Museum, Gallery, Lighthouse and Good Eats in Wairoa


264 Days on the Road

There’s more to Hawke’s Bay than Art Deco architecture, wineries and gannet colonies. Today, we are heading to the northern end of the North Island region to the town of Wairoa, which is just the start of our northern Hawke’s Bay adventure. Coming up, we have hikes around the stunning Lake Waikaremoana, horse riding on the beach, Maori experiences, hot pools and exploring the scenic Maihia Peninsula. But first things first, let’s explore the quaint little town of Wairoa.

A sensational drive to Wairoa

Getting to Wairoa from Napier is a beautiful journey in itself, especially on a day like today with heaps of rainfall and high humidity. We can literally see the condensation occurring from the hills of pine forest with thick clouds rising from the trees. It creates an eerie atmosphere, seeing layers of mist, then treetops, mist, and treetops. We cruise around the perimeter of Lake Tutira and on the top of a dramatic river gorge. It hardly gets boring when driving in New Zealand.

The Wairoa Museum

We arrive in the coastal and riverside town of Wairoa, the rain still making its presence known, so we do the ultimate go-to activity on a rainy day: go to a museum. The Wairoa Museum is held within a grand heritage building along the riverside, like most of the shops and cafes in Wairoa (access to Wairoa would have been via the river back in the day). Entry is by donation, which is an novelty in itself. The donation box is pretty funky. Unfortunately, we only had a note to donate, so we simply pull on the banana to put the donation in, but we are kind of keen to see what would have happened if we had put a coin in.

We have a museum before us that appears to be small at first glance. A small gallery in a side room showcases some contemporary Moari paintings and this Maori theme continues with impressively carved wooden sculptures, weapons, paddles and weaved clothing. Information panels on the wall tell the story of significant Maori figures in the Wairoa area, all to the soundtrack of traditional Maori song.

Ancient fossils and Maori artifacts

As we find various small doorways at the back of the first room, we begin to discover how big the Wairoa Museum really is. We enter a small room completely covered in old portraits. Then another room looks at the natural history of the area, displaying fossils of seashells found inland in the mountain ranges (?!), as well as the fossil of a plesiosaurus!

Finally, the last room we discover has a mixture of artifacts from both Maori and European settlers. Displays of old cameras, trophies and other European culture trinkets reminds us, as Europeans, of our grandmothers’ houses, so naturally, we are more intrigued by the wealth of Maori memorabilia the Wairoa Museum has. Hundreds of excavated toki (a chisel) fill an entire floor-to-ceiling display case, plus, the number of weaved items is extensive too, from fishing baskets to clothing. It’s always worth checking out small town museums around New Zealand, because you never know what you’ll discover.

There’s something on every wall of the Wairoa Museum!

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A lighthouse in town

With a break in the rain, we go outside for a closer look at the one massive thing in Wairoa that can’t help but catch your eye: the lighthouse. Sitting in the middle of town on the riverbank, the lighthouse clearly serves no purpose than to look pretty. New Zealanders really have great pride in their lighthouses, often being the most well-maintained buildings you will see in the country! The residents of Wairoa were such big fans of their lighthouse that they saved it from being knocked down and had it transferred to the town. We have to say, it’s a darn good-looking lighthouse.

The quirky Eastend Cafe

All necessary photos taken of said lighthouse, we decide to have a quick walk along the riverside for somewhere to eat. The Eastend Cafe peaks our interest with its vibrant exterior and unusual spoon mosaic flooring at its entrance. The inside gets quirkier when we see a ceiling full of sails! When we get talking to the owner of the cafe, Angie, she tells us how they are perfect for creating a good quality sound for the cafe’s monthly gigs, as well as keeping the noise down from the kitchen!

Always keen to try something new, we ask Angie her recommendations of the menu, resulting in a comforting mushroom hash, pancakes with a berry compote, lemon curd and cream, and a side of homemade fries with aioli. It’s all so good that we go halvesies on everything!

The Long River Gallery

It might be raining outside, but that has given us no lack of things to do in Wairoa. After experiencing a slice of life by hanging out in the cafe, (as well as a slice of treat-yourself food), we walk under the shelters of the shopfront verandas to the Long River Gallery, opposite the lighthouse. The community gallery features the work of local artists and is run by local artists, one of which is manning the art gallery today. He shows us the colourful paintings of one of his art acquaintances and, of course, his own creations of metal sculptures. The art gallery really reflects the environment of the Wairoa area, using driftwood from the beaches all the way to the skulls of game hunted in the mountains.

Checking in at the Riverside Motor Camp

As the afternoon ticks on, it seems to be a good time to check into our accommodation at the Riverside Motor Camp, a place with heaps of character with hilariously sarcastic signs pinned everywhere to half a full-sized vinatge car sticking out of the wall. (We’re guessing it’s some sort of funky barbecue… To be honest, we don’t give ourselves the chance to find out, because, yes, we are eating out AGAIN this evening! Well, when you want to experience a town like a local… And there’s nothing more local in New Zealand than trying fish and chips!

Classic Kiwi Fish and Chips with a Difference!

Considering the rain has finally stopped, and the warmness of the humidity is still lingering in the air, we walk across the bridge following the huge sign on a roof saying “Fish & Chips”. We arrive at Tui’s Takeaways, getting ourselves a fish bite meal with salad and a specialty side dish: raw tarakiha in coconut yoghurt, capsicum, and spring onion. This super refreshing side dish is certainly a culinary revelation for us! We can’t even share it with one of the local dogs that comes snooping around our table as we sit outside. We don’t care how cute your face is, you are not having our fish!

As we walk back to the Riverside Motor Camp, we get a closer look at the lighthouse that is actually on and working. Beautiful!

On an unrelated note, join us tomorrow where we are going horse riding along sacred coastal land!

The pretty little lighthouse of Wairoa

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Want more?

Have you read yesterday’s post about seeing the world’s largest mainland gannet colony? How about these articles:

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See you tomorrow!