Gisborne. City in New Zealand, Oceania


City in New Zealand, Oceania

Gisborne Photo ©

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With great food and wine, beautiful surf beaches and carefully preserved Maori culture, Gisborne is a must-see city in the North Island of New Zealand. Close to the International Date Line, the city claims to be the first city on Earth to see the sun each morning.


Gisborne is located at the north end of Poverty Bay on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It has a population of around 36,000.


According to Maori oral tradition, Titirangi (Kaiti Hill) was the arrival point for the migratory canoe that first brought Maori to the area. To early Maori, the Gisborne area was known as Turanganui-a-Kiwa. Kiwa was the captain aboard the Takitimu canoe, which made landfall at the Turanganui River.

European explorer Captain James Cook was the first to sight the region while canvassing the area in his ship the Endeavour, and he stepped ashore on 8 October 1769. The white cliff headland to the south of Gisborne is called Young Nick’s Head, named after the young crew member aboard the Endeavour who was the first to sight land. The Maori name for the cliffs is Te Kuri-a-Paoa, meaning “The Dog of Paoa”. At the northern end of the bay lies Kaiti Hill.

In 1831 the first trading was set up, and in the next 30 years the area attracted traders and missionaries. The city’s name was changed from Turanga to Gisborne in 1870 to honor New Zealand Colonial Secretary William Gisborne. The town rapidly developed towards the end of the 19th century, with two freezing works and other industries becoming established.

Today the city is a popular holiday spot. Local industries include agriculture, horticulture, farming, forestry and viticulture.


Tairawhiti Museum

This museum on Stout Street focuses on the history of East Coast Maori and European settlers, with displays on waka (Maori canoes) and whaling, which was an early industry in the area. For surfing aficionados there is also an extensive vintage surfboard collection. The museum is also a hub for Gisborne’s artists, with temporary exhibitions and displays of historic photographs. Outside the museum you can find Wyllie Cottage that, dating from 1872, is Gisborne’s oldest house. The museum is open from 10am – 4pm Monday through Saturday, and from 1:30pm to 4pm on Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children. Entrance is free on Mondays.

Eastwoodhill Aboretum

For the nature lovers, the Eastwoodhill Arboretum is the largest collection of northern hemisphere trees and shrubs in the southern hemisphere. With 25 kilometers of themed tracks, you can easily spend a day wandering the trails among the pine trees. You can stay the night in the dorms ($35) or private rooms ($120). The Arboretum is located 35 kilometers northwest of Gisborne on Wharekopae Road. Open daily 9am – 5pm, admission is $15 for adults, $2 for children, and $34 for families.

Titarangi Reserve

Part of Gisborne’s extensive Maori history, Titarangi was once a pa (fortified village). Today it is a lookout over the city, with a nearby statue of Captain Cook, which unfortunately looks nothing like him… Luckily the locals have a sense of humor, evidenced by the plaque reading, “Who was he? We have no idea!” You can reach the reserve from Queens Drive, or via the track from the Cook Monument at the bottom of the reserve. The monument marks the place where Captain Cook first set foot onshore in New Zealand.

Gisborne Botanic Gardens

The perfect spot for a picnic and to let the kids play on the big playground, the Gisborne Botanic gardens sit alongside the Taruheru River. The gardens are open 24 hours, and can be accessed from Aberdeen Road.

Te Tauihu Turanga Whakamana

On the corner of Gladstone Road and Customhouse Street, this large modern sculpture depicts a tauihu (the prow of a canoe) in celebration of the early Maori explorers.


Gisborne and the east coast is one of the most consistent surf rich areas in New Zealand. The swell ranges from southwest through to northeast, and there is something for everyone, from beginners through to experts. Surf is generally consistent throughout the year, but can be smaller and less frequent during the summer months of December and January. Despite the hot sunny weather in Gisborne, sea temperatures remain fairly cool, from 12 degrees Celsius in winter up to 21 degrees Celsius during summer. It’s probably a good idea to bring a wetsuit, but you can probably get away without one during January and February.

Some of the local spots include Roberts Road/Waikanae in town, which is great for beginners and lessons. Gizzy Pipe/Midway also gets regular and quality waves, especially from autumn through until spring. Wainui Beach, eight kilometers for the city center, has world-class beach break waves.


