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East Coast places

by Monty Soutar

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, coastal and inland areas, and other places of interest in East Coast.

East Cape


Pōtikirua Point is the northern boundary marker of the Ngāti Porou tribal district. It is on the coast between Matakaoa Point and Cape Runaway, part of an isolated block of volcanic rock which stretches between the two promontories. Nearby Lottin Point (Wakatiri), with majestic scenery and a rocky shoreline, attracts surfcasters, divers and people fishing from boats. There are many historic sites, and stone rows that mark off early Māori gardening plots.


The closest settlement to Pōtikirua, just under 6 km inland, 197 km from Gisborne and 129 km from Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35. It is home to the hapū Te Whānau-ā-Tāpaeururangi. It has a school, marae and cluster of houses.

Hicks Bay

Settlement 180 km from Gisborne and 146 km from Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35. Zachariah Hicks, an officer on James Cook’s ship, Endeavour, sighted the bay on 31 October 1769. It lies between Matakaoa Point and Haupara Point, and is also known as Wharekāhika, the name of the river that flows into the bay.

A wharf but no roads


The wharf at the western end of Hicks Bay is a reminder of times when travel and transport in the region were by sea rather than by land. The wharf was upgraded to serve the freezing works built at Hicks Bay in 1920. However, with few roads to transport livestock to it, the works went out of business in 1926.


In 1865, when followers of the Pai Mārire religion, who supported Māori self-determination, invaded the region, two pā on Matakaoa Point were modified for musket fighting. St Barnabas Church, which probably dated from the same period, was destroyed by a storm in 1974. The present St Barnabas, combining traditional Māori and modern elements, opened for worship in 1979.

Wharekāhika Native School opened in 1887 and, along with other native schools, was integrated into the main public school system in 1969. Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti, a Māori language immersion school, operated in Hicks Bay in the 2000s. Nearby Matakaoa had its own school between 1921 and 1939.

Tūwhakairiora meeting house was completed in 1955 as a war memorial. Some of its carvings were made in 1872 for an earlier house.

Onepoto Bay

At the southern end of Hicks Bay, before State Highway 35 climbs the ridge behind Haupara Point, a side road skirts a small headland to reach Onepoto Bay. Baches and holiday houses abut the safe, sandy beach. Boats can be launched off the sand and there is often excellent surfing.

Pukeamaru Scenic Reserve

A tract of native forest between the Wharekāhika and Karakatūwhero rivers; its highest points are Pukeamaru (990 m) and Harakeke (818 m).

Te Araroa

Settlement 12 km from Hicks Bay and 169 km from Gisborne. The post office was first called Wharekāhika (as in Hicks Bay) and the town was named Kawakawa-mai-i-Tawhiti (Kawakawa from afar), but Te Araroa became the name for both in 1888, partly to avoid confusion with Kawakawa in Northland. It is just west of the mouth of the Awatere River, first bridged in 1962.

A pōhutukawa tree, reputed to be the oldest (more than 600 years) and largest in New Zealand, stands in the grounds of Te Kura-a-Rohe o Te Waha o Rerekohu school. Rerekohu was a famous tipuna (ancestor) of the region and his food was stored in a pātaka (store house) beside the tree.

Te Araroa was the home of the famed Ngāti Porou tipuna Tūwhakairiora. A fighting leader, he became chief of all the subtribes of northern Waiapu through a series of campaigns.

A township was established at Te Araroa in 1890. It was the headquarters of Matakaoa County, which existed from 1920 to 1965, but went bankrupt and was governed by a commissioner from 1933 until its dissolution. Te Araroa’s population was 500 in 1951; from the 1960s it fell, as did that of the district, as the road link to Gisborne improved.

In the 2000s Te Araroa was a popular stop for travellers on State Highway 35. Nearby Punaruku beach has safe swimming, surfing and shore fishing. Whetūmatarau – a prominent escarpment and pā site overlooking the township, which has expansive views – can be reached via a bush climb.

Nearby Hekawa was a whaling station in the 1830s, and a mission station was established there in 1843.

East Cape

A 21-km drive through the traditional territory of Te Whānau-ā-Hunaara hapū to East Cape, and a climb of 700 steps, leads to the most easterly lighthouse on the New Zealand mainland. The lighthouse was first established in 1900 on nearby Whangaōkena, or East Island as James Cook named it, judging, correctly as it turned out, that it was the most easterly point of the land mass he had recently encountered. With landslips threatening the lighthouse, it was moved to the mainland in 1922.

Waiapu River valley


Settlement on the Waiapu River, 145 km from Gisborne, 20 km from Ruatōria, and 24 km from Te Araroa. From Te Araroa State Highway 35 climbs over hills to the Maraehara River valley and then the Waiapu River valley.

