Searching for your next adventure? Well look no further! An East Cape road trip will take you along the rugged, untouched coast from Gisborne to beautiful Opotiki New Zealand. Many travelers go to Gisborne for the wine and festivals, but then head off to other destinations without experiencing this drive. Join us as we take you down the coast to some of the best unknown beaches and camping spots in New Zealand!
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Exploring the East Cape of New Zealand
Often overlooked by tourists in New Zealand, this remote part of the North Island is such a special corner of the country to explore. Here you’ll get the chance to drive through rolling green mountains and extraordinary native flora, all with unobstructed views of the ocean.
The stunning east coast from Gisborne to Opotiki will give you a true view into what the country was like before the recent travel explosion. When you’re not steering through jungly terrain and along the beaches you will also come across some very local spots.
We saw locals riding horses through town, little general stores with fresh fish for sale, all in what truly felt like the wild wild west. So when you decide to drive through East Cape New Zealand be ready for the road less traveled!
East Cape Road Trip Route
Our East Cape New Zealand trip was six days, but know that you can make it as short or long as you’d like! This guide will highlight the best of the coast from Gisborne to Opotiki.
In each section you’ll find our favorite things to do in, or on the way to the end destination of each day. Also, make sure to comment your own recommendations for the East Cape of New Zealand at the bottom of this post.
Camping vs. Hotels
We rented a van for our Gisborne road trip so naturally camping was an easy decision. The East Cape of New Zealand does have freedom camping spots, but there’s also plenty low cost DOC and paid sites as well. If you plan to Freedom Camp in New Zealand make sure you know these 15 tips first!
As far as hotels go, once leaving Gisborne you won’t have many options. For this reason, make sure to book your hotels well in advance if you plan to travel this way. Yet, after reading our Gisborne Coast guide we’ll hopefully have swayed you into doing it in a campervan!
5 Tips for Your East Cape Road Trip
1. Stock up at the supermarket in Gisborne or Opotiki as the grocery stores are limited on your route.
2. Be extra cautious with gas, and fill up even when you don’t need it due to minimal stations.
3. Buy a 6 to 10 gallon water container for your drive as there is not much fresh water along the route.
4. This route can be done as fast as three days, but know that would be a tremendous amount of hours in the car at once. This doesn’t leave you much time to take in each place.
5. Bring sun block and bug spray on your East Cape road trip!
East Cape Road Trip Itinerary
Day One: Gisborne
Before you head out onto the East Cape of New Zealand you should spend at least a day or two in Gisborne. There’s so many great things to do ranging from swimming to hiking, and world class food and wine to taste. We recommend starting your East Cape road trip off with some of our favorite activities in Gisborne below!
Wine Tour: Gisborne has some of the best wine in New Zealand and is known specifically for their delicious chardonnay. Arrange a wine tour from town, or head out on your own to do a tasting at one of the many surrounding vineyards.
Rere Rockslide & Waterfall: Just 45 minutes from Gisborne you will find a natural rock waterslide! Bring a boogie board or tube to slide with, and don’t forget to check out the waterfall on your way there.
Surfs Up: Gisborne has some beautiful beaches and is an awesome place to surf or take a lesson. The best part is the surf breaks are known to cater to all types of experience levels.
Kaiti Hill Lookout: Walk, drive, or even bike to the top of Kaiti Hill for a stunning view of Gisborne. The hike is a 1.5 mile loop and will take about one hour to complete.
National Arboretum: An awesome place to see the native trees and flowers of New Zealand. The best time to visit is in Autumn when the colors of the leaves really pop!
Day Two: Gisborne to Tokomaru Bay
1 hour 15 minutes
- Head down the first section of coast from Gisborne to Opotiki. Take your time and make plenty of stops at the beaches along the way.
- Tokomaru Bay is the first (and one of our favorite) tiny little seaside towns worth staying the night at along the Gisborne Coast. Almost the entire stretch of beach is a DOC camping site so you can park right on the water. Just made sure to go online to register your vehicle for the night!
- Hit the waves! This was one of our favorite swimming beaches, as it was perfect for boogie boarding and body surfing.
- Stroll over to the Te Puka Tavern for sunset. There’s also a pretty good fish n’ chips place to check out in town, but these are the only two places to eat out.
Day Three: Tokomaru Bay to East Cape Lighthouse
1 hour 45 minutes
- The next part of the East Cape road trip will take you on an adventurous drive through the scenic mountains and small villages.
- Stop in the East Cape Manuka Cafe for local food and fresh honey. You can also stock up on all things Manuka here!
- Take the oceanside drive to the East Cape Lighthouse (return road) which is the most eastern spot on New Zealand’s North Island.
- Camping areas are limited near the East Cape Lighthouse so if you can’t get a spot you will need to continue on to Hicks Bay.
Day Four: East Cape Lighthouse to Maraehako/Te Kaha
1 hour 45 minutes
- Enjoy swimming at the different beaches along the drive such as Hicks Bay and Waihau Bay.
- Rent a kayak and head out to the water to explore the unique seaside cliffs and rock formations.
- In the area there are several options for where to camp. From formal campgrounds to freedom camping sites, and low cost as well. Take a look at all the options on the Campermate app and book ahead depending on the time of year.
Day Five: Maraehako to Opotiki
1 hour 15 minutes
- This is hands down one of the most gorgeous stretches of the drive!
- Once in Opotiki, jump on a bike and cruise the famous ocean trail.
- Spend an entire day at the beach. You won’t regret it!
Day Six: Opotiki to Gisborne Via the Waioeka Gorge
- Enjoy the scenery of the Waioeka Gorge.
- Take a photo at the historic Tauranga Bridge.
- Hike the Tauranga Loop Track and take a refreshing dip in the river!
Have any questions about our Gisborne to Opotiki route or your own East Cape road trip tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
New Zealand Travel Planning
Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.
Rental Car: If you’re not renting a van you’ll need a car to see this country. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to get around.
Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also, Hostelworld should be your go to if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from tickets to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to a Hobbiton movie set tour, and even a Northland hole in the rock dolphin cruise!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
North Island New Zealand
Travel Tips & Guides: 10 Helpful NZ Travel Tips – North Island Itinerary – South Island Itinerary – 25 Beautiful Beaches – Wellington to Picton Ferry – 27 Delicious Food & Drinks
Auckland & Northland: Piha Beach & Kitekite Falls – Cape Reinga Lighthouse – Russell – Mangonui – Mount Eden – Devonport Day Trip – Waiheke Island Guide – 9 Best Waiheke Wineries
Lake Taupo: 17 Fun Things to Do – Mount Tauhara Hike – Best Street Art – Taranaki Falls – Huka Falls Walk – 14 Tongariro Crossing Tips
New Plymouth: 10 Fun Things to Do – Dawson Falls – Te Rewa Rewa Bridge – Paritutu Rock Hike – Egmont National Park
Wellington: 10 Fun Things to Do – Mount Victoria Hike – Best Breweries – Cable Car & Botanical Gardens
Bay of Plenty: Tairua – Hot Water Beach – Cathedral Cove Walk – 8 Maunganui Things Not to Miss – Mount Maunganui Hike – East Cape Road Trip – How to Find Tua Tua Clams
Rotorua & Raglan: Kerosene Creek – Redwoods Treewalk – 8 Raglan Things to Do – Bridal Veil Falls
→ Explore all our South Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
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