The 10 Best Things to Do in Gisborne, New Zealand

Sunrise, Wainui Beach, Gisborne | © studio tdes/Flickr
Sunrise, Wainui Beach, Gisborne | © studio tdes/Flickr
Sun, sand, festivals, history and viticulture – Gisborne is a place that has something for everyone. The city, on the East Coast region of New Zealand’s North Island, is loved by local and international visitors alike because of its diverse set of attractions. Come with us as we delve into the area’s top 10 must-dos.

Be the first to see the sun rise

That’s what ‘Gizzy’, as the locals call it, is most famous for. As the easternmost city on earth, Gisborne gets full bragging rights for being the first place in the world to see the daylight. Wainui Beach, just a short drive from the city, is the best spot to catch a glimpse of the sun as it rises above the Pacific Ocean. The memorable experience is guaranteed to make an early morning start well and truly worth it.

Sunrise, Wainui Beach, Gisborne © studio tdes/Flickr

Discover the North Island’s highest non-volcanic mountain

Mount Hikurangi is a 1,752-metre (5,748-foot) peak approximately 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Gisborne. It is considered quite sacred to the Ngati Porou iwi (tribe) that takes care of it – in Maori mythology, this was one of the first parts of the North Island to be ‘fished‘ out of the ocean. Mt Hikurangi sits 50 kilometres (31 miles) southwest to the East Cape Lighthouse and is considered to be the very first place in the mainland to greet the sun. Hikers can explore the summit’s tracks with permission from the local iwi.

Mt Hikurangi, East Coast, New Zealand © Phillip Capper/Flickr

Visit the vineyards and wineries

Gisborne is New Zealand’s third largest wine-producing region. There are plenty of vineyards to explore, and just as many tours to lead you to them. Chardonnay is the what the area is best renowned for, though a selection of boutique winemakers have also gained a fair amount of attention for their Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Viognier production too.

A winery in Gisborne © Felipe Skroski/Flickr

Relish the local gastronomy

It’s not just wine that Gisborne is famous for – the area carries great esteem for its beer, cider, and local food delicacies. The Saturday farmers’ market on Stout Street is the perfect place to get a taste of the local foodie culture: think locally-produced honey and cheeses, organically-grown produce and freshly-caught fish. Food festivals are another local speciality, with Gizzy Food Month in July being one of the Gisborne’s prized attractions.

Gisborne Peak Pinot Noir and Food Sampler Plate © Nathan/Flickr

Glide down a massive rockslide

Here’s something fun to do on a hot summer’s day: grab a boogie board and head 50 kilometres (31 miles) northwest of Gisborne to the Rere Rockslide. This natural attraction will get you rushing past the watery slopes as you splash into a huge pool. Enjoy the fun-filled slide down the bottom, and make sure to check out the Rere Waterfall while you’re there.

Rere Falls, Gisborne © ItravelNZ/Flickr

Explore the Eastwoodhill Arboretum

The National Arboretum of New Zealand, also known as Eastwoodhill, is located just 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) north of Gisborne. Enter the peaceful domain to be welcomed by an incredible selection of native and exotic trees, spread across 135 hectares of land. This collection, planted by Thomas Cook, is renowned for being the largest showcase of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the equator.

Eastwoodhill Arboretum © ItravelNZ/Flickr

Go for a walk downtown

Take a stroll down the Gisborne waterfront to discover a myriad of historic sites. Head to the city centre to find New Zealand’s oldest European cottage, Wylie Cottage, which was built in 1912. Also keep an eye out for the iconic Town Clock, which was erected in 1934 and is one of the coolest Art Deco pieces to be built after the severe earthquakes that hit the region in the early 1930s.

Gisborne Clock Tower © russellstreet/Flickr

Climb the picturesque Kaiti Hill

Also known as Titirangi, Kaiti Hill is one of the best places to get a panoramic view of Gisborne and its surrounds, including the cliffs of Young Nicks Head in Poverty Bay and Wainui Beach. There are plenty of interesting features within the reserve itself – like a monument of Captain James Cook, a pohutukawa tree planted by the late Princess Diana, and a World War II gun emplacement.

James Cook Statue on Titirangi Hill © ItravelNZ/Flickr

Hop on a surfboard

Kiwi surfers are drawn to Gisborne’s beaches because of their consistent swells and ‘off-grid’ vibes. Makorori, Wainui Beach, Waikanae, and Midway Beach are some of Gizzy’s top surfing destinations. Even if you’re not keen on hitting the waves, the scenic coastlines are worth visiting for their stunning views.

Waikanae Beach, Gisborne © studio tdes/Flickr

Try your hand at fishing

Another great summer must-do. The East Coast is widely recognised by locals as a prime fishing location. Tolaga Bay Wharf, just 45 minutes from Gisborne, is the best place to try your luck at dangling a line. And if you don’t manage to catch anything, you’ll at least get to marvel at the crystal-clear coastal vistas. There’s a bit of history to learn about too: the wharf itself is the longest in New Zealand, and was built in the 1920s to accommodate the area’s passing vessels.

Tolaga Bay Wharf, New Zealand © russellstreet/Flickr