The town’s name derives from Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga (Māui wrapped in the topknot of Taranga), the full name of the demigod Māui. Tikitiki’s jewel is St Mary’s Anglican church, which combines Māori architectural design with intricate carvings, tukutuku (woven panels) and fine stained-glass windows. It is considered one of the finest Māori churches in New Zealand. Completed in 1926 under the direction of Apirana Ngata, it is a memorial to Ngāti Porou soldiers who fought and died in the First World War.

Above the church is Pukemaire, once a fortified , where one of the last confrontations between Pai Mārire and Ngāti Porou forces took place in 1865.

Rangitukia is 6 km down the Waiapu River from Tikitiki along Rangitukia Road. In the 2000s a local business ran horse treks.

Waiapu River

The Waiapu River is the major artery and spiritual heart of the Ngāti Porou landscape. Its two principal tributaries, the Mata and Tapuaeroa rivers, join to form the Waiapu just west of State Highway 35, near the junction with the road to Ruatōria. The Waiapu enters the sea just past Rangitukia. Its catchment covers the greater part of the region north of Tokomaru Bay. The clearance of forest in its headwaters has led the river to flood repeatedly, and has caused one of the highest sediment yields in the world (36 million tonnes, approximately one-sixth of the annual sediment flow in all New Zealand river systems).


Township 128 km north of Gisborne, 3 km off State Highway 35, with a 2013 population of 750. At first it was known simply as the Cross Roads. In 1913 it was named Ruatōrea (more correctly Rua-a-Tōrea, the storage pit of Tōrea), but was altered to the current spelling in 1925. It is adjacent to the Waiapu River, which was bridged at nearby Rotokautuku in 1916.

Ruatōria became the ‘capital’ of Ngāti Porou territory once the road became the main link between the coast and Gisborne in the 1920s, and remains the principal service town for the coast north of Tokomaru Bay.

The district was home to politician and statesman Apirana Ngata and Victoria Cross winner Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu. The principal marae is at Mangahānea, a few kilometres east of the township. Its meeting house, Hinetāpora, dates from 1896. Ngata’s homestead, known as ‘the Bungalow,’ is at Waiōmatatini, 13 km downriver.

Nāti butter

From 1925 Ruatōria was well-known for its Ngāti-Porou Co-operative Dairy Company, and the Nāti-branded butter its factory produced won the national award for the best butter for several years in succession. The cooperative was a predominantly Māori venture and its financing, which included buying herds for intending suppliers, was distinctive. It began in the 1925–26 season with 58 suppliers and an output of 61 tons of butter; within 10 years it had 377 suppliers and an output of 743 tons. The company featured in the 28 May 1952 issue of The Weekly News. The article said: ’It is staffed and managed entirely by Maoris, and 90 percent of its cream supply comes from farms under Maori ownership or management.’1 The building still stands, but with a declining milk supply the factory closed in 1954.

Port Awanui

Settlement on the coast approximately 15 km from Ruatōria via Waiomatatini. Port Awanui grew from a shore whaling station in the 1840s to a township with shipping, a school, courthouse, post office, two hotels and the headquarters of Waiapu County Council. However, the arrival of motor vehicles and the building of the Gisborne–Te Araroa road in the 1920s meant the port was bypassed. The police station was transferred to Tikitiki in 1935 and after severe flooding in 1938 the port ceased operation.

Tūpāroa, 13 km down the coast from Port Awanui, was also a port where wool bales were loaded during the coastal shipping era. In 2011 the road to Tūpāroa from Ruatōria traversed a riverbed for several kilometres.


Mountain (1,752 m) on a spur of the Raukūmara Range, inland from Ruatōria. Hikurangi is the highest non-volcanic summit in the North Island, and is of great cultural, spiritual and physical significance to Ngāti Porou. It overshadows the adjacent summits of Whanokao (1,428 m), Aorangi (1,272 m), Wharekia (1,106 m) and Taitai (678 m). Taken as a whole, the group provides an awe-inspiring vista, which has long evoked the admiration of Ngāti Porou.

On the mountain are nine whakairo (carved sculptures), erected to commemorate the millennium in 2000, which depict the tipuna (ancestor) Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga and his whānau. Māui is said to have fished up the North Island, and his canoe Nukutaimemeha lies petrified near the summit of the mountain. These massive whakairo are a tribute to the heritage and art of Ngāti Porou.

    • Weekly News, 28 May 1952. Back

Te Puia Springs and Tokomaru Bay

Te Puia Springs

Settlement 101 km north of Gisborne and 28.5 km south of Ruatōria on State Highway 35. It is a site of warm thermal springs. The government, having unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the springs over a 10-year period, passed the Native Townships Act 1895 which made it possible for it to take the land.

An accommodation house for visitors to the springs was established earlier, but it was not until 1934–35 that it was operated on a permanent basis, with springs-supplied pool and bathhouses. The hotel was closed for a number of years, but was renovated and reopened in the early 2000s. Locally occurring natural gas was used for many years for cooking and heating.

Partly on account of the springs, which were considered to have medicinal qualities, a hospital was built in 1907. It was modernised and a 24-bed tuberculosis block was added in 1949. In 2019 it was a general-purpose hospital run by Ngāti Porou Hauora, the major health provider for the Ngāti Porou district.

The Williams family built Puketītī homestead, 5 km west of the township, in 1906, and substantially altered and enlarged it in 1933. The original homestead was built of Oregon pine shipped from the United States and rafted ashore at Waipiro Bay.

Waipiro Bay

Settlement 108 km north of Gisborne and 7 km north-east of Te Puia Springs, and one of the most scenic of the coast localities.

Whaling took place from the Māori settlement at Waipiro Bay in the mid-19th century. From the 1890s wool bales were shipped out from the bay, and livestock, stores and equipment landed, most often for J. N. Williams’s holdings. A post office opened in 1885. In its heyday, from the 1900s to 1920s, the township housed the Waiapu County Council offices, a courthouse, police station, school and numerous stores, and had a vigorous social life.

After the war was over...

A newspaper story from 1919 reports on goings-on in Waipiro Bay after the First World War: ‘The township is getting back to pre-war times. Mr Mawer has taken over the saddlery business and Mr W Sakey has re-opened the tinsmith’s shop. The spinsters of Waipiro and surrounding districts gave a ball on the evening of the 13th … Visitors were present from Tokomaru, Te Puia, Ihungia, Tuparoa and elsewhere. The hall was very prettily decorated with curtains, bunting, palms and kakaho, and the stage was transformed into a charming supper-room. Some 60 couples were present.’1

Bob Kerridge (later Sir Robert), founder of the nationwide cinema chain Kerridge Odeon, opened one of his first picture theatres in the town in the 1920s.

A maternity hospital run by the Waiapu Hospital Board operated from a house in the bay originally built for J. N. Williams’s accountant Arthur Beale.

A new road made in the late 1920s between Te Puia Springs and Kopuaroa (near where the north-bound road from Waipiro Bay meets State Highway 35) bypassed the bay. When road transport superseded sea transport, Waipiro Bay became a backwater. Shops, the Waiapu County offices and other services were moved to Te Puia Springs.

In 2011 there were only about 20 families living at Waipiro Bay. The local marae was the heart of the community, and the fishing club at the southern end of the bay hosted anglers’ competitions throughout the year.

Tokomaru Bay

Coastal township 90 km north of Gisborne and 11 km south of Te Puia Springs on State Highway 35, with a population of 390 in 2013.

The ancestral mountain Marotiri is clearly visible from the town, which is bisected by the ancestral river Mangahauini. Tuatini, one of four marae in the town, is home to St Mary’s church. Established in 1885, it is the oldest church in the district.

In 2013 over 80% of the population were Māori, with most belonging to Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare and Te Whānau-a-Te Aotawarirangi hapū. The district was once called Toka-a-Namu, referring to the abundance of sandflies (namu).

In the 1840s there was shore whaling from Tokomaru Bay. A battle between Pai Mārire (Hauhau) forces and local Māori took place at Māwhai Point on the southern side of the bay in August 1865. The outnumbered defenders, including many women, were victorious.

In the later 19th century the bay became a centre for the local pastoral industry. A post office opened in 1890. At Waimā, on the north side of the bay, a freezing works was established in 1911 and the wharf was extended to take overseas ships. The works closed in 1952 and the harbour ceased to be used in 1963. Ruins of the works and the old wharf were still evident in the early 21st century.

Artists and craftspeople, including musicians, painters and potters, have made their home in Tokomaru Bay; it is considered the craft centre of the coast. Te Puka tavern, on the road to Waimā, hosts live concerts and shows.

The highest point on State Highway 35 (171 m) is reached just south of Tokomaru Bay.

    • Poverty Bay Herald, 18 June 1919, p. 7. Back

Tolaga Bay

Tolaga Bay

Township with a 2013 population of 768, 55 km north of Gisborne and 35 km south of Tokomaru Bay on SH35. The district was known to its original inhabitants as Ūawa. Around the 16th century, Hauiti established himself as chief in the area and today his descendants are known as Te Aitanga a Hauiti (the descendants of Hauiti).

Cook’s visit

British explorer James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour took on board fresh water, cut wood, fish and kūmara (sweet potato) during their visit in October 1769. Cook named Ūawa Tolaga Bay, possibly misinterpreting a word (te raki) referring to a north wind blowing into the bay.

Cooks Cove, reached by a 5.8-km walkway from the south side of Tolaga Bay, is the actual site of Cook's landing. The Endeavour was hauled ashore to clean two years’ worth of weed and barnacles from its hull. The ‘hole in the wall’, a natural arch in a rock wall, which was drawn by Herman Spöring, an assistant of botanist Joseph Banks on the Endeavour, can still be seen. A memorial put up in 1966 commemorates the visit.

History of the township

The township was established in 1875 on the Ūawa River, and a post office opened in 1877. It began as an area of 252 acres (102 hectares), with an estimated population of 800, 52 of whom were Pākehā settlers and the rest Māori living at Hauiti on the south side of the river. In 1894 it was named Buckley, after Patrick Buckley, the then colonial secretary, but the name was rarely used. The river was crossed by punt until a 175-metre-long bridge was built in 1905 – its steelwork was constructed by the Elmira Bridge Company of New York.

Opening of the Ūawa bridge

The bridge across the Ūawa River was opened on 24 April 1905: ‘The march proceeded across to the Hauiti side, where they were welcomed by a local chief … Rutene … then an unrehearsed incident occurred. The natives, who had somehow been omitted from the programme, seized the opportunity as the party reached the Hauiti or Maori side … and the procession was confronted by a party of a dozen or more warriors who, headed by an elderly wahine, struck up an enthusiastic haka of exultation. The performance was greeted with a round of cheers.’1

Tolaga Bay was the headquarters of Uawa County, which was established in 1918 and merged back into Cook County in 1964.

A weekly coach service from Gisborne started in 1887. The Tolaga Bay Co-operative Dairy Company was established in 1912, and a butter factory was built on the south bank of the Ūawa River above present-day Hauiti marae. At its peak in the 1930s it had over 120 suppliers and an annual production of 700,000 pounds (317,515 kilograms). The factory closed in 1959.

Shipping goods over the Ūawa River bar became increasingly difficult as vessels got larger and the river silted owing to forest clearance in the headwaters. The 660-metre-long Tolaga Bay wharf, started in 1926, was completed three years later. Metal for the structure was brought by barge from Napier. Supplies of fertilizer, petrol and beer were brought in via the wharf from boats servicing the coastal reaches. Outgoing from the wharf was maize, livestock, dairy products and wool. The wharf, which still stands, was closed to shipping in 1967.

The wharf is the second longest in New Zealand. In the early 2000s its deterioration led to the forming of a ‘Save the Tolaga Bay Wharf’ committee, which raised funds to restore or at least prolong the life of the wharf.

In the early 2000s the township had shops and accommodation. There was a resident doctor at the Ūawa Health Clinic and a motor camp near the wharf. Tauwhareparae Road linked inland farms with the township.

Anaura Bay

13 km north of Tolaga Bay, then 7 km via a side road, Anaura Bay is a beautiful bay with a 2-km curve of sandy beach backed by bush-covered hills. This was once the domain of Tautini, a grandson of the chief Hauiti from Ūawa, who lived at Toiroa, a on the ranges between Anaura and Tokomaru bays. Tautini married Hinetamatea, whose name the meeting house at Anaura Bay bears.

On 21 October 1769, James Cook entered the bay to be greeted by Māori in canoes. On shore he recorded in-depth descriptions of Māori horticulture. The crew of the Endeavour were amazed at the orderliness, regularity and number of gardens in the area.

In addition to the marae and a sprinkling of houses, a full-time camping ground and a seasonal Department of Conservation camping area are regularly visited by holidaymakers from Gisborne and further afield. Anaura Bay Scenic Reserve encompasses 225 hectares; its walkway offers views of both beach and bay. Just to its north are Waipare and Nuhiti scenic reserves.

    • Poverty Bay Herald, 25 April 1905, p. 4 Back

Whāngārā to Kaiti

Waihau Bay

Settlement 42 km from Gisborne, known also as Loisels Beach, which has grown since 1990 from a single homestead into a small community due to subdivision of the property into small lifestyle blocks.

The bay is 6 km from the main road and is popular in summer for its ‘freedom camping’ area administered by the Gisborne District Council. The old coach route followed the beach to its northern end before climbing up over the hills and down to Tolaga Bay.


Locality 30 km from Gisborne via State Highway 35. Nestled between rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean, Whāngārā-mai-i-Tawhiti (Whāngārā from afar) is the home of the ancestor Paikea and several others responsible for many of the modern-day hapū groupings spread throughout the East Coast. The hapū which resides at Whāngārā is Ngāti Konohi.

Local tradition recounts that Paikea arrived in Aotearoa from Hawaiki on the back of a whale. Whāngārā gained global fame in 2004 thanks to the film Whale rider, adapted from the book of the same name by Witi Ihimaera, which drew on the Paikea story. Its lead actor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was nominated for an Oscar. According to tradition, the whale turned into stone, and is now the island of Whāngārā, immediately offshore.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako (the footprint of Rongokako) reserve is 2 km south of Whāngārā. The 2,450-hectare reserve was established in 1999, the product of a partnership between the Department of Conservation and Ngāti Konohi. It takes in the coastal waters between Whāngārā and Pouawa, and includes a variety of habitats characteristic of the coastal waters between East Cape and Māhia.


Locality 15 km north of Gisborne on State Highway 35 at the point at which it leaves the coastline and heads overland towards Tolaga Bay. A bridge over the Pouawa River marks the location. In the days of horse-drawn coaches there was a hotel and school.

On 26 March 1947 a tsunami caused a surge about 8 metres above normal sea level, sweeping the 36-year-old wooden bridge half a mile upstream.

Dunelands at Pouawa are protected but can be visited.


Locality 13 km from Gisborne on State Highway 35, at the base of Tatapouri Point. It has a holiday park, and features crayfish and deep-sea fishing. Its hotel was damaged in the 1947 tsunami and destroyed by fire in 1996. At Makorori beach, just before Tatapouri, houses cluster under the point’s south-facing escarpment.


Wainui, 6 km from Gisborne, has one of New Zealand’s great surfing beaches. Facing out into the South Pacific Ocean, the beach sees more substantial waves than Poverty Bay. Nearby Tuaheni Point marks the entrance to the bay. With Okitu, Wainui forms a 3-kilometre-long beach settlement.


Suburban area of Gisborne on the eastern side of the Tūranganui River, opposite the central business district. In the neighbourhoods of Outer Kaiti, Kaiti and Tamarau nearly three-quarters of the population identified as Māori in 2013, compared with around half in the city as a whole.

A famous rock 

Te Toka-a-Taiau was the southern marker of Ngāti Porou territory. It was blasted in 1877 to make way for harbour development. 

Kaiti Hill (130 m), also known as Tītīrangi Reserve, an ancestral site of Ngāti Oneone hapū, overlooks the city. Superb panoramic views are obtained by driving or walking to its summit.

A staircase and pathway wind down from the former location of Cook’s monument, about halfway up the hill, to the historic landing site where Lieutenant James Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil on 8 October 1769. It was at the rock named Te Toka-a-Taiau that Cook first encountered Māori.

Te Poho-o-Rāwiri marae, also at the base of Kaiti Hill, boasts one of the largest meeting houses in the country. Over the years the marae has hosted many prestigious visitors, including royalty. Opened in 1930, this is the third meeting house of that name on three different sites.


Gisborne (previously known as Tūranga) is the only city in the East Coast region. In 2013 it had an urban-area population of 30,960.

First to see the sun? 

Gisborne claims to be the first city to see the sun each day. While Suva in Fiji and Nuku’alofa in Tonga are closer to the international date line, the sun rises earlier in summer the further the location is from the equator, so for part of the year the claim is correct. 

Gisborne was the region’s first Pākehā settlement and has always been by far the largest. It houses the offices of the Gisborne District Council.

At its heart the Taruheru and the Waimata rivers join to form the Tūranganui River. Gisborne is sometimes known as the City of Rivers or the City of Bridges.


To early Māori the Gisborne area was known as Tūranganui-a-Kiwa. Kiwa was the captain aboard the Tākitimu canoe, which, like the Horouta, made landfall at the Tūranganui River.

In 1831 John Harris set up the first trading station in Tūranga on behalf of a Sydney firm. The founding of the town is attributed to G. E. Read, who settled on the Kaiti (east) side of the river in 1852, but later built stores on the west bank. Over the next 30 years other traders and missionaries also came.

Conflict in Poverty Bay in 1865–66 alerted the government to the strategic position of the settlement, and in 1868 the it bought 300 hectares of land for a town site. The town was laid out in 1870 and named Gisborne, after the then colonial secretary and to avoid Pākehā confusing it with Tauranga.

