“What’s it like driving the East Cape this time of year?” I asked the lady in the Gisborne Information Centre. I was scanning her eyes looking for any kind of message that might suggest a bald, skinny white fella from the South Island should keep away. Yet with a smile and the aid of a paper map, she proceeded to show the regions highlights found on state highway 35. – These included the settlements where iconic Kiwi films Whale Rider and Boy were filmed. Te Araroa, received a mention as the home of the ‘world’s biggest pohutukawa tree’ and in Tikitiki, travelers could see… ‘a big waka in a paddock’. For an historical angle, Tolaga Bay offered a chance to soak up Cook’s landing spot on the East Coast.
As the prescribed information briefing about the road ahead went on, it was above all, comforting to observe that there was no sudden outburst of belly clutching laughter. Quiet re-assurance came from the fact that she didn’t call her off-sider over and say “pakeha boy here wants to tackle the Cape”. What I really wanted to know was how I might deal with a tribe of moko’d and very muscular men pulling a Haka on me during an early morning run. Of course my natural response would be to quietly stop, observe, then soil my shorts. But that would hardly qualify as a culturally sensitive response to a Maori challenge, and with limited on board washing facilities in the camper, the smell could linger for days.
And so, within an hour of the i-site briefing, and carrying a full tank of diesel for the 300 plus kilometre trip, we cautiously left the bubbling metropolis of Gizzy behind for a week-long journey around the ‘Cape’ .
At some point during our first day we transcended. Not so much into another world, but rather, another
time. It was N.Z. Jim, but not as we know it. Vehicles driving towards us slowed and waved, smiling faces peering through the windscreen. Properties seemed to adopt the same character from one town to another with weatherboard lodgings and a token horse in the garden. In fact, as we dropped down into these settlements, so too our jaws would sink collectively. Pristine beaches with lagoons and flowering rata trees lined the endless fringe between paddock and sand. Redundant cars gave way to horseback as the main form of transport around town. We pulled into one bay with the intention of staying a night and emerged only after our fifth day. Alone in a large coastal camping field, our motorhome looked like the Tardis from a Dr. Who episode. The longer we stayed, the hazier the line between fact and fiction became. Maybe it really was the Tardis? We would ask locals about attractions only sixty kilometres or so up the road and they had no idea what we were talking about. It seemed every part of this region was an attraction in its own way. Raw, historical, captivating and stunningly beautiful.
A paradigm shift had occurred in our ten days here. No longer was I apprehensive about entering the East Cape…… I was reluctant to leave it.