Over the past two years since the pandemic began, travel journalist Brook Sabin has had the good fortune to travel to all parts of New Zealand. When asked to choose his favorite, there was only one answer: Tairāwhiti. Why? Because Gisborne has something for everyone, and it’s their choices of what to do there.
Best on a Budget: Tatapouri Bay
Falling asleep to the sound of the waves is one of the best feelings in the world, but it normally comes at a steep price. However, at Tatapouri Bay – less than 20 minutes from central Gisborne – you’ll find a collection of luxury glamping tents for $175 a night.
You’re only meters from the ocean, or if you prefer something warmer, you also have access to a beachfront spa.
* Matawhero: Inside the North Island’s new luxury wine getaway
* A side of Tairāwhiti Gisborne you’ve never seen
* Undiscovered Aotearoa: Tairāwhiti Gisborne is New Zealand’s most underrated foodie region
Ideal for the outdoors: the rail bike
The area is home to one of the most unique biking adventures in the country. You will pass through pristine bushland, go through long tunnels, cross bridges and finally reach a spectacular coastline. And best of all – you’ll do everything attached to real train tracks.
Gisborne Rail Bike Adventure organizes the journey using uniquely designed frames: two push bikes are fused together with a steel frame that keeps them on the line. All you have to do is pedal. But take it from me; it’s worth paying a little extra for an e-bike so you have more time to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The best of the three rides is the Beach Loop, which is 32 kilometers long and takes half a day.
Ideal for families: Dome Cinema
Tucked away in Gisborne’s CBD, you’ll find one of the area’s best hidden gems: the Dome Cinema.
Your eyes will feast before the movie even begins; you’ll enter a historic building to find a technicolor bar with an elaborate outdoor space filled with fairy lights.
You then go through a secret door to find a series of giant beanbags under a spectacular dome. At intermission (just like in the good old days), pizza and ice cream are delivered to your chair before the lights go out and the movie resumes.
Best for Families: Gisborne City Vintage Railway
The Gisborne City Vintage Railway offers more than just a train ride. The steam train, built in Dunedin over 120 years ago, actually crosses the main runway at Gisborne Airport – the only place in the southern hemisphere where this happens.
The train will wait patiently at the side of the runway for all aircraft to clear, before being cleared to cross. The train then heads to Muriwai for a 30-minute scenic stop, before making the return journey. Kids will love this adventure.
Best Free: Rere Rockslide
There’s an easy winner here – the area is home to one of the largest natural slides in the southern hemisphere, and it’s seriously fun.
The Rere Rockslide is just over a 40-minute drive outside of Gisborne, and here you’ll find a smooth 60-metre slide with a thin layer of water gently flowing over it.
Grab a bodyboard or inner tube, hold on tight, and have the best time of your life. If you prefer to stay dry, the nearby Rere Falls are spectacular for sightseeing.
Best Unique Getaway: Zen Cabins
Tatapouri Bay, home to the previously mentioned glamping tents, also offers a series of new beachfront luxury pods, known as Zen Cabins. Designed for romance, they feature an ultra-comfortable bed facing a huge window overlooking the sea. As Gisborne is among the first in the world to see the new dawn, you can witness an extraordinary sunrise without leave the duvet.
Best Food: Gisborne Farmers Market
Eat your way around the region as you sample some of Tairāwhiti’s best food at the Gisborne Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday morning.
Along with the usual produce, the markets are also home to dumplings, pastries, tortillas, and donuts, which are arguably the best in the country. One of their most popular is the Caramilk Custard, with a fluffy Rarotongan-style pastry topped with Caramilk ganache. If you prefer savory, try the breakfast donut filled with creamy mushrooms, cheese, hash brown, bacon and a gooey fried egg.
Best off-grid: Manutuke Eco Retreat
Just 15 minutes from Gisborne, you will feel like you are in another world at Manutuke Eco Retreat. This glamping retreat, with a private jetty on a huge lake, gives you a place to relax under the stars. There are two stand up paddle boards and kayaks to explore the lake and surrounding wetlands.
If you’re feeling energetic there are ten kilometers of trails to explore – but I recommend relaxing with a good book by the lake and enjoying the peace.
Best Adults Only: Matawhero
One of Gisborne’s newest retreats is a luxury wine getaway among the vineyards. Matawhero was the area’s first winery and now has a series of swanky cabins right next to the cellar door. This means you can walk across for a drink, before heading home and enjoying another on your terrace before a long night’s sleep the next morning.
Best for Adventure: East Cape
Want a foreign experience without leaving our shores? Take the SH35 around East Cape and see wild pigs crossing the road, children riding to school and tiny villages living happily in a bygone era.
You’ll also find empty beaches, rugged beauty and plenty of good old-fashioned hospitality.
Getting There : Gisborne is a 6.5 hour drive from Auckland or four hours from Rotorua. Air New Zealand flies from Auckland and Wellington.
Glamping at Tatapouri Bay from $175, see: tatapouri.co.nz
Zen cabins from $275 per night, see: tatapouri.co.nz.
Matawhero Wine Shacks from $350 per night including breakfast provisions, see: matawhero.co.nz.
Manutuke Eco Retreat from $295. See: canopycamping.co.nz
For the last Cinema Dome timetables, see: domecinema.co.nz
Vélorail Beach Loop from $120. See: railbikes.nz
Gisborne City Vintage Railway is $15 per child, $30 per adult or $80 for a family. To see:
Stuff Travel Deals: For the latest Gisborne deals, see travel.stuff.co.nz/gisbornedeals
Stay safe: Gisborne is currently experiencing flooding and travel is not advised. However, once it is safe to do so, the region will need your support to bounce back. New Zealand remains under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.
Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, go to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset
This author’s journey was supported by Trust Tairawhiti.