Food and Drink in Gisborne
The sunny days, warm weather and good soils responsible for Gisborne's exceptional wines also produce an abundance of excellent fruit and vegetables, olives, nuts and cheese, while the ocean yields plenty of fish and seafood. A Saturday morning farmers' market sells much of the local bounty, while restaurants and cafes pride themselves on serving fare made from the best seasonal produce.
The Works: Housed in the only remaining section of the original Kaiti Freezing Works (most of the building was demolished in 1996), The Works is directly across the street from the port. Casual lunch options include terakihi tacos -- using a New Zealand fish -- along with ceviche, salt and pepper calamari, salads and classic staples such as battered fish and chips and steak sandwiches. (41 The Esplanade, Gisborne; 06 868 9699); open daily 11.30am to late.
Peppers Beachfront Bar & Cafe: You can watch all the harbour action, including ship tenders going to and fro, from this absolute beachfront restaurant located above the Midway Beach surf club on Poverty Bay. Enjoy dishes such as chicken and leek spring rolls, whitebait souffle or crispy skin fish fillets with a glass of one of the local wines. The views stretch all the way up to Young Nick's Head. (40 Centennial Marine Drive, Gisborne; 06 867 7696/Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch; breakfast on weekends only. Closed Monday.)
Muirs Bookshop & Cafe: This is the place for a literary lunch. The only bookshop in town, and one which dates back to 1905, not only sells every book currently in print on Gisborne and the East Cape region, but serves salads, sandwiches, pastries and their 'famous' vegie muffins in a balconied cafe above the shop. Have a meal while overlooking the town centre from the balcony and then settle in a comfy sofa with a book or local newspapers and magazines. (62 Gladstone Street; 06 867 9742; Open weekdays 8.30am to 3.30pm; Saturday 9am to 3pm, closed Sundays.)
Best Cocktail in Gisborne
As the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand, producing one-third of the country's output, it would be a crime not to taste this white wine varietal. Pop into a bar or winery for a taste, or the Gisborne Wine Centre at the port.
Beaches in Gisborne
Best for a Half-Day Visit: Waikanae Beach is one of the "town beaches" and is the closest to the centre of Gisborne. It is part of the shoreline of Poverty Bay, the huge bay where ships are moored. Passengers can easily get there by taking the shuttle bus to the I-Site visitors centre in Grey Street and then walking down to the end of that street. It has waves suitable for surfing, although experienced surfers are likely to prefer Midway beach, a little further along shore to the west. The Sunshine Brewery is only 100 metres away, while a nearby 'truck stop' sells snacks and a cafe/bar is located a little further west towards Midway Beach.
Best for Active Types: You'll need a car or a taxi to get to Wainui Beach, six kilometres north of the town, and the closest of a handful of glorious coastal beaches that stretch north for around 50km. Access is easy -- just turn into the car park off the Pacific Coast highway. This is an excellent surfing beach, but as the waves can be quite 'serious' according to surf websites, it's best to consult a local board rider before plunging in. For swimmers, the only patrolled area is near the Wainui Surf Club. The nearby Wainui General Store (4 Oneroa Road, open 7am to 8pm) is the place for good coffee, takeaway meals such as fish and chips and burgers, salads and bakery items including Ponsonby Pies, which have legendary status in New Zealand. The northern end of Wainui is called Whales (or Whales Beach) commemorating a mass stranding event in 1970 when 59 sperm whales beached themselves, died and were subsequently buried in the sand dunes behind the beach.
Best Secluded Beach: Makoriri Beach is a further 4km up the Pacific Coast from Wainui Beach, and seems to extend for miles. It is flanked in the north by a dramatic headland and is backed by rolling hills. There are no nearby cafes, nor is there a lifeguard. It's best to stock on up food at the Wainui General Store.
Don't Miss in Gisborne
Tairawhiti Museum: Located on the Taruheru River, and an easy walk from the port, Tairawhiti is part museum-part art gallery. Collections include Maori treasures, hundreds of fascinating photographs taken by the museum's founder, stories of exploration including the voyages of Captain Cook, the restored wreck of the ship the Star of Canada and even a display of surfboards. (Kelvin Rise, 10 Stout Street, Gisborne; 06 867 3832; daily Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm; Sunday and Public Holidays 1.30pm to 4pm.)
