provide a spectacular backdrop to the coastal scenery, but are only accessible through Maori land and permission must be sought.