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Exploring the East Cape

When looking to get some New Zealand travel content, we thought what better way than to go straight to the source. Photographer Emma and her partner Jacob are experts when it comes to exploring their home country. Nowadays, they spend as much time as possible exploring New Zealand in their Troopy. We had a chat to Emma about one of her favourite regions in the North Island, the East Cape. 


The east cape


We were told some time ago that if you want to see the real New Zealand, head to the East Cape. From the forested peaks of Te Urewera, to the long stretching high country roads of the Eastland Backbone, to the endless outlook of the Pacific Ocean, this area is one of the last untouched and remote parts of the country. It’s the ultimate wild playground and one we head to time and time again.




We typically have a vague idea of where we want to be at the end of each day on our trips around the Cape, but we never have much of a plan because, well, you don’t really need one. This roughly 9000km² area isn’t huge but it’s packed with tracks, campsites, and natural attractions making it an ideal spot to explore for any 4WDer. Take it easy and park up at one of the beach-side freedom camping spots along the coast or venture inland up to one of the many rivers you’ll no doubt come across. However, if you like to tour, the East Cape has something on offer for everyone. We tend to start our trip at Opotiki and follow the coast down to Gisborne then cut back through the Waioeka Gorge to Opotiki which is a round trip of about 470km.


the east cape


When to go


The East Cape is best saved for the summer months, the days are longer, and dryer and the rivers are calm, making crossings a lot more manageable. The Cape is, at large, a working forestry area and during the winter months surrounding waterways are often overrun with logging off cuts and debris making these usually calm and slow flowing rivers, raging minefields. Most rivers around the Cape, such as the Motu, can be accessed via 4WD tracks from main and forestry roads. Providing a quiet place to park up for a swim or try your luck with a fishing rod. At this time of year with the water levels being lower, riverbeds are wide, meaning lots of dry patches to set up for the day or camp overnight. It’s important to note that most forestry roads are private property and require permits. Check entrances for signs indicating what sort of access is allowed.

The Gisborne district offers summer camping permits which allows access to many designated beachside camps along the coast, right alongside the white sandy beaches of Kaiaua Bay or Waihau Bay, to name a few. Being the first place in the world to welcome a new day, it’s one of the most special places to watch the sunrise. These beaches are unlike any other around the country and the surf breaks are top tier. Driving along the high cliff roads above Hicks Bay, you’ll be met with panoramic views of the coastline, a great place to scope the waves if you’ve brought your board along. 4WD beach access tracks are littered along the more northern beaches such as Te Araroa and are relatively firm and flat to drive along.


the east cape


How long to explore?


In terms of how long you’ll need to explore the Cape, it really depends. We’ve done the full loop in three days and we’ve also done it over two weeks. It’s just a matter of how fast you want to take it, I would suggest if it’s your first trip, a solid 5 days would be a good introduction. If you’re able to take your time, enjoy the beaches and explore some of the highlights such as the East Cape Lighthouse, the eastern most point of the country or Te Waha O Rerekohu, the oldest Pōhutukawa in NZ.





Facilities and fuel stops are readily accessible across the East Cape meaning you don’t need to plan too far ahead, making it the perfect place to just wing it. As drives between spots are fairly sort, it’s beneficial to have an onboard charging system in place, including solar, to help charge electronics, auxiliary batteries, and other camping electronics while on the road. Being one of the sunniest regions in the country, it would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of the long sunlight hours. We like to set up our 150W solar blanket as soon as we get to a new spot, whether we’re hanging out for the arvo or settling in for the night, our solar blanket is quick to set up and makes the most of such an efficient resource. The 5m cable means we can park the troopy under a tree to keep cool while our solar blanket soaks up the sun elsewhere.


the east cape




It’s pretty casual when it comes to camping and 4WDing around the Cape, but it’s always important to remember that we must respect the landscape and locals in order to be able to enjoy this area for years to come. Being a tidy kiwi is more important than ever this summer with more people on the roads and exploring their backyard.

A few tips to live by while on the Cape...

  • Make sure when camping not to leave any trace behind.
  • Dispose of your rubbish properly (refuse & recycling locations can be found on the Gisborne District website).
  • Put campfires out entirely before moving on, especially in the warmer summer months.
  • Stay off private property and respect Tapu areas.
  • It’s recommended to always travel with a chemical toilet. There are compact versions on the market these days and I can assure you it will come in handy.
  • If using baby wipes, dispose of them correctly. These do not biodegrade and are often seen littered over campsites.
  • The Gisborne Summer Camping Permits assign a number of rubbish bags to you for the length of your stay. Designated areas are set up to leave these bags once full. Make sure to dispose of this rubbish correctly and do not leave full bags at your campsite when leaving.
  • Be considerate of others. Just as you have arrived at a spot to find it littered, so will the people after you. Take 5 minutes to make sure the campsite is left better than you found it, a cycle which will hugely improve the environment and your experience.

So, if you’ve been meaning to hit the road but are unsure where to head, the East Cape is the place to start. Whether you’re travelling solo, or you’ve got some mates tagging along there really isn’t a more quintessential part of the North Island. To learn more about Emma check out her Instagram, or if you're looking for a little more travel inspiration check out our top 4WD destinations in both the North Island and the South Island

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