New Zealand: The East Cape

After the Rocket Lab launch I returned to Gisborne. A light had appeared on my dashboard that I hadn’t seen before. Having driven brand new, high performance vehicles for the last 5 years, I’ve never seen any light appear on a dashboard before. A little orange genie lamp appeared when I drove between 30 and 40km per hour. My van didn’t come with a manual, or a service book, or anything that resembled useful paperwork. I have no idea what the light means. I searched online, and like looking up the symptoms of an illness it sounded like the worst had happened, or was about to. Best case scenario, the oil needs topping. At the other end of the spectrum; stop driving! The engine is about to explode. I decided to get a professional to check the light. I left the van in Pit Stop. They instructed me to come back later. The first thing I did with my unspecified amount of time was get brunch. Do you know how long it has been since this man who loves breakfast had himself a good breakfast? I haven’t been counting but it’s been too long. I went to Verve Cafe and ordered the Spanish Fry-Up because it sounded excellent. Fried potato topped with chilli beans, chorizo and bacon. A side of ciabatta with two fried eggs. It was excellent. 

The Verfe Cafe's Spanish Fry Up

I had a second problem I needed to resolve in the city. Gisborne District Council seems to have made significant changes to the Freedom Camping laws. From what I had established from the camping apps, there were sites available along the East coast but it read as though camping was only permitted in the summer. What good is that to anyone travelling in the off-season? I first went to the i-Site where I had my assumption repeated back to me. Still unclear, I called the council. Some sites are only available in the summer. Some are available all year round. Some have limited space in the off-season. Another problem solved. There were places to stay and I could use them. This day was going well. When I returned for the van, I was told they hadn’t been able to get the genie lamp light to appear. The professionals decided the engine probably wasn’t about to explode and changed the oil. I was told to keep an eye on it and bring it back if the light came back on again. The light hasn’t come back on since, which is fortunate really because I had no intention of going back.

The View From Town Hill

I felt like i had been stuck in the same place for too long. The four days of back and forth waiting for the rocket launch had given me an appetite for exploration. I made my way out to Te Kauri Farm and climbed up Town Hill, getting a good look back over the city. Gisborne is famous for having New Zealand’s shortest river, and also for being the first city in the world to see the light of a new day. From above, it doesn’t look like a city. When you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like a city. I’m realising that what I’ve come to take as quiet is actually normal. I’m not sure I’d even recognise busy in New Zealand if I saw it on the street. The country is noticeably less populated than the UK. I slipped out the back, leaving Gisborne behind. Glad to be making my way even further East. I pulled in at Makorori Beach, hardly much further East at all. I found myself in the company of surfers again. For the past few days I’ve felt like I’m the only person around here who owns a van but doesn’t own a surfboard. I make the commitment to myself; at some point I am going to have at least one surfing lesson. Find out if I am missing out on something. If I did own a surf board, I’m not even sure where I’d put it in the van. I don’t have a roof rack and the back is filled with a bed. I sit on the beach, watching the line-up. Each body waiting their turn, waiting for their wave.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

I might have woken up, I might have been awake all night. I learned another valuable lesson when choosing a place to sleep. If there are logging-trucks passing by in the day, there will be logging trucks passing by in the night. The trucks do no stop. Humanity’s appetite for wood must be satisfied. Although, based on the signs along some of the highways, you can’t feed the hungry with wood. These signs are often ironically stood in empty fields of grass. I drove a short way to Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve. I know it’s not for everyone but I like the feel of sand underfoot. The soft, warm dunes you sink into at the top of the beach. The packed down solid sand that crunches underfoot closer to the sea. The water is calm. There’s a reef, I think it’s a reef anyway. Something stopping the waves. if I possessed a snorkel and the inclination to swim, I could go out there, face down and see what’s about. I stick to the land. The sand gives way to rocks fractured like crocodile skin. Being barefoot is no longer comfortable. Time to move on.

Cook's Cove Hole In The Wall

The single shade of green gives away the location of the plantations. This is where the logging trucks are coming from. The hills are crumpled like the plastic cellophane of the green Quality Street at Christmas. I drive though, pleased the majority of the traffic is going the other way. The East Cape is a must-do, without having much to do, which probably explains why it doesn’t make many of the itineraries you might find online. Cook’s Cove is one of the few suggested stops. Another farmland track leads to a steep descent through replanted native bush. The cows in the field below show no sign of respect for this supposed site of historical importance. Captain Cook came ashore here, dug a well for water, met the locals, presumably upset them and then he left. In one of the cliffs is a natural curiosity; a hole in the wall. I’m actually impressed, there’s a written record of its existence from Cook’s visit over 100 years ago. The ceiling hasn’t collapsed. The arch hasn’t been washed away. On the return I try to get up high enough and close enough to the cliff edge to get a view of Tolaga Bay Wharf below. I just can’t quite see it, which is another surprise. Like going up the tallest building in a city for a good view, you have to walk along the longest wharf in New Zealand otherwise you won’t feel like you’ve really seen the place. From on the wharf there’s no real sense of scale. A man at the end reclines in his camping chair. Two fishing lines aim into the bay. He’s caught nothing, but at least he looks like he’s having a good time. 

Tolaga Bay Wharf

I arrive in Anaura Bay. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. I’ve paid $20 to camp in a field. There’s another field a few miles back I could have slept in for free. That’s not really the whole truth though, that money has paid for access to a washing machine. That somebody else is already using. I could wait another three days but I don’t. I get the washing done with nowhere to hang it. I’ve said to several people there’s nowhere to hang wet clothes in the van. This is no longer true, I managed to string up two washing lines in the cab. Now there is somewhere to hang wet clothes in the van as long as I don’t intend on driving anywhere. By the time I manage to get my washing finished, finished in the sense that it’s hung out, there’s no way it’s going to dry overnight. I head into the communal kitchen for dinner. I meet David, from Scotland and we sort of accidentally spend the evening together by being the only two people in the kitchen. He’s been living in Christchurch and is on a potentially never-ending road-trip until his booked flight home stops being pushed back. We’d both head out this way for sunrise. What neither of us had banked on was the fast approaching wall of rain that was set to hang around for a week. Tomorrow was our only real chance for a good one.

Anaura Bay Sunrise

The clouds are already pink when I wake up. Not all of them. By the time I hit the beach the sky is glowing orange. A neon red stripe lies behind the grey silhouettes of anvil topped clouds on the horizon. All of the clouds are now pink, some of them shift to purple. I start to think this may be the best sunrise I’ve seen. Ever. I walk the beach, watching the reflection in the damp sand. The silhouette of Motuoroi Island breaks up the colours, giving my eyes something to relax on. The sun breaks over the horizon, visible for only seconds before the clouds swallow the light. Time for coffee. I check on my laundry, nothing is dry. I fling the doors of the van open. Hoping there’s enough light, enough warmth in the morning to dry at least some of my clothes. I give up on my washing lines and move items out on to the fence. The wind is coming in off the sea and I’m left with lightly salted, dry socks. 

Cafe 35's Pāua Pie

I’m hungry by the time I finally get moving. One of the other recommended stops on the East Cape is Cafe35. This place is world famous in New Zealand for their pāua pies. Pāua is a type of shellfish. Now I know I like seafood, I’ve eaten seafood and thought to myself, this is delicious. I also know in the past I have eaten seafood and had the opposite reaction. The question then, to pie or not to pie? The answer of course is to pie. Nobody is going to force me to eat it. I enter the cafe and advise I’d like a pie. The soft, yet crisp golden brown pastry sets my mouth to watering. I have no idea what to expect as I bite into the deep filling. The hot cream sauce is distinctly savoury, fishy even. I’m left to ponder the age old question, does the ocean taste like fish or do fish taste like the ocean? Either way, the pie is delicious. I’m pleased I stopped.

East Cape Lighthouse

The promised rain arrives while I’m on the road. I’m still going out to East Cape lighthouse, no longer aiming for the sunrise. A long gravel road leaves the township of Te Araroa. The going is slow which suits me just fine. I arrive at the end of the road to find two other cars just leaving. There’s just me and the lighthouse, and the 800 or so steps in between. I race up, take a few photos, look at the clouds coming in and race back down again. Horses start moving as I descend. Are they hoping for a jail break? A small stampede heads in my direction. I slip out the gate before they catch up with me. One and then two come over to have a sniff of my knuckles. There’s a small camp ground halfway back towards Te Araroa. I decide hunkering down is my best plan for the rest of the day. Days like these are made by a break in the rain before bed so I can dash to the toilet block without getting wet. Wind shakes, rain rattles. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the sounds of the outside from inside the van. I get up without any real intention of going anywhere. I am going to go somewhere, somewhere further along the coast to continue to wait for some of the bad weather to pass. There’s a window of blue sky in the afternoon. The black threat of rain lingers over the sea. Watching the cloud roll in, swallowing the hills. The rain draws closer. I disappear into the van.

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