Why the East Cape is the Ultimate Off The Beaten Track Destination

Christ Church Raukokore, Opotiki, East Cape

New Zealand is truly a traveller’s paradise. Split between a North and South Island, the variety of landscapes and terrain and things to do is unprecedented. The South Island has a photo op on every corner and is the more visually stunning of the two islands, whereas the North has so many things to do and see everywhere you go.

While the North Island is more known for having top tourist destinations such as Hobbiton, Rotorua and Wellington on offer, the eastern corner of the island is still fairly untouched. In fact, the East Cape is best described as a little ‘offbeat’ as well as off the beaten track!

In a country where you’ll likely find travellers wherever you go – and rightly so! – it’s fascinating to think some areas are still unexplored by mass tourism. Stray head out to explore the East Cape from October through April every year, so you’ll be glad to you know you can access this remote, untouched region with us!

Let’s take a look at what makes the East Cape the ultimate off the beaten track destination:

It’s 334km Of Open Road

The drive from Opotiki to North Gisborne on what is known as the Pacific Coast Highway (State Highway 35) is an absolute treat. You’ll pass deserted beaches, windy roads, endless fields of countryside and pockets of traditional Maori cultural houses and structures along the ways. Stop off where you will, but kick back and take in the road less travelled.

Open road of New Zealand's Pacific Coast Highway - Stray East Coaster

First Light At East Cape Lighthouse

Do you fancy doing something even more unique? Walk up to the East Cape Lighthouse before sunrise (it only takes about 20 minutes), to get a glimpse of the first sunlight of a new day in the world! The most easterly point of New Zealand is here, so you can see it before anyone else! Get the camera ready!

First sunrise at the East Cape Lighthouse

Tolaga Bay Wharf

New Zealand’s longest pier at over 600m exists in Tolaga Bay by the side of white chalk cliffs, making for some stunning photo ops. Take a stroll to the very end and on days when the weather permits you can watch keen swimmers jumping in.

New Zealand's longest pier, Tolaga Bay Wharf, on the East Cape - Stray East Coaster Pass

Raukokore Church

The small, slightly eerie region of Raukokore hasn’t got much apart from fairly deserted scenery and the open sea. Yet, its most famous landmark, an Anglican Church is one of the most photographed attractions on the entire East Cape.

Christ Church Raukokore, Opotiki, East Cape

Te Tapuwae o Rangokako Marine Reserve

If you’re an ocean lover and keen to get in the water, just outside of Gisborne this marine reserve is a great stop off by Tatapouri. If you go for a paddle, snorkel or scuba dive, you’re likely to see a bunch of stingrays and eagle rays in the waters and that’s not all. There’s even an option to get up close and personal by feeding those wild stingrays at low tide! It’s highly likely you’ll be practically alone here except for a handful of other travellers – this is one of the secret gems of the East Cape!

Stingrays at Te Tapuwae O Rongokako Marine Reserve, Dive Tatapouri - Stray East Coaster

Bay Towns

We’d be here all day if we named all the small, inhabited towns for you to wander around. There are quite a few, and with Stray you can stop off when you feel. Bay towns are ideal for a short stop off, so keep an eye out for Anuara Bay, Tokomaru Bay and Maraehako Bay.

Maraehako Bay Retreat on the East Cape - Stray East Coaster Pass

Maori Culture

From churches to sculptures to sacred burial grounds, the Maori cultural element of the East Cape is one of the main reasons travellers tend to travel further afield here. Visiting Tikitiki for St Mary’s Church is a great example of Maori heritage, whilst the oldest and largest Pohutukawa tree in New Zealand, Te Waha-o-Rerekohu, in Te Araroa is of great cultural significance, standing over 600 years old!

St Mary's Church in Tikitiki

How to get there? Stray is the only tour company that visits the remote East Cape and it’s included in the Everywhere, Jase and East Coaster passes. It also only operates over summer from October to April, so it’s best to plan your trip to make sure you don’t miss out on this exclusive experience!


Tommy Walker (aka The Wandering Walker) originates from northeast England. He began his journey on the road back in 2012 throughout Asia, Oceania and Latin America. Now, nearly 5 years in, he is a freelance travel writer, content marketing specialist and founder of a popular collection of Backpacking groups on Facebook. Tommy goes by his own motto “every new place is a good place.” If you don’t see Tommy focused doing hot yoga, trailing through rainforests, ducking into the ocean or eating local street food, you’ll see him at a small bar drinking what the locals drink!

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