East Cape - Guide for Backpackers© NZPocketGuide.com
East Cape - Guide for Backpackers

East Cape – Guide for Backpackers

© NZPocketGuide.com
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Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
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Go East and Start Your Day Before Everyone Else in the World!

Summertime, on the road, and need a new place to discover in New Zealand? The East Cape is a great option in New Zealand’s North Island full of bucket-list activities, such as seeing the first sunrise, seeing the first New Year in the world, or sliding down a natural water slide!

The East Cape is also a significant place in New Zealand history, as it was the first land Captain James Cook encountered when he discovered New Zealand. We bet he was drawn by the many superb beaches on the East Coast to spot a surf or do some diving!

To avoid confusion, the East Cape region is also known as the Gisborne region or Eastland region. It is the most eastern part of the North Island and, arguably, the most off-the-beaten-track region in the North Island.

Things You Can’t Miss in the East Cape

  • Visit Gisborne: the first city in the world to see the sunrise!
  • Slide down the Rere Rockslide
  • Walk along New Zealand’s longest pier
  • Watch the first sunrise of the world at the East Cape Lighthouse
  • Visit the small town of Te Araroa
  • Do a tramping track in Te Urewera.

Tourism NZ© Ray Sheldrake - Tourism NZ


The locals will tell you how Gisborne is the surf capital of New Zealand, much to the protest from Raglan. There are great beaches to learn how to surf in the area, then those on a more advanced level have a choice of more challenging surf breaks.

Perhaps Gisborne’s bigger claim to fame it was Captain Cook’s first encounter with New Zealand and the Maori. It wasn’t a successful encounter, which ended up with Captain Cook naming the site Poverty Bay and much to his dismay, his crew shot the Maori when trying to make contact. Not cool. Nevertheless, there are a couple of statues along the waterfront to commemorate Captain Cook’s visit, as well as a statue of Young Nick who first sighted New Zealand.

Wine-tasting the “Chardonnay Capital” is also a popular activity in Gisborne. There is 2,000ha (4942 acres) of vineyards in the area, many dedicated to the chardonnay cause!

And finally, the coolest place to welcome the New Year has to be Gisborne. It is summer so it is the perfect time to have an outdoor music festival for New Year, the Rhythm and Vines festival. Plus, it is the first city in the world to see the New Year! That is surely bucket list-worthy?

Check out some more awesome festivals: 6 Summer Festivals in New Zealand and for a more in-depth look at Gisborne, head on over to Gisborne – Guide for Backpackers.

East Cape - Guide for Backpackers© NZPocketGuide.com

Take on the Rere Rockslide!

We love New Zealand for its nature, especially when it has created an awesome water slide! Grab a boogie board or a sturdy inflatable lilo and slide down the 60m (197ft) Rere Rockslide. There are a few lumps and bumps along the way, which is seriously fun but is a good reason not to just slide on your stomach.

Nearby is Rere Falls: a nice photo op and a place to take a shower.

Finally, along the same road (Wharekopae Road), is the Eastwood Hill Arboretum. Take on the walks through a mix of native and exotic forest and look out for native New Zealand wildlife.

For more information, take a look at 10 Must-Dos In and Around Gisborne.

Tourism NZ© Eastland Inc

Tolaga Bay

Take a stroll out to sea on New Zealand’s longest pier at 660m (2,165ft). Tolaga Bay pier also follows picturesque white cliffs.

Those adventurous types like to jump off the end of the pier! And those fitness freak types like to swim all the way back to shore.

Also in the area, the Cook’s Cove Walkway is a must for some stunning coastal views. We also list other noteworthy stops nearby in 9 Pacific Coast Highway Walks You Can’t Miss.

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East Cape Lighthouse

As the most eastern lighthouse in New Zealand, it is not uncommon to find a bunch of people by the lighthouse at stupid-o’clock-in-the-morning. The East Cape Lighthouse is a great place to watch the sunrise.

The 750 steps to the lighthouse might kill the legs, but seeing the first sunrise in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To get to the East Cape Lighthouse take the East Cape Road for 45 minutes east of Te Araroa.

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Te Araroa

On the way back from the East Cape Lighthouse, make sure to stop in at Te Araroa.

The oldest pohutukawa tree at 600 years old stands on the roadside. This tree is particularly significant because it is the New Zealand Christmas tree, which blooms red flowers around Christmas time.

Te Araroa is where the first kumara was planted the New Zealand sweet potato, so clearly an extremely significant time in NZ history. Find out more about why we love kumara in Why Every Backpacker in New Zealand Should Cook With Kumara. Also, make a stop at the East Cape Manuka Company’s factory for free honey tastings!

You can check out a whole itinerary of things to do around Te Araroa in Eastland Road Trip Itinerary: Gisborne to Opotiki.

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Te Urewera

Inland, the East Cape contains some of Te Urewera.

As with any forested land, there are a series of tramping tracks including the Great Walk Lake Waikaremoana. The park is the largest native forest area in the North Island.

For more information and things to do in Te Urewera, check out Te Urewera – Guide for Backpackers and 10 Natural Attractions to See in Eastland.

If You Have More Time in the East Cape…

  • Check out Waka Toa, Gisborne, for a Maori performance, stories and humour
  • Expand on your cultural knowledge at the Kahukura Gallery or the Tairawhiti Museum
  • Spend some time on the beach on the Mahia Peninsula for surfing, swimming, diving and soaking up the sun
  • Visit the gateway to the East Cape: Opitiki and do The 3 Eastland Motu Trails
  • Feed some stingrays with Dive Tatapouri
  • For more things to do, check out 13 Eastland Must-Dos.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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