The East Cape
The drive to the East Cape proved a rather bleak yet beautiful affair. We took the coastal road, which hugged the sea all the way along, affording us fantastic views over the South Pacific as we went. I noticed the difference in the colour of the sea from milky green when it was cloudy to vibrant milky turquoise on sunny days. The sea was pretty choppy and rough, with the miles of empty brown sand beaches littered with ocean detritus; namely branches and boughs of trees, fashioned into amazing shapes by the interaction with the sea.
Inland, the terrain was very windswept. Rugged farmland gave way to the dramatic Raukumara mountain range which forms the spine of the land towards the Cape. We passed remote communities scratching a living off the land, and big burly Maoris driving around in large 4x4s. I was really interested to notice that the Maoris actually outnumbered white people in this part of New Zealand. It is very much a Maori stronghold, with chiefs here refusing to sign the Waitangi Treaty and consequently the Maoris having a much greater say in rural affairs in this area. Just before we started our drive to the Cape, we stopped in Opotiki, the last town before the drive. Groups of enormous Maoris stood chatting amicably in the street and one greeted me with a grin and a 'kia ora' (hello).
We passed several isolated settlements on the way to the Cape, each with its own beautifully carved marae (meeting house). A school had a particularly beautiful example of Maori carvings around the entrance to the playground. The maraes would often have a gathering of 4x4s outside. I was interested to observe an old wooden Anglican church perched on a lonely headland, decorated in Maori carvings around the entrance. It was intriguing to see the fusion of Maori and European culture.
Something we were not expecting was the difficulties finding drinkable water. Fresh drinking water is not supplied to the communities around the East Cape region. It was not even safe to drink it once boiled, and campsites warned that the water was unfit for human consumption. This made things rather difficult, as we were repeatedly given strange looks when we asked if there was a fresh water tap. Eventually, a man came out of his home and offered us water from his kitchen tap. Bless him! He had a bore hole in his garden, and a filter at the kitchen tap. He even offered us a coffee. Another shining example of genuine New Zealand friendliness and warmth.
There were hardly any campsites along the road to the Cape, as few tourists seem to venture here. We rough camped in quite dramatic form, after Tim skilfully scaled a bank and hid us amongst manuka trees perched on a cliff top with scenic views over farmland and the cliffs to the boulder strewn shore. Phoebe was on 3 wheels at one point!!
We stopped to stroll along a couple of beaches along the way. The seclueded bay at pretty Lottin Point looked gorgeous in the early morning sun, as we picked our way along the pebbles and pieces of sandblasted paua shell and driftwood to stand on the dramatic rock formations to peer out at the boisterousturquoise waters.There was an ancient lone pohutakawa tree leaning its numerous gnarled elbows on the boulders on the beach. We also took a stroll along the beach at Hick's Bay. This was a more windswept sandy affair, and we found ourselves bizarrely picking our way over some old lemons, which had fallen down onto the beach from a tree on the cliffs. New Zealand is full of surprises!
The drive to the Cape was otherwise relatively uneventful as the scenery did not really change much. We drove along with Maori being spoken on the local radio station, and the jollity of Maori songs. Finally, we started to see the Cape as we drove down the long, bumpy unsealed road. The headland of New Zealand's most easterly mainland point rose dramatically out of the South Pacific like a long dragon's back. It was fringed by long brown sand beaches, and had a smart white lighthouse perched at the end. The lighthouse first shone in 1900, and had originally been situated on East Island, just a little way off the headland. Landslides on the island led to the lighthouse being moved to the mainland. It is now operated by computer from Wellington, but was originally looked after by 3 lighthouse keepers and their families. They lived on the island and several lighthouse children are buried there, along with unfortunate seamen who the lighthouse was unable to save. The island is now a wildlife sanctuary.
We walked up the 600 or so steps leading to the lighthouse, passed a lone stick insect chilling out on a fence post, to the top of the cliff were the lighthouse is. The views were fairly spectacular, and we stood in the hot sun looking out for miles down the soft pale rock coast towards Gisborne in one direction, and back towards Opotiki in the other direction. The long brown beaches were vast and empty of humans, home instead to tonnes of driftwood and sea birds such as the cute dotteril.After admiring the views for a little longer, we headed on back, and began the long drive down the unsealed road back to 'civilisation' or at least some fresh drinking water.