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Pacific Coast Highway - Part 1

New Zealand has a long coastline, stunning beaches, and many coastal roads. Some believe that every beach has the same water, sea and sands. Similarly, every mountain and landscape have the same rocks, vegetation, and soil. However, I disagree. I believe each place is different in itself. Associate to it the local history and folklore, the places become destinations worth visiting and admiring.
Lookout at Kaihere, on the way to Tauranga
One of the less explored parts of the north island of New Zealand is the East Cape region. Its major town is Gisborne, which in itself is one of the smallest towns in the country. There are other towns in the region but are small as well. In no way, it means that they are less beautiful. In fact, I find these provincial towns to be more beautiful than the bigger cities.

Visiting East Cape was on the bucket list for a long time. We decided to finally visit the region on Auckland anniversary weekend. As usual, I researched a little bit about accommodation and things to do in the area. The East Cape lighthouse came up on the top of many lists and blogs which I read before planning the trip. Although it would be the same lighthouse as one could see at Cape Reinga or Manukau Heads, I was still excited to visit this new place.
Awesome scenery on the way to Tauranga
We booked the accommodation at the nearest locality called Hicks Bay. It is a small settlement of a few hundred people and on the way to the East Cape. The pictures of the local area and lighthouse posted by people on google maps and other sources on the internet looked promising. It was going to be a long journey of more than 500 km.

We prepared well in advance, gathered all the supplies to keep us moving for a day, checked the weather, got elated that it would be the sunshine all the way and started. We left Auckland in the morning. Highly determined that we would visit every attraction (if possible) on the way, we moved ahead.
McLaren Falls
A benefit of driving to these places on one's own is that one can stop anywhere in the way. One very good thing about New Zealand roads is that all the lookouts and rest stops ahead on the way are marked with a tree and bench road sign. This makes the stop easy and relaxing since there are so many of them everywhere. We did exactly the same when we stopped at a lookout point at a place called Kaihere.

It was a nice place showcasing the Hauraki plains and Coromandel Ranges in the far distance. After taking a short break and clicking this picture, we drove ahead. The drive was lovely and scenic. We were on our way to Tauranga and crossed the scenic Kaimai ranges. Driving downhill we saw a road sign for McLaren Falls. We took the road to the falls and reached there after a short downhill drive from the main highway.
Mount Maunganui Beach with The Mount in the backdrop
McLaren Falls is a very beautiful waterfall. The rock formations which catch the flowing water to make a number of shallow pools is a highlight of this place. There were a lot of people with kids enjoying in the water on that typical summer day. We stayed there for some time and had a refreshing break while sitting with feet in the flowing water. Some people were jumping in the waterfall from the bridge, in spite of the warning to not to do so mentioned there.

We drove ahead and reached Tauranga. Driving towards Mount Maunganui Beach, we saw a lot of water sports activities and people enjoying the weekend. We stopped nearby the beach and had lunch there. Lots of people meant less parking space. Still, we managed to find one near the beach. We went to the beach for some time and saw there was some swimming-cycling race going on. Teenage children were participating in that major event on the beach.
Beautiful clouds on the way to Whakatane
We did think of going up The Mount, however, decided against that, given the distance we had to cover. Driving out of Tauranga, we took the Papamoa - Te Puke route instead of the highway. Te Puke is the self-proclaimed kiwifruit capital of the world, for obvious reasons. While crossing the township, we did come across large kiwifruit industry and related businesses. It would have been a good experience to visit a kiwifruit farm. We marked that excursion for next time.

Moving ahead, the next major town in the way was Whakatane. The road took us close to the Pacific Ocean. It did have a striking resemblance to the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne. Again we found a rest stop and pulled over to see the scenic beauty. This time, it was extent-less Pacific Ocean and the Whale Island (Moutohora Island) to be seen in the far distance. We took some pictures of the stunning scenery and moved ahead. Since it was noon, the sun rays had started to burn the skin.
This was an impromptu stop at Kohioawa Beach as the marker says
We reached Whakatane, a small town on the Pacific coast. It is one of the sunniest places in the country since it receives more sunny days than the national average. We took a small stop at the local McDonald's and freshened up. There are some very beautiful beaches in the town and also a lot of things to do. We again had to leave it for later.

Next on our way was Ohope Beach. This is an even smaller town close to Whakatane. The beach here is a very long one and had a characteristic darker sand color. This is probably due to the volcanic activity in the whole region. We pulled over to go to the beach and could see White Island in the far distance in the ocean. White Island is an active volcano and there are helicopter tours available as well. From what I have seen in pictures and some first person accounts, it is a breathtaking place.
The beautiful coastline before Whakatane town, Whale Island is seen in the distance
We spent some time on the beach and then drove ahead. We saw a beautiful entry door to a place called Tauwhare Pa Scenic Reserve. We stopped there and went to the reserve to see. The 360 degree view of the Ohope beach and the surroundings was awesome. It was a nice place which we would have otherwise definitely missed.
A zoomed in shot at Ohope Beach showing White Island in distance, smoke coming out of the volcano can be seen clearly
The next place on our way was Opotiki. Another little town similar to Ohope. We kept moving ahead along the highway and the Pacific Ocean on the left side. It was a lovely drive and I wished I could just stop everywhere and watch the ocean calmly. As we moved ahead the road started becoming mountainous. This made the route even more beautiful. We stopped wherever we could to click the calm Pacific Ocean and the surrounding scenery.

The region being a Maori native one, there are a lot of Marae on the way. These buildings are very beautiful and are sacred meeting places for the wonderful Maori culture. It was a treat to see the beautiful buildings on the way. While driving we came across many little settlements and a lot of agricultural farms.
Entrance to the Tauwhare Pa Scenic Reserve
As we were moving east, the cloud cover was increasing and the weather was getting cooler. We were so much lost in the drive and scenery that we didn't realize that it was already 7 PM. I called the manager at the motel to inform that we were on the way and would be a bit late. He happily acknowledged that.
Looking west from a lookout on the way to Hicks Bay
We stopped at Cape Runaway for some moments and saw that the Cape is only accessible by foot. It was getting darker and we decided to reach the motel and limit the stops in the way. There were many enticing views and scenery which we missed because of that. Once it got dark, I was concerned that it would be a better idea to reach the motel since we were in the middle of nowhere, away from human settlement.
Winding roads on the descent to bridge in the far distance
We reached the Hicks Bay motel at around 8:30 PM in the night and the manager welcomed us to our room there. It was only after reaching there and reading a flyer about the region, that I came to know that the whole road that we had traveled from Tauranga to East Cape was known as Pacific Coast Highway. It was interesting to learn the fact that the road had its own name and still was one of the lesser known roads in the country. I believe that it could be better publicized and more tourists will visit here given its scenery and untouched beauty.
A beautiful campground on the way to Hicks Bay
We got to the room and could see the ocean in the far distance from the window. It was a beautiful place and very close to nature. We had dinner and crashed on our beds since it had been a tiring day. The next day was supposed to be even more thrilling, so taking adequate rest was a must.

Continued here:
http://www.raghavabbhi.com/2017/02/pacific-coast-highway-east-cape.html
and
http://www.raghavabbhi.com/2017/04/pacific-coast-highway-napier-blue-spring.html

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