Things to do in Gisborne, New Zealand
Gisborne Cruise Stop
As New Zealand’s easternmost city, “Tairawhiti” is “the coast upon which the sun shines across the water” before it shines across the country, and for that matter, the rest of the world. Renamed after the colonial secretary at the time, Gisborne also enjoys other ‘firsts’ because of its location in North Island’s eastern ‘horn’. It was where Captain James Cook first landed after his cabin boy saw the landmass that was to become New Zealand. Four centuries before that, it was also where the first Polynesians – who would later become the Ngati One One tribe whom Captain Cook met in 1769 – made landfall in north-eastern New Zealand. Given its colourful past, Gisborne today is a place brimming with history, Mediterranean-like beaches and the best Chardonnay on this side of the Pacific.
That history is relived in Gisborne every time cruise ships dock in Poverty Bay. As your ship enters the port, it will be greeted by ‘waka’ or migratory canoes, the same way Captain Cook was received by the locals almost 250 years ago. Join a history hunt ashore to meet the descendants of Ngati One One and listen to their version of ‘Te Unga Mai’ or ‘The Arrival’ in beautifully carved ‘marae’ or indigenous meeting houses. Then make a jaunt to the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve on Kaiti Beach – the same stretch of coast said to be the first landfall of Maori ‘waka’ – and clamber up ‘Young Nick’s Head’, the promontory sighted by Cook’s cabin boy, for sweeping views of the city and the bay.
As most cruises depart from Sydney and make calls on New Zealand’s major ports which are themselves gateways to the country’s largest wine-growing regions, you will have the chance to sample the best of each one, with Gisborne leading in the production of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris and seldom heard of varieties like Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Malbec. (To the south, the port of Napier receives visitors eager to sample Hawke’s Bay’s full-bodied Bordeaux. Picton, South Island’s major cruise hub, is gateway to Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc. Timaru, the alternate port to the recently damaged port of Christchurch, brings you to the renowned Pinot Noir of the Canterbury Plains.) Join a winery tour which departs just before noon in time for lunch and wine-tasting in one of the three cellar doors that you will get to visit on your five-hour journey into Eastland’s 2,000-hectare vineyards.
Alternately, join the bandwagon as it trundles along Eastwoodhill 30 minutes out of the city and into country farms and undulating hills dotted with ponds, gardens and an arboretum. You may opt to see the rolling country, the city and the bay, and highlights of the greater Eastland region such as White Island, the Motu River Valley and Mount Hikurangi, on a scenic helicopter tour. If you still have time before the ship leaves, browse Gisborne’s main shopping district a few minutes’ walk from where your cruise ship docks for memorable local crafts or Gisborne Wine Centre at The Esplanade for bottles of world-class Chardonnay.