277 Days on the Road
After all the rain we had yesterday, we are a little scared to look out of our door at the Hicks Bay Motel and look up at the sky. It’s 4.30am and we want to start our day watching the sunrise from New Zealand’s easternmost point, the East Cape Lighthouse. Luckily, we can actually see stars! Hurray! This means we are not completely clouded over, so there is a chance that we may see another spectacular sunrise in the Eastland region. Let’s go!
We pack up our stuff and jump in the car for the East Cape, an hour from Hicks Bay. Sunrise is at 7.09am, so we will get there in plenty of time. Although, rumour has it that there are 700 steps separating us from the East Cape Lighthouse too. As we are about to find out, those 700 steps are not the craziest part of our journey.
The treacherous East Cape Road
Once we pass through a little town called Te Araroa, we drive onto the East Cape Road, which greets us with a huge board of warning signs: steep drops, falling rocks, gravel road, wandering stock, narrow sections, and whatever else. Gulp! Are we sure we really want to go down here?! Hell, we might not even make it to see the sunrise of Day 278 of our trip!
The East Cape Road is gnarly to say the least. It is more reminiscent to an old pack-horse road from New Zealand’s pioneering days rather than a road that shows up of Google Maps in the 21st Century! In a way, it’s a blessing that we can only see what our headlights allow.
Needless to say, we make the 19km East Cape Road journey without falling into the ocean or crashing into cows or whatever or getting flattened by a rock. If it wasn’t for the point on Google Maps and about three other cars parked alongside a paddock, we could have easily missed the East Cape Lighthouse walk. There is, however, a white sign semi-nestled in a bush telling us that there is, in fact, 800 steps to climb! Well after 700, what’s another 100 steps, really?
Stepping it up
The steps are not as menacing as their number suggests. We had visions of a steep staircase, much like the one to Cape Palliser Lighthouse at the northernmost point of the North Island. We remember how we ended up on a heap at the base of the lighthouse after just 251 steps! Thankfully, the East Cape Lighthouse steps are spaced closely together and zigzag through the native bush to gradually get us to the top of the hill.
The first light of the new day
We emerge underneath a spectacular lighthouse still lit to create beams of light across the sky. It’s 6.30am so many of the stars are still out, while we only just start to see the eastern sky turn a dark orange. It’s a beautiful transition.
As we sit with our fellow travellers on this high hill overlooking the ocean and a nearby island, a thick cloud moves across the horizon as if to give us the middle finger. “Just try to see the sun through this!” the cloud mocks us. Fierce red tries to break through, lighting underneath the clouds with a short snippet of red light. Ok, it’s not the sunrise we’d imagined, but the cloud patterns are pretty spectacular in their own way.
Spectacular sunrise from the easternmost point in NZ!
Seeing the East Cape Road in a new light
Once we had been among the first to see the sunrise on a new day, we make our way back to the car to see more of the adventurous East Cape Road.
The way back reveals a lot more “wandering stock”, we negotiate horses and cows on the road and we really get to appreciate how steep the drops from the cliffs really are (with our eyes, not by nose-diving off them). However, the beauty of the East Cape Road, passing beach after beach lit up by the golden sun is just another reason the drive is well worth the hazards.
Stopping at the “historic tree”
Arriving back in Te Araroa, we notice a sign for a “Historic Tree”. That’s worth stopping, right? Sure enough, we park alongside the largest and oldest pohutukawa tree in New Zealand! Maori-carved archways and signs invite us in to get a closer look at the 365-year-old tree with so many huge branches winding off it that it appears to be its own forest. It sounds like a forest too with all the birds chirping and squeaking in the canopy. We can’t believe this is all the same tree!
We have to sit down after our overwhelming discovery (Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration), so we find a piece of driftwood to sit on at the beach and eat our breakfast.
Eastland and Google Maps do not mix
Back on the road, our final destination being Opotiki, we have two other sights in mind to visit: a waterfall and a pretty church. We have them dotted on Google Maps but we soon discover that Eastland and Google Maps don’t mix. For the waterfall, it turns out that it is hidden in the back of someone’s private land and when we get to the supposed point of the church, there is literally nothing there. In fact, we may have passed the church some few 10km back. Never mind, we press on, just stopping where ever we feel like stopping.
A pit stop in Waihau Bay and Maraehako Bay
That instinct first comes at Waihau Bay where the old town sign for Opotiki has been duct-taped over with the word “Waihau”. We arrive in a tiny town with a historic post office. All the houses here overlook a stunning rocky coastline and a backdrop of mountains in the distance. We stretch our legs on the wharf stretching into the middle of the bay, then get on with the rest of our journey.
Our next stop comes when we see a sign for Maraehako Bay Retreat, a backpacker hostel we had heard a lot about. We take the spontaneous decision to go down to the bay to say hi, but decide to stay their a lot longer for lunch when we see just how much of a retreat-like paradise this place is.
The tree-house waterfront backpackers overlooks a coastline of rock pools where we find all sorts of creatures including sea urchins! We even have time to relax in a couple of hammocks hung across a stream and talk to the hostel owner.
Ok, no more detours. Next stop, Opotiki!
It’s been a long journey today. Although it didn’t go quite as planned we are pleased we still got to discover some beautiful features of Eastland. Thanks to getting up so early this morning, we have quite a lot of the afternoon left to wander around Opotiki, do some grocery shopping, and relax in our accommodation, the Royal Opotiki Backpackers.
Join us tomorrow where we are taking a scenic road trip through the Waioeka Gorge to then take a steam train across an landing strip!
Hidden gems like Maraehako Bay are well worth getting off the beaten track for
Have you read the yesterday’s post about walking New Zealand’s longest wharf and visiting NZ’s finest Maori church? How about these articles:
See you tomorrow!