We had already booked to walked the Heaphy Track the weekend after Easter so it seemed it might be a little tough to organise some long tramps for the weekend beforehand as well. Instead, we took advantage of some very cheap flights to Gisborne and flew down in the afternoon of Good Frida. We were a little fortunate that Cyclone Cook had passed through earlier than our trip and had done not too much damage to the Gisborne area.
We stayed in the “Flying Nuns Backpackers”. This is a BBH hostel and usually these are pretty good, but not this time. It is housed in an old convent which is a little creepy, accentuated by notes about ghostly nuns on the walls. It is rather dirty and needs a good clean. However, our room was fine and the hordes of itinerant fruit pickers were rather entertaining. Many were from South America and were sleeping in cars and vans in the yard.
This is a lovely 60km drive north of Gisborne, along a winding road that follows a stunning coast. There are beaches to die for, lots of surfers and some stunning rural New Zealand scenery. The drive is worth it on its own. The Captain Cook walkway starts close to the village and climbs steeply up onto the top of the cliffs before heading for a gorgeous cove. A steep drop down some steps promises some exercise on the way home, but once down you can relax and explore. There is a hole in the rock to walk through onto a rocky beach and a peaceful flat pasture beside a creek to enjoy lunch. Cook and his crew must have enjoyed their stop over here. It takes a couple of hours or so to get there and back, but the temptation to snooze in the sun by the sea is irresistible, so plan for more time.
The village has a very long wharf, claimed to be the longest in the country. It is worth a visit to walk the 0.6km long wharf there and back and admire the surf. It was still powerful after the cyclone and the seals whavingcing fun dodging the timber in the sandy swells.
The Mahia Peninsula
This is just a little further, but south this time. The peninsula is a popular place for baches and surfing and the scenery is lovely. The walkway is a typical bush walk, down a steep gully before a wander along a creek with several crossings to get the feet wet. There is a steep pull back on to the ridge and views over the hills to the coast. The walk is Ok, but the drive there is probably better. The final section is along a steep narrow gravel road, not for the nervous.
On the way home there are some caves to explore, a short 7km drive up the hill to a limestone escarpment. If you have a torch and a hard hat you can wander inside, see the glowworms and explore the inner cave via a couple of ladders. The limestone scenery is lovely. Lush green grass for the sheep and, in the evening light, the tightly folded New Zealand farmland looked at its best. It reminds you how young this country is. A few km along the main road from the turn off to the caves are some hot pools with a couple of walks up the local hills.
The city (!) is a slow place of meandering rivers, wide open boulevards, and some good restaurants. At the northern end of town, the Kaiti hill gives a good morning walk to the top and an excellent view over Gisborne. Runners were racing up and down the steps when we visited on Easter Monday, which looked a bit exhausting to me.
At the bottom is a memorial to Cook who landed here. It is only 250 years since the first Europeans set eyes on this land. Have we done more damage than good?
Our final walk, before a flight home, was from the end of Wainui beach, 5km north of the town. The walkway takes you up onto the promontory for one last view of the wonderful beaches. The sea was full of surfers waiting for waves.
We had been blessed with perfect weather and headed home for a couple of days before the more strenuous challenge awaiting us in Nelson.