It was 8.15am when my partner Malcolm and I arrived at the railway line at Muriwai, just south of Gisborne, and the day was already hot. We were all set for a cycling adventure on Gisborne Railbikes, a unique concept thought up by Geoff Main, the director and driving force behind the venture. Geoff greeted us and showed us our bikes, which sit side by side, rigidly connected and attached to the rails. The other cyclists on today’s ride had chosen the e-bike option but we were happy with standard bikes, which came complete with a basket at the front and packs behind to carry whatever we’d brought for morning tea.
The 16km section of disused railway line took us through a bush-filled valley, over wooden bridges that spanned rivers and roads, before reaching the first tunnel. Geoff checked we had our lights switched on and we pedalled into the darkness. Then it was back into the sunshine again before entering another tunnel, finally emerging at the coast. We cycled along, admiring views from cliffs 140 metres above sea level, before reaching the end of the line. Literally. Stormy weather had caused a slip that left the track twisted and suspended in mid air. After taking photographs of the dramatic sight, we retraced our route for a few minutes to the picnic spot. Geoff produced chairs from a shed beside a grassy area and we ate our snacks while enjoying the sea view.
Geoff hopes that in the future riders will be able to take the rails all the way to Wairoa but for now the ride is a there-and-back-again trip. Going back was fun, we’d barely noticed the slow incline on the outward journey but the return trip was definitely downhill – we hardly needed to pedal at all. Four hours after leaving we were back at Muriwai, having enjoyed a really unique experience.
Gisborne City began its life as a commercial centre in 1831 when 23-year-old John Harris set up a trading post. Soon the port was thriving, as local Maori grew potatoes, flax and wheat for export.
Maori had sailed from Polynesia and settled in the area more than 650 years ago, naming their new home Turanga. Links to their seafaring heritage can be seen at the small harbour on the Esplanade where two double-hulled sailing waka are moored. The Tahitian waka Fa’afaite is in Gisborne following last year’s Tuia celebrations, while the waka hourua Tairāwhiti offers cultural and sailing trips. This is on the bucket list for our next visit.
Gisborne is famously the first place in the world to see the light of the new day. It is also famous for its surf beaches, having some of the best breaks in the country, but for non-surfers there are lots of other options, such as parks, walkways and cycle paths.
The i-SITE has plenty of brochures – we found a short walk in one that took us to the top of the Wainui-Makorori headland. We didn’t get there early enough to see the sunrise but we did have great views, especially to the south over Wainui Beach to Tuahine Point and Young Nick’s Head.
We also strolled along Gisborne’s palm tree-lined main street, Gladstone Road, towards the art deco clock tower, with a stop for lunch at one of the many cafes and a lengthy peruse through the bookshop.
There are more walks at Eastwoodhill, New Zealand’s National Arboretum, a 30 minute drive from Gisborne. The arboretum boasts more than 25kms of walking tracks looping around its 100 hectares, allowing visitors to discover over 3500 different trees, shrubs and climbing plants. The arboretum is home to the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the equator as well as many species of native and exotic birds.
The arboretum began in 1910 when Douglas Cook bought the farm he called Eastwoodhill. Cook spent the next 50 years expanding the plantings before selling the arboretum to H B (Bill) Williams. The Williams family gifted Eastwoodhill to the people of New Zealand and it is now administered by a trust.
We picked up a map in the visitor centre and decided to follow the 3km purple walk (the six trails have coloured leaf signs to keep you on track). This took us along some of Eastwoodhill’s higher ground and gave great views of the arboretum. As the track zigzagged down we came to a Canadian-style cabin with a sign that told us that it had been used as accommodation for naturists in the past, and that Douglas Cook used to keep a supply of sherry here, so his guests could stop for a glass on their walks.
In one place there was an area where the tall trees were cathedral-like and, we discovered, this was what Cook had in mind when he planted the cypress and eucalyptus trees here. During a visit to England in 1936 Cook took note of the outline and proportions of Westminster Abbey. On his return to Eastwoodhill he planted cypress and eucalyptus to represent a cathedral. By the 1950s the foliage drooped to ground level, creating an enclosed private space. The trees were planted too closely and the effect is now lost, though the area still has a spiritual feel. One tree that formed a pillar in ‘the cathedral’ is, at 53 metres in height, the tallest tree at Eastwoodhill.
Close to the visitor centre is Eastwoodhill’s Fibonacci spiral. Constructed from volcanic rock and limestone, the spiral radiates out from a 750kg rock ball that floats in a pool. Water pressure eliminates friction, which means the ball can be rotated easily.
If you turn right when you leave Eastwoodhill and drive about 10 minutes further along the Wharekopae Road there’s a sign for Rere Falls. This pretty waterfall is not high but it is wide – and when there is plenty of water pouring over it you can walk behind the cascade. There’s a swimming hole and picnic area too – but we didn’t stay long because we wanted to see the ‘world famous in New Zealand’ Rere Rockslide, just a little further up-river.
This natural playground is composed of a 60-metre-long mossy and slippery waterslide, smoothed by the waters of the Wharekopae River that flows over it and empties into a pool at the bottom. If you’re adventurous you can grab a lilo, boogie board or inner tube and ride the waterfall. We were content to just watch the happy folk slithering down and splashing into the pool, then rushing back up for another turn. It was obviously the best free fun for miles.
Relax in seclusion
We prefer our water activity to be a bit more sedate so, when we left Gisborne, we stopped at the Morere Hot Springs on SH2 where, after walking through shady palm-filled rainforest we relaxed in the hot pools.
Morere’s water has been called ‘fossilised sea water’ because of the length of time it has been underground before bubbling to the surface. Visitors have enjoyed calming, therapeutic soaks at Morere since the 1890s and it’s quiet, green ambience was the perfect end to a fun filled, but tiring, exploration of Gisborne.
Gisborne i-SITE Visitor Information Centre is at 209 Grey Street
NZMCA members can stay at the park at 7 Pacific Street, Awