Walks Along the Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway, State Highway 35, is one of the most off-the-beaten-track road trips you can do in the North Island of New Zealand. This coast is full of history, and with that, a wealth of walking tracks to stretch your legs and take in the landscape. From easy coastal walks to full-day missions in the mountains, there’s Pacific Coast Highway walks for every backpacker!
Take an easy stroll under the majestic cliffs of Tolaga Bay on the Tolaga Bay Wharf, find beautiful beaches on the Cook’s Cove Walkway, and prepare for an epic trip up Mt Hikurangi – the first bit of land to see the sun in New Zealand. These walks are just part of the awesome road trip you can experience on the Pacific Coast Highway. For more information on the highway, check out The North Island Scenic State Highways and the East Cape – Guide for Backpackers.
The highway runs between Opotiki and Gisborne, spanning 334km of hiking and walking adventures.
1. Tolaga Bay Wharf (5 Minutes One Way)
Let’s start with an easy one. A road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway cannot go without a stop at Tolaga Bay. Here, you can walk along New Zealand’s longest wharf at 660m which gives you can stunning views of the neighbouring white cliffs and a long stretch of beach. Look out for fish see through the clear turquoise waters at the end of the wharf.
Location: At the end of Wharf Road, Tolaga Bay. 58km from Gisborne.
2. Ernest Reeve Walkway (30 Minutes Return)
At the northern end of Tolaga Bay, there is a more challenging walk leading to more rewarding views. The Ernest Reeve Walkway goes up a steep stepped climb to a lookout. Here, you’ll get epic views overlooking the bay and even Mt Hikurangi on a clear day.
Location: End of Wharf Road on Tolaga Bay’s beach. Start the walk from the northern end of the beach. 58km from Gisborne.
3. Cook’s Cove Walkway (2-3 Hours Return)
If you’re looking for a lengthier mission on the Pacific Coast Highway, then the Cook’s Cove Walkway is the place to do it. Climb over farmland and descend through native bush to Cook’s Cove, a sheltered cove where Captain James Cook spent some days replenishing supplies just after landing in Gisborne a few days earlier. Along the way, make a couple of side trips to the “Hole in the Wall/Te Kotere-o-te-Whenua” and a memorial with a lookout.
Location: Mid-way down Wharf’s Road, Tolaga Bay. 54km from Gisborne.
4. Anaura Bay Walkway (2 Hours Loop)
This walk has it all: the views, the forest and the wildlife! Situated in the Anaura Bay Scenic Reserve, the Anaura Bay Walkway takes you through mixed forest abundant with birds. Take it slowly to increase your chances of spotting the usually inquisitive native birds. Then cross a farm paddock to an open ridge where you can marvel in the views of Anaura Bay, Motuoroi Island and the southern coast. This walk then loops back round via some pine forest, onto a 4×4 track, and back to the scenic reserve.
Location: Anaura Bay Scenic Reserve is at the northern end of Anaura Bay. Turn off State Highway 35 down Anaura Road. 85km from Gisborne.
5. Mt Hikurangi Walkway (7 Hours One Way)
The biggest mission on the East Cape has to be climbing Mt Hikurangi. Although it is possible to hike it in one day (if you’re fast), most people stay their overnight and revel in the beautiful sunrise the next morning. Mt Hikurangi is the first point of contact for the sunrise in New Zealand! This mountain is steeped in cultural significance and provides some epic views of the surrounding mountains to anyone who climbs it. The Hikurangi Hut is about 10km from the start of the track (4-6 hours) and the climb to the summit is 2.5km (1-2 hours) away from the hut. Note that you will need to gain access permission about seven days prior by contacting Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou at 068649004. Finally, check out How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand to see how to prepare for a multi-day walk.
Location: Track entrance is at Pakihiroa Station along Tapuaeroa Road off State Highway 35. 170km from Gisborne.
6. The East Cape Lighthouse (20 Minutes Return)
This is a bit of a detour off the Pacific Coast Highway, but a must-do if you are wanting to catch a spectacular sunrise. After a drive down the gnarly East Cape Road, you’ll reach the not obviously signposted track to the East Cape Lighthouse. Park on the side of the road and walk through a small section of farmland into the forest where the uphill climb begins. Take 800 steps (that aren’t as bad as they sound) up to the lighthouse and catch the sunrise. For more lighthouses to add to the New Zealand bucket list, check out 10 Loneliest Lighthouses in New Zealand.
Location: About 25km down the East Cape Road from State Highway 35 at Te Araroa. 190km from Gisborne.
7. Chopper’s Track (1 Hour Return)
Check out this walkway made by the original Hicks Bay Motel owner to access Onepoto or Horseshoe Bay at the bottom of the cliff. Anyone is welcome to use the track which zig-zags through pohutukawa trees. Alternatively, there is the ‘Long Track’ which is tougher but is an alternative way to get back to the motel.
Location: Access is via the Hicks Bay Motel just off State Highway 35. 186km from Gisborne/148km from Opotiki.
8. Tautarangi Coastal Walkway (1 Hour Return)
As you get closer to Opotiki and the end/beginning of the Pacific Coast Highway, there is one last Pacific Coast Highway walk you just can’t miss! The Tautarangi Coastal Walkway follows an old stagecoach road through native forest to some awesome coastal views. You’ll also spot ancient pa sites (sites of fortified Maori villages) and landing places where the first settlers of the area came in their canoes.
Location: Starting at Opape Beach, off State Highway 35, walk east along the beach and cross a small stream where the entrance is signposted on the opposite bank. (The entrance is a little tough to find).
9. Walks Near Gisborne
On the Gisborne end of the Pacific Coast Highway, check out the Okitu Bush Scenic Reserve (about 7km from Gisborne) and the Wainui-Makorori Headland (9km from Gisborne). For more details on where to find these walks, check out 10 Gisborne Walks You Can’t Miss.