Gisborne–Opotiki Loop

Soak in the beauty and remoteness of Eastland driving the Provincial Highway 35 loop between Gisborne and Opotiki, the northwest anchor of the East Cape. Rolling green hills drop into wide crescent beaches or rock-strewn coves. Small towns appear along the route, only to fade into the surrounding landscape. It is one of the country's ultimate roads-less-traveled. Some scenic highlights are Anaura Bay, with rocky headlands, a long beach favored by surfers, and nearby islands; it is between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay, two former shipping towns. Tolaga Bay has an incredibly long wharf stretching over a white-sand beach into the sea, and Cooks Cove Walkway is a pleasant amble (two-hour round-trip) through the countryside past a rock arch. In Tikitiki, farther up the coast, an Anglican church is full of carved Māori panels and beams. Tikitiki has a gas station.

East of the small town of Te Araroa, which has the oldest pohutukawa (po-hoo-too-ka-wa) tree in the country, the coast is about as remote as you could imagine. At the tip of the cape (21 km [13 miles] from Te Araroa), the East Cape Lighthouse and fantastic views are a long steep climb from the beach. Hicks Bay has another long beach. Back toward Opotiki, Whanarua (fahn-ah-roo-ah) Bay is one of the most gorgeous on the East Cape, with isolated beaches ideal for a picnic and a swim. Farther on, there is an intricately carved Māori marae (meetinghouse) called Tukaki in Te Kaha.

There are motels at various points on the cape and some superbly sited motor camps and backpackers' lodges, though you'll need to be well stocked with foodstuffs before you set off. Driving time on the loop—about 330 km (205 miles)—is about five hours without stops. You can, obviously, drive the loop the other way—from Opotiki around the cape to Gisborne: to get to Opotiki from the north, take Highway 2 from Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.

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