A borough (town) council was formed in 1877. Rapid development came towards the end of the century on the back of a thriving pastoral hinterland. Two freezing works and many other industries were established. The population rose from 2,737 in 1901 to more than 15,000 in 1926. It was overwhelmingly Pākehā – in 1926 fewer than 2% of the population were Māori, although Māori from country districts were frequently seen in the streets and the opening of a new meeting house at Te Poho-o-Rāwiri marae in 1930 was a major public event.

At the end of the 1920s Gisborne had all the markers of a provincial capital except a railway line – an improved harbour, a substantial post office, a high school and an impressive main street (Gladstone Road). Large houses were built along the left bank of the Taruheru River and a botanical garden developed on the right bank. Suburban Mangapapa had its own town council from 1914 to 1924, when most of it joined Gisborne.

Giving to Gisborne 

The Williams family have been great philanthropists in Gisborne. Grants from their family trusts have set up the H. B. Williams Memorial Library, the Gisborne Olympic Pool and its water slide, the Childers Road Reserve grandstand and many other civic amenities. 

The 1950s and 1960s was a further buoyant period. Pastoral farming thrived, the port was complemented by a rail link and an airport, and a food-processing and canning industry developed.

Substantial areas of state (public) housing were built off Childers Road, towards the airport. Gisborne attained city status (a population of 20,000) in 1955. Gisborne High School was divided into boys’ and girls’ schools, and Lytton and Campion colleges opened. The city celebrated the bicentennial of Cook’s landing with great enthusiasm in 1969. The population reached 30,000 in 1976. After 1970 the pastoral economy grew more slowly and the city’s population was stable.

Gisborne in the 2000s

There was less industry in the town in the 2000s than in the 1960s, but the port stayed busy shipping logs from the many plantation forests established since the 1970s.

The city remained popular with holidaymakers drawn to its magnificent beaches – Waikanae, Midway, Wainui and others – and to the town itself, often during a trip around the East Coast. A paved walkway along the banks of the Tūranganui and Taruheru rivers provides an attractive view of the inner harbour and downtown area.

The city is a major centre of Māori cultural life. While in 1961 the Māori population was only 3,000, just under 12% of the total, in 2013 the proportion who identified as Māori was close to 50%.

Gisborne is home to the Tairāwhiti Museum, the region’s museum and art gallery, which features the historic Wyllie Cottage (built in 1872). In the 2000s the city has hosted Rhythm and Vines, an annual three-day outdoor music festival.

Poverty Bay flats


Outer suburban area 5 km north-west of Gisborne with a 2013 population of 1,206. Mākaraka is home to the city’s racecourse, its agricultural and pastoral showgrounds, and a motor camp. The settlement, which is bisected by the main north road into Gisborne, has a tavern, butchery, food outlets and petrol station. The Mākaraka cemetery, set aside by the government in 1872, pays homage to some of the people killed during a raid by the Māori prophet Te Kooti in 1868, as well as a number of the district’s early Pākehā settlers.

Retribution at Matawhero

Around 50–55 Māori and Europeans of all ages were killed during Te Kooti’s raid in 1868. Eight months later many of the European remains were exhumed from the scattered graves in which they had been buried and reinterred in a section of riverside land set aside as a cemetery at Mākaraka. The attack was utu (revenge), largely for Te Kooti's treatment after his arrest for alleged treachery at Waerengaahika three years earlier.


Locality 7 km west of Gisborne at the junction of State Highway 2 (which leads north to Ōpōtiki, and south to Wairoa) and State Highway 35 (into Gisborne and around the East Cape). Rich in early-European history, Matawhero is home to the oldest building in the East Coast district. Built in the 1860s as a schoolroom, it was the only structure left standing by Te Kooti and his followers when they carried out their raid in November 1868. At that time Matawhero was a small settlement of mostly Anglican pioneers. In 1872 the Presbyterian Church bought the building, which was being used to store hay. At times it has also been a hospital and storehouse.


Locality 12 km north-west of Gisborne on State Highway 2. In 1857 William Williams’ mission station at Manutuke was shifted to Waerengaahika. Two years later, when Williams became Bishop of Waiapu, the station became Williams’ diocesan headquarters. Many East Coast Māori were educated at the school during the eight years it operated.

Growing tension led Williams to transfer his headquarters to Napier in April 1865. The first followers of the Pai Mārire religion (also known as Hauhau) arrived in the district that year. Most of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Rongowhakaata converted to the new faith and became open to the possibility of resisting Pākehā authority.

In mid-November 1865, 500 European and Māori troops (including Te Kooti) besieged the that the Pai Mārire had constructed near the by then abandoned mission house; 400 men and women in the pā surrendered on the sixth day.


Rongopai wharenui (meeting house), 4.5 km north of Pātūtahi, which was built in 1888 for a return visit by Te Kooti that never eventuated, is famed for its vivid interior paintings, a marked departure from the carved panels usual in meeting houses at the time.


