07 July, 2020
Last updated on 10 February, 2022
Posted by Spaceships Crew
You don’t need to have a DeLorean time machine to be able to travel through time. Go for a road trip on the East Cape route and you will be the first one to experience a new day. And this amazing yet often overlooked route has amazing sights to offer.
Every Spaceships campervan has its own unique name, just like us humans. There are no two names the same in the Spaceships fleet. As we only have one DeLorean Spaceship, one Doc Brown Spaceship and one Marty McFly Spaceship, only a few can really travel through time (if Doc was able to install the Flux Capacitor). However, all other Spaceships can experience something that feels like time travel on this East Cape route.
Go for the East Cape route and explore the most eastern point of New Zealand
The East Cape is the most East-ward part of New Zealand. It is the first part of New Zealand to catch the sun on a new day. When you’re camping on the East Cape route you will be one of the first to see the light every day. It's like being ahead of time. How cool is that?
But there are so many more reasons to add the East Cape to your road trip itinerary. This road trip has earned its place on the list of the 12 best road trips in New Zealand. However, you will be surprised to hear that it is also one of the most skipped routes as lots of travellers don’t take the time to experience it. Check it out and see for yourself why the East Cape is a must-see part of New Zealand.
What is the East Cape?
East Cape is the most eastern point of New Zealand, in the Eastland region. It’s also a big hidden gem, it really is off the beaten track. So many travellers skip this route as they think there’s not much to do or see. We’ll show you what you will be missing out on if you skip this amazing part of New Zealand.
Reasons to add this itinerary to your NZ road trip: you'll be experiencing an amazing yet remote part of New Zealand that so many travellers miss out on, there’s lots of Maori culture to be experienced, unsealed roads (you are allowed to drive your Spaceship on gravel roads, no worries) and amazing beaches.
From Whakatane to Gisborne, don’t take State Highway 2 to Gisborne as that’s the shortcut. That’s not exploring the East Cape. Follow State Highway 35 from Opotiki. That’s it, stick to SH 35 and you’ll be on your way to explore East Cape. Or start from Gisborne (lovely spot to spend a few days) and drive north on SH 35.
It doesn’t matter on which side you start, that’s the beauty of this itinerary.
Things to see on your East Cape road trip
Curious to know what kind of amazing sights this East Cape road trip will bring? Be prepared for lots of amazing ocean views, great sunsets, beautiful beaches and not that many people. This is the perfect area to unwind, unplug and to go back to nature. Here are some of the not-to-miss highlights.
This bay (91 km north of Gisborne) was a calling place for passenger ships until the early 20th century. Tokomaru Bay is a perfect place to stop and to enjoy a nice lunch at the pub. Meet the friendly locals or go for a swim. Make sure to visit the wharf area as well.
East Cape Lighthouse
When roadtripping the easternmost point of New Zealand, chances are you will come across a “most easterly lighthouse”. Well, that’s East Cape Lighthouse. It’s service to the maritime world began over 100 years but has been a troubled one. A capsized steamer during the construction and being built on an unstable island (it was originally located on East Island, just off the tip of East Cape) with soil that could hardly grow any vegetables for the lighthouse keepers. Therefore the lighthouse was moved in 1922 to the East Cape at Te Araroa.
Be prepared to climb more than 700 steps to climb to the lighthouse, but it is so worth it. The view from the top is amazing. You can see East Island, the original location of the lighthouse, as well.
Climb the stairs to the East Cape Lighthouse and enjoy the views
Tolaga Bay Wharf
This stop on your road trip will be another record-breaker: the longest wharf in New Zealand. Tolaga Bay Wharf is 660 metres long and has been restored recently. Make sure to bring your fishing gear as it’s the perfect place to catch some of the delicacies the ocean has to offer.
The longest wharf in New Zealand: Tolaga Bay | photo: Tourism Eastland Inc
Saint Mary's at Tikitiki
Saint Mary's Church in Tikitiki is one of the finest Māori churches with a spectacular interior design.
Raukokore Anglican Church
In a small town called Raukokore, you will find an Anglican church with a white picket fence around in a green area. A picture-perfect road trip stop.
