THE EAST CAPE REGION
This easternmost extremity of the North Island is bounded by a steep coastline rising from a rocky shoreline to the northwest and long flat beaches set between headlands to the east. Inland, the heart of the East Cape is dominated by the rugged expanse of the mighty Raukumara Range, part of an almost continuous chain of mountains that stretches northwards all the way from Wellington. The main river in the region is the Motu, which cuts its way through to the coast from the hill country down through forests and deep gorges in some of the most rugged and trackless parts of the land. Along the coast between Opotiki and the East Cape, the beaches attract swarms of holidaymakers in summer, but in winter this is still an excellent trip to make on a fine day, long after the holiday crowds have departed.
Whakatane is the starting point for most travelers heading around the cape. This laidback coastal town is a centre for deep sea fishing charters as well as trips out to the smouldering volcanic cone of White Island (Whakaari) where you can take a guided tour of steaming vents and visit the old sulphur mine. Opotiki is the next main town to the east and from here you can organise jetboat tours or rafting trips on the Motu River. Heading east Hawai Beach makes an interesting place to take a quick stop and explore the coast on a shore that is literally piled high with driftwood. Most of the timber has come from inland forests and been washed down from the Motu and the many other rivers along the coast. The road continues along the coast to Te Kaha with its redoubt and beautifully carved meeting house at Te Kaha Tukaki. This was the site of an old whaling settlement and today it’s a great place to go kayaking along this magnificent stretch of coastline.
The highway passes a series of picturesque bays, including Whanarua Bay, which has one of the best beaches on the East Cape. A distinctive Anglican church built in 1895 at Raukokore nestles among Norfolk pines on a promontory west of Orete Point and you can still often see horses tied up outside the general store at Waihau Bay with its old post office dating back to the 1870s. As you near Cape Runaway you pass the beautiful sandy stretch of Oruati Beach, which is an ideal place to stop for a swim. At Whangaparaoa there is a restored pa site as well as a Maori meeting house. The road heads inland before emerging on the coast at at Hicks Bay with its distinctive volcanic peaks which are all part of a series of Matakaoa volcanoes that erupted under the sea. The distinctive Saint Mary’s Anglican Church at Tikitiki is one of the last landmarks on this part of the coast before you head south to Gisborne via the Te Puia Springs, Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay with its huge old wharf.