Settlement 17 km north-west of Gisborne on State Highway 2, also reached by Back Ormond Road through Waihīrere. Originally established as a military settlement in 1870, when Te Kooti was still seen as a threat, Ormond was named after the government agent for the East Coast and later superintendent of Hawke’s Bay, John Davies Ormond. Sections were awarded by lot, beginning with 96 members of the Armed Constabulary who were stationed there.

Friedrich Wohnsiedler, a German immigrant, planted 10 acres (4 hectares) with grape vines after he was forced out of his butchery business in Gisborne by anti-German sentiment during the First World War. By the 1930s he was producing port, sherry and madeira. Wine labels from the Waihīrere and Ormond vineyards became household names among Kiwi wine drinkers in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the early 2000s Ormond had a school and tavern, and was surrounded by Poverty Bay’s main concentration of vineyards.


Te Karaka

Township 30 km inland and north-west from Gisborne on State Highway 2, with a population of 480 in 2013. Te Karaka is located on the right bank of the Waipāoa River and, despite the distance inland, is only 40 metres above sea level. It is the largest settlement between Gisborne and Ōpōtiki, 112 km further north-west. It was the headquarters of Waikohu County between 1908 and 1989, and had its own town council from 1917 to 1962. From Te Karaka, State Highway 2 follows the old rail line west to Matawai.

In 2013 nearly one-third of the population was aged under 15 years, and three-quarters identified as Māori, with most belonging to local iwi Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki. Primary industries provided the main source of employment. Te Karaka primary school and Waikohu College combined as Te Karaka Area School in 2011.

In the early 2000s Te Karaka had a petrol station, medical centre, hotel and shops.


Settlement 15 km north of Te Karaka on the right bank of the Waipāoa River, close to its junction with the Mangatū and Waingaromia rivers. In the early 2000s Whatatutu had a school, fire brigade and marae. The headquarters for Mangatū forest was located 21 km further north, on Armstrong Road. The forest was first established as part of a soil-conservation strategy in the 1960s.

Petroleum has been found in the area, but not in commercial quantities. Te Pakake-a-Whirikoka was a site known to Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, and samples from it were tested as early as 1866. The search for more profitable sources continues around Whatatutu.


Locality on State Highway 2, 22 km west of Te Karaka and 18 km south-east of Matawai. The Ōtoko walkway follows 5 km of the Gisborne–Moutohorā railway line, which closed in 1959 – the tracks were removed the following year.


Settlement 70 km north-west of Gisborne and 40 km north-west of Te Karaka on State Highway 2, near the headwaters of the Motu River. The Motu drains into the Bay of Plenty to the north, but its upper reaches are farmed districts on the East Coast side of the Raukūmara Range.

Matawai was originally a sawmilling settlement, becoming a farming centre as the native bush was felled. In 1932 a new road to Ōpōtiki was opened through the Waioeka gorge. Matawai was at the junction of the old and new routes. In the 2000s Matawai was a popular stopping place for travellers on the state highway.


Settlement 13 km from Matawai on Motu Road, the original route from Gisborne to Bay of Plenty. Still in use, the road reaches the Bay of Plenty coast at Ōmarumutu, 52 km from Motu. The mountain-bike section of the Motu Challenge, an annual 172-km multisport event, traverses the old Motu Road.

The Hansen family were the first settlers to clear land at Motu, in 1888. They built a slab whare (house made of slabs of timber) which became a half-way house on the bridle track to Ōpōtiki. The Hansens opened the first Motu Hotel in the early 1890s, and part of the slab whare became the first Motu School in 1896.

Other settlers followed. In December 1906 no fewer than 300 applicants entered a ballot for 323 hectares of bush-covered land on steepish hills. The successful applicant, a Mrs Marshall, was married to an engineer on the railway line.

Sawmills operated from around 1900 to the 1930s, by which time most of the millable native trees had been felled.

A busy place

In the 2000s Motu is a quiet place, but that was not always the case. In the 1910s it was recorded that ‘when the train came in at night about 6 o’clock on a nice summer evening there would sometimes be up to 500 people at the station’.1

A coach road to Bay of Plenty opened in 1914, and the hotel was rebuilt and enlarged. The rail line reached Moutohorā, 4.5 km south of Motu, in 1917, but never went further. With the opening of the Waioeka gorge road in 1932, Motu became a backwater. The hotel was shifted to Matawai in 1934.

James Whinray, a Gisborne borough councillor, convinced the government to set aside some land for a bush reserve. The 429-hectare Whinray Scenic Reserve abuts the spectacular Motu Falls and is home to a kiwi population.