No matter the weather it is always special to see the amazing Raukokore Anglican Church
Awesome things to do
It’s not just about taking your campervan on a tour of the East Cape. It’s is the perfect route for you to get active as well. Enjoy the many amazing beaches, experience everything the ocean has to offer (there are some great fishing spots here) or go for a great walk or hike. Here are examples of awesome things to do on the East Cape route.
This is the highest non-volcanic mountain on the North Island. Getting to the summit will take you 7 hour one way. But it is a super rewarding trip as you will enjoy an amazing sunrise in the morning. Please note, Mount Hikurangi is closed in October each year due to lambing season).
Enjoy sunrise from Mount Hikurangi on your East Cape road trip | photo: Matt Crawford
This waterfall can be found in the Waihirere Domain, close to Gisborne. A perfect stop at the end of your East Cape road trip… Or at the beginning, depending on where you will start. The Waihirere Domain Waterfall lies in the eponymic Waihirere Domain. In order to get to the waterfall, you need to follow the 45-minute track along the Waihirere Stream. This track is pretty even and also suitable for inexperienced hikers.
The entrance to the track is a bit hidden. Check behind the old swimming pool and you will find it. Track signs can be covered by plants in summer. The track will take you to the moss-covered Waihirere Stream, a perfect setting to take that amazing Instagrammable photo.
Hicks Bay Wharf
Hicks Bay historic wharf is close to the Waihirere waterfalls, so it’s easy to combine these two. The place is named after second-in-command Hicks, part of James Cook's Endeavour crew.
Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk
This track is one of the Great Walks in New Zealand. It is a super green hike as it goes through the largest area of native forest in the North Island. It is the homeland of the Tūhoe people. It is a 46 km one-way track which will take 3 to 4 days to complete. It’s not a loop track so make sure to arrange transportation to get back to the point of origin.
Amazing views on the Lake Waikaremoana Track, one of the Great Walks | photo: Chris McLennan
Cook’s Cove Walkway
This is the perfect walk for any fitness level, a 5.8 km return track (same way return) which will take you on average 2.5 hours. Take a walk back in time, see what Captain James Cook saw in 1769.
There are lots of info & fact panels along the track that tell the story of James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour's visit to Cook’s Cove.
Please note: “The track is closed each year for the lambing season from 1 August until the start of Labour Weekend (late October)". See for more info this DOC info page.
Where to camp?
Exploring the East Cape by campervan is the best way to go. There aren’t that many hostels or motels in this quiet part of New Zealand. But there are plenty of cheap campsites or affordable holiday parks to choose from. Use the free Spaceships campsite app to find all campsites in this area. These are some of our favourite East Cape campsites.
Ruakokore School (Waihau Bay)
Have you ever spent the night at a film set? Now you can. Ruakokore School is the school that featured in the famous Kiwi film Boy. The school is now closed and the field around it has been turned into a campground. A $15 donation is appreciated and goes to the trust that looks after the school. It’s right by the ocean so perfect for diving or enjoying amazing sunsets.
Mayfair Camping Ground (Tokomaru Bay)
A budget campground with lots of space for campervans. If you don’t feel like cooking then this is a great spot. Pick up some fish ‘n chips from the fish ‘n chips shop nearby, which is also the campground’s reception desk. Easy access to the ocean and a nice pub nearby making it the perfect campsite to spend the night on your East Cape road trip.
Anaura Bay Family Motor Camp (Anaura Bay)
An amazing beach (golden sand) and a backdrop of native bush are what this campground has to offer. Make sure to get up early in the morning to enjoy one of the best sunsets you have ever seen. Bring your camera as this is Instagram-worthy for sure.
Ready to explore the East Cape of New Zealand?
By adding this amazing East Cape route to your itinerary you will be exploring a part of New Zealand that isn't that well-known as so many travellers skip this area. This is for those that like to explore unique areas instead of following the crowd and doing the same as 1000s of other travellers. This is a truly unique road trip. It is off the beaten track. That's why this itinerary deserves to be on the list of the best road trips of New Zealand.
Will you add this trip to your itinerary? Do it. You won't regret it. Have fun.