The principal mountain chain of the North Island is continued in the East Cape as the Huiarau Range, the highest peaks being 4,491 ft and 4,482 ft, and the Raukumara Range, the highest peak reaching 5,753 ft. These ranges separate the region from the Bay of Plenty and the Central Plateau, except for two roads which cross in the south from Wairoa via Waikaremoana and in the centre from Gisborne via the Waioeka Gorge, a route that has recently undergone considerable improvement. An alternative but poor route is around the East Cape itself to Opotiki, and it is used only by local residents and tourists. Isolation has been a very strong influence in the history of the area; only in 1942 was Gisborne linked by rail to Hawke's Bay, and the line planned between Gisborne and the Bay of Plenty was never completed. Reaching only as far as Moutohora on the eastern side of the range, it is now disused. In its time it served the timber-milling industries which attacked the heavy bush of the inland districts.
To the east and west of the main range lies a large area of hill country, composed of Tertiary and Cretaceous rocks, which is very liable to slipping. Lowlands areas are limited and confined to numerous river valleys and, especially, to coastal alluvial plains. The Poverty Bay flats around Gisborne are the largest of these plains, but further north there is a number of smaller ones located, for example, at Tolaga Bay, Ruatoria, and Te Araroa. The hill-country area is given over largely to the production of store sheep and wool and the farms are large, as is borne out by the figures for average size of holding. More intensive forms of agriculture are confined to the Poverty Bay flats around Gisborne. The production of market-garden crops, peas, sweet corn, and tomatoes has been stimulated in the post-war period by the establishment of canning and freezing works. In 1959–60, 915 acres (cf., 656 acres, 1951–52) were devoted to the production of vegetables for processing and canning and a further 640 acres were under orchards and market gardens, the production of stone and pip fruits, citrus, and subtropical fruits being the main activity. Maize, grass, and clover seeds are also important cash crops. In addition fat-lamb farming and dairying are important.