    • Dick Twisleton, The Motu and beyond: the way it was. Gisborne: D Twisleton, 2007, p. 29. Back

Towards Wairoa


Township 15 km west of Gisborne with a 2013 population of 345, of whom 60.4% were Māori and a quarter aged under 15. In the early 2000s its services and community facilities including sports clubs, a play group, marae, fire brigade, tavern and Anglican church. There were several vineyards in the area. A number of residents worked in Gisborne.

Eastwoodhill Arboretum

The 135-hectare arboretum is 34.6 km west of Gisborne on Wharekopae Road. Founded in 1910 by William Douglas Cook, it became his life’s work. In 2011 it had more than 15,000 trees, shrubs and climbers, and was home to 40 species of native and exotic birds. It featured 25 kilometres of graded and marked walking tracks.


Locality 47 km west of Gisborne on Wharekōpae Road. The Rēre rock slide is a natural 60-metre water slide that every summer attracts visitors bearing boogie boards, tyre tubes and inflatable mattresses. The impressive Rēre Falls are a few hundred metres further north.


A 703-m hill north-west of Rēre, and 25 km north-west of the locality also called Ngātapa. In November 1868 prophet and military leader Te Kooti and his followers fortified this sloping summit after an engagement at Mākaretū, near Rēre. The attackers, comprising government forces and Māori from neighbouring tribes, eventually captured the . Te Kooti and some of his followers escaped, but many others were taken prisoner or executed.


Settlement 13.5 km west of Gisborne with a 2013 population of 522. Manutuke is the heart of the Rongowhakaata iwi (tribe). Its meeting houses are graced with some of the most outstanding examples of traditional Māori carving in New Zealand. Te Mana-o-Tūranga at Whakatō marae and Te Poho-o-Rukupō at Manutuke marae are exemplars of the style of Raharuhi Rukupō, a descendant of Rongowhakaata, who was a leader and carver in the mid-19th century.

The Manutuke area includes many historic buildings such as the Anglican Church Toko Toru Tapu, which was built in 1913 on the site of an earlier church. The interior is adorned with whakairo (Māori carvings). These early churches are notable for the innovative ways in which Māori builders and artists wove together Māori and European architectural and cultural traditions.

The site of Tāpui pā is on Taurau Valley Road, on private property. The river pā, which was reinforced when civil war threatened in 1865, has deep ditches and high embankments, and is in a good state of preservation.


Locality on the inland road from Gisborne to Wairoa, 59 km south-west of Gisborne and 43 km north-east of Wairoa. The road from Gisborne, which leaves State Highway 2 shortly after Matawhero, climbs over what is locally known as Gentle Annie then, via Waerengaokurī, descends into the valley of the Hangaroa River, a tributary of the Wairoa River, which drains the whole of the inner south-west part of the East Coast region. Doneraille Park, 10 km before Tiniroto, is a reserve with camping. The name Tiniroto (many lakes) was coined by ethnographer and surveyor general S. Percy Smith, in reference to the numerous small lakes in the district. The 50-hectare Hackfalls Arboretum in Tiniroto was established by local farmer Bob Berry in the 1950s, and has about 3,500 mostly exotic trees.

Rua’s track

A 25-km tramping track into Urewera National Park from the upper reaches of the Hangaroa River, starting at the end of Waimaha Road. The track is named for Rua Kēnana, a Tūhoe prophet and religious leader.


Settlement 25 km south of Gisborne on State Highway 2, home to Ngai Tāmanuhiri, the smallest of the Tūranga iwi. Close to the village is the Wherowhero Lagoon where, according to tradition, the Horouta waka (canoe) lies. The white cliff headland named Young Nick's Head by Lieutenant James Cook is a stone’s throw from Muriwai. While Cook named it after his surgeon’s boy, Nicholas Young, who first saw land on 6 October 1769, it is known to Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and other iwi as Te Kurī-a-Pāoa, meaning the dog of Pāoa, as this was what it was said to look like.

Wharerātā Range

Rugged hill country, in 2011 mostly planted in exotic forest, adjoining the coast south of Muriwai. It is crossed by both State Highway 2 and the Napier–Gisborne railway, the latter with the aid of many tunnels. At the summit on State Highway 2 a lookout offers a majestic view of Poverty Bay. On the coast are Whareongaonga, the landing place in 1868 of Te Kooti and those who escaped with him from Wharekauri (the Chatham Islands), and Paritū, a bluff marking the southern boundary of the Horouta waka district.

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Monty Soutar, 'East Coast places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Monty Soutar, i tāngia i te 25 o Ākuhata 2011, updated 1 o Māehe 2015