Gisborne is known as the unofficial “Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand”, with a comprehensive wine trail mapping various boutique wineries. Some operators offer individual or group tours, which also saves you the hassle of driving.

The Bushmere Estate on the Main Road in Matawhero is a great example of a Gisborne vineyard. With an excellent restaurant called Vines, and live music on Sundays during summer, take a long lunch and enjoy the top quality chardonnay and gewürztraminer alongside some great food. Opening hours are 11am – 3pm Wednesday through Sunday, with hours longer in summer.

The Gisborne Wine Centre is located on the waterfront at Shed 3, 50 The Esplanade. The center offers a wide range of local wines, which you can sample to your heart’s content. Open from 10am – 5pm Sunday through Wednesday, and until 7pm Thursday through Saturday.

The Kirkpatrick Estate prides itself on being sustainable, and the top-notch wines are testament to their efforts. Be sure to try the malbec, and settle in for a lazy afternoon over one of the delicious platters. The estate is located on Wharekopae Road in Patutahi, and is open daily from midday to 4pm.

Where to eat and drink

If you’re wine-d out or you simply prefer hops in your beverages, stop by Sunshine Brewery to taste some top local beers. The Brewery has a tasting room on Awapuni Road near Waikanae Beach, where you can try tasting trays of the various beers on tap. They also make great food. The brewery is open 3pm – 7pm Monday through Wednesday, and 12pm – 8pm Thursday through Saturday.

The USSCO Bar & Bistro is found in the restored Union Steam Ship Company building on Childers Road. The menu is seasonal, featuring the best of local produce and good enough to making your mouth water. Mains start at $38, and there are also multicourse options available. Open daily from 4:30pm until late.

Zest is a great café on Peel Street, serving up excellent pizzas, pastas, breakfasts, salads and smoothies. And it wouldn’t be a New Zealand café without excellent flat whites! Open Monday through Saturday from 6am to 4pm, and Sundays from 8am to 4pm.

PBC Café on Childers Road is steeped in history, housed in the Poverty Bay Club for Gentlemen, which was established in 1874. The food is top notch, with all-day brunch, counter food and daily specials. Stop here for a bit to eat before catching a film at the Dome Cinema, which is housed in the same building. At the cinema you can enjoy your art house movie from the comfort of a beanbag. PBC Café is open 7am – 3pm Monday through Friday, and 8am – 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays, while the Dome is open from 5:30pm Wednesday through Sunday.

For a different experience, check out Smash Palace on Banks Street in the industrial outskirts of Gisborne. This iconic pub is decorated in an eclectic style, with quirky memorabilia covering the walls and even a DC3 aeroplane occupying the beer garden outside. Smash Palace is a local institution, with live music, and is the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoons with the locals. Open from 3pm Monday through Thursday, from 2pm on Fridays, from 12pm on Saturdays and from 2pm to 11pm on Sundays.


If you’re in town on a Saturday morning, swing by the Gisborne Farmers Market to pick up local produce, including fruits and vegetables, macadamia nuts, honey, cheese, pastries, and of course coffee and local wine. Located on the corner of Stout and Fitzherbert Streets, the market is open from 9:30am to 12:30pm.


Gisborne has a decent range of accommodation, with plenty of mid-range options. Options for budget travellers are limited, but you can still find a bargain.

The Waikanae Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park on Grey Street is a great budget option. Right by the beach, and just 10 minutes walk from town, the park has basic cabins, as well as units and open grass for pitching tents or parking campervans. They also hire out surfboards and bikes.

Gisborne has plenty of mid-range options, including motels and motor lodges. The Senator Motor Inn on Childers Road is next to the sea, with beautiful views from private balconies. The Pacific Harbour Motor Inn on Reads Quay has quality units, with balconies overlooking the river.

If your budget has more room, there are some great hotel options. The Quality Hotel Emerald on Gladstone Road has huge rooms and suites with contemporary furnishings. The Portside Hotel on Reads Quay is also a top choice, with private balconies with views over the harbor or city, and all your hotel luxuries.

Getting there

Gisborne is a short one-hour flight from New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, the hub for international flights. By road, Gisborne is 3.5 hours from Rotorua.

Other info

Gisborne has a warm climate with high sunshine hours. Daily high temperatures average around 25 degrees Celsius in summer, and temperatures rarely drop below 10 degrees Celsius in winter.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Apr 17, 2016


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