Book a harbour-view room at the contemporary Portside Hotel in Gisborne to awake to the romance of a working port and explore the city in 2 days. Coastal traders, fishing boats, visiting cruise ships are all part of your introduction to a little of what makes this special part of New Zealand tick.
Breakfast at the hotel or in a nearby cafe – the CBD is a short walk from the hotel. Browse the shops, checking out NZ fashion designers at Beaufoy, 116 Gladstone Road; find NZ art at the Paul Nache Gallery (upstairs at 89 Grey Street, open Wed-Sat).
Visit the fascinating regional Tairawhiti Museum and Gallery for a real insight into the culture of the region. It’s heralded as one of New Zealand’s best and most innovative regional museums – don’t be surprised if you stay longer than intended. Why? This place tells stories. Tairawhiti means the ‘coast or tide of the shining sun’ and ‘Watersheds’ is a semi-permanent exhibition, looking at the history of the Tairawhiti region flowing from Wharekahika (Hicks Bay) in the north, to Paritu in the south.
The Te Moana Maritime Gallery at Tairawhiti offers a glimpse into 1000 years of maritime myths, legends, stories and development of the East Coast region. Also included in this gallery is the arrival of Captain James Cook, the development of Gisborne’s harbour, local shipwrecks, surfing in this region, the fishing industry and surf life saving.
You’ve stayed on so grab a bite to eat at the Tairawhiti Museum’s Exhibit Cafe (open 10am to 3pm, Mon-Sat).
Join a wine tasting tour or go as you please, visiting cellar doors such as Bushmere Estate Wines, or Milton Estate Wines (producing organic and bio-dynamic wines) for an insight into Gisborne’s burgeoning wine industry.
Visit the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve on Kaiti Beach Road, commemorating the arrival of Captain James Cook who first set foot on NZ soil in 1769, more than a year after he had set sail from Plymouth in England. Of great historical interest, there are references tho Cook and the expedition around Gisborne including the Tairawhiti Museum and the Banks Garden which includes the sorts of plants collected on the East Coast by botanist Joseph Banks who sailed aboard the Endeavour with Cook.
Other places of interest to Cook historians include the site of Cook’s second landing at Anaura Bay, about an hour’s drive north of Gisborne and Cook’s Cove Walkway 2km south of Tolaga Bay. (You can visit Cook’s Cove and take a walk on the second day of your stay.)
Visiting in the summer months, take a vintage steam train ride around Poverty Bay aboard the Gisborne City Vintage Railway’s Wa165 vintage train.
USSCO Bar & Bistro (16 Childers Road) in a shipping building near Gisborne’s Inner Harbour is a local favourite only five minutes’ walk from the Portside Hotel. Marina Restaurant (1 Vogel Street) is in a great riverside setting in the former Lysnar Ballroom.
For an unforgettable experience and insight into Maori culture, book a whole day tourthrough Te Runanga o Ngati Porou to visit the magnificent Maori carvings installed on the flanks of Mount Hikurangi. Once booked, this includes a very scenic two hour drive up the East Coast to Ruatoria, where you will be met and driven to Mount Hikurangi in a 4×4.
Discover some of Gisborne’s beautiful beaches such as Wainui and, if you aren’t driving north around the Cape, enjoy a scenic drive to Tolaga Bay to enjoy the Cook’s Cove walk and visit Tolaga Bay Cashmere.
Visit Eastwoodhill Arboretum.
Crawford Road Kitchen (3/50 Esplanade, Inner Harbour, Gisborne).
Two days is clearly only enough for a snapshot; stay longer to play golf, go diving, fishing and much more.
(Big shout out and thanks to Bernie Martin.)