Gisborne Wine Centre: Located right at the wharf this is the first port-of-call to discover and taste the wines of the region, make purchases and find out which cellar doors are open for visitors. A sampling of wines, known as a flight, is a good way to test a few varieties. Onsite restaurant, Crawford Road Kitchen, serves lunch and dinner (Shed 3, Inner Harbour, 50 The Esplanade, Gisborne; 06 867 4085; Open daily 10am to 9pm https://www.facebook.com/newgisbornewinecentre/)
I-Site Visitor Centre: A free shuttle drops passengers at this information centre. It's a good place to begin, if exploring the town independently. There's also a small gift shop. (209 Grey Street, Gisborne; 06 868 6139; open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm; Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 10am-5pm; public holidays 10am to 4pm.)
Titirangi Domain (Kaiti Hill): This 33-hectare hilltop reserve has the best views over Poverty Bay. Its four separate lookouts offer views to the south taking in Young Nick's Head and to the city and the Inner Harbour below. The section rising directly above the harbour is called Kaiti Hill where a dubious statue of Captain Cook (called 'Crook Cook' by the locals as it looks nothing like the explorer, nor is it wearing a British naval uniform) and a Pohutukawa tree planted by Princess Diana in 1983. There are walking trails to the summit, while the Hopper Bus stops here. It's 2.4km from the Inner Habour. (Titirangi Domain; Queens Drive, Gisborne; open all day.)
Gisborne Riverside Walkway: This easy (flat) walking trail is on the western side of the inner harbour, directly across from where the tenders land. It begins near the 'real' statue of Captain Cook at a place called The Cut, near Waikanae Beach, the closest bay beach to the city. From there head to town via Reads Quays. Look out for waka (canoe) crews that may be out training on the river. The walk ends at the junction of the Taruheru River. If you want to see the statute of cabin boy 'Young Nick', start at Cook's statue but head in the opposite direction along the shore and walk about 300 metres. (Riverside Walkway, Gisborne; open all-day; lit up at night.)
Wild Stingray Feeding: If you fancy something a little different -- with no sting attached -- wild stingray feeding is a great way to see these harmless creatures up close (along with huge kingfish and whatever other marine inhabitants turn up) without getting wet. Dressed in waterproof wading outfits participants walk into the ocean off Tatapouri Beach at low tide, over a rock shelf towards the reef. Waders stand side-by-side in a straight line near the reef, forming a human barrier, to prevent the rays and fish from swimming between them. The feeding has been taking place for years, so the sea creatures know when and where to turn up. It's a fun way to spend an hour or so, while the beaches and headlands witnessed on the 14km drive north from Gisborne, are spectacular. The company also offers stingray snorkelling trips. (Dive Tatapouri, 552 Whangara Road, Tatapouri Beach; 06 868 5153; www.divetatapouri.com. Stingray feeding depends on tide times.)
Wrights Vineyard and Winery: Wrights Vineyard and Winery's owner Geoff Wright is a third-generation vintner who runs personalised three-hour winery tours with tastings and lunch especially for cruise ship passengers. Passengers are met at the Gisborne Wine Centre, right at the wharf, and taken on a city tour before heading to the winery 17km away. After checking out the working winery and tasting wines straight from the barrel, guests sit among the vines (or in the cellar door) to sample four tapas plates and matching wines. A minimum of 10 participants is required. (1093 Wharerata Road, Manutuke, Gisborne; 06 862 5335; www.wrightswines.co.nz)
Sunshine Brewery: New Zealand's oldest independent brewery is just a stone's throw from Waikanae Beach, which is perfect for the surfers-turned-brewers who opened the business 27 years ago. The first beer they produced was Gisborne Gold (or Gizzy Gold), which sells in pubs across the land. Pop in for a glass or a 'flight' (a tasting tray). Each Thursday the brewers create a new beer just for the hell of it. (49 Awapuni Road, Waikanae Beach, Gisborne; 06 867 7777; www.sunshinebrewery.co.nz; open Monday to Saturday noon -- 8pm; open Sunday in summer only from noon to 6pm.)