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Pacific Coast Highway - East Cape Lighthouse

The East Cape is a sparsely populated part of New Zealand’s north island. Also it is the eastern most point of New Zealand and is uniquely beautiful. The fact that this region sees the first sunrise in the world makes it even more intriguing. Because of this very fact, tourists from all over the world come and visit this place. The highlight of this place is a big lighthouse on the eastern most part of the mainland north island which is a showcase of rich maritime history of the country.
Cloudy sunrise at Hicks Bay Motel.
It was a part of our plan to see the first sunrise from the lighthouse. However we realised that it was a tough ask after a tiring drive the previous day. So we decided to wake up at ease and not getting hurried to see the sunrise. Still I was very enthusiastic to view the sunrise so I woke up early and went outside the Hicks Bay motel to get a glimpse of ‘the first sunrise’ of the world. Although the weather being cloudy, the sun did show up while rising and then got dimmed by the clouds.

We checked out of the Hicks Bay motel and started out for the East Cape Lighthouse. The weather remained cloudy and it was forecast to rain later in the day. This set in a much needed urgency to reach East Cape and to be back before the weather worsened. The drive was as usual picturesque along the eastern coast with the Pacific Ocean getting a bit agitated with the bad weather.
Te Araroa town.
We reached a small township called Te Araroa following the signs to East Cape. It was a small settlement of a few hundred people with most basic of shops on the main street. We learned that the road ahead to East Cape was a narrow one with unsealed patches in between. Initially hesitant to drive ahead, I saw a few people driving ahead and coming from that road. I got the confidence to drive ahead and we started.
The eroding gravel road on the side of Pacific Ocean. East Island is seen in the distance.
The road was a beautiful one with vast Pacific Ocean on the left side and high hills on the right. At places the road was unsealed and very narrow. Still I could see people living in farms with cattle and horses. It was mildly assuring that such a remote place also had someone living there. We drove ahead and the road narrowed down to a single lane where one had to stop on the side or drive back if someone came from ahead.
East Cape Lighthouse sign marker.
There was a place where the road had started eroding into the ocean because of relentless tides. It seemed that the car would also fall into the ocean if something happened while we drove on that patch. Fortunately nothing of that sort happened and we crossed that patch. We could see the East Island in the near ocean. Then the road took a slight turn and we came into a valley surrounded with hills.
Start of the Lighthouse stairs.
While driving slowly we went past a sign which showed the East Cape lighthouse. We parked nearby and saw 2-3 cars parked there which indicated that people were visiting that place. After entering the marked walkway, we found out that the walkway went across a private property where we saw some horses and a farmer working. We acknowledged the farmer and went ahead on the marked path to the lighthouse.

I had seen earlier in pictures that the lighthouse was high on a hill. I came to realise it when we saw the signage which mentioned about the 800 stairs to the lighthouse. It was going to be an adventure to climb 800 stairs to reach the lighthouse. We started slowly and steadily. Mid way we found marks on the stairs showing numbers of stairs climbed from the bottom.
The East Cape Lighthouse.
We were getting slow and out of breath after the 400 mark, so we slowed down and took it easy. We did see some groups coming down from the top who greeted us. The cloud was getting thick and moist while we were gaining altitude. The stairs were decently maintained and wooden blocks set in place so that it would not slip in the rainy season.
Description and trivia about the Lighthouse.
We reached the top in some time and could see a majestic view of the East Island in the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse was standing beside us. We read the history of the lighthouse and learned that it was originally erected on the East Island. But due to unfortunate incidents and constant erosion, it was moved to the current location on the mainland.

The weather remained cloudy and we couldn’t see the far surroundings in the thick clouds. It was a let-down, still the whole experience was very interesting and thrilling. We spent some time there enjoying whatever views we could see. It started drizzling and wind got colder, though unusually for the summer. We started to walk downstairs and reached in less time than we took to climb up.
Te Waha O Rerekohu - Oldest Pohutukawa Tree.
Relieved to feel some heat in the car on climbing down, we drove back to Te Araroa on the same road. The weather and the tides had become even bad. We reached the town in about half an hour after driving cautiously from the lighthouse. There was only a small Four Square store there and a self-service petrol station. I decided to refuel there since it might have been the last fuel station for a long distance ahead of us.
Tolaga Bay Wharf.
While driving past the town we saw the markers for a large Pohutukawa tree which was claimed to be the largest in the world. We moved ahead and saw a huge spread out tree which looked like very old banyan trees in sacred places in India. We read about the tree and it was interesting to note that it was really the largest in the world. The name was ‘Te Waha O Rerekohu’ - Oldest Pohutukawa Tree and it was a sacred tree for the Maori.
A lookout on the way to Gisborne.
We drove ahead towards Gisborne. The road was picturesque and ruggedly sandwiched between green mountains. We reached a small coastal town called Tokomaru Bay. We decided to stop there and have some food but the weather didn’t allow us. So we just drove to the local wharf and came back to drive ahead towards Gisborne.
Another lookout en route.
Next we reached Tolaga Bay, the town famous for its long wharf. We stopped to visit the wharf and learned that it was 600 metres long – the longest in New Zealand. It was well maintained and highlighted the days when it was used to dock the visiting vessels. The town was also a small one with scenic surroundings.

We kept driving and many beautiful sights greeted us on the way. Gisborne region is very popular for its surfing beaches. Surfing enthusiasts have been coming here for a long time. There are other places like Mahia Peninsula which also attracts campers and tourists. Being warmer generally throughout the year as compared to other places, Gisborne also enjoys a larger amount of sunshine as compared to other New Zealand places.
Lake Tutira.
We took a relaxed lunch break in Gisborne and discussed whether to stay there for the night or drive ahead to Napier which was 3 hours ahead. After finding out things to do in the region, we moved ahead towards Napier. It was a nice drive again on the coast of Pacific Ocean. The weather didn’t offer clear views but it was scenic.
Tangoio Walkway.
We took breaks wherever we found a lookout and enjoyed awesome views to the local scenery. It was a good way to relax as well. There were some really awesome places where one could spend a day for picnic or nature walks e.g. Lake Tutira and Tangoio Walkway. I was willing to spend more time at these places but we had to reach Napier on time to check in at the accommodation.

We reached Napier and enjoyed dinner at a local Indian restaurant. While walking back to the hotel, we prayed that the weather be good for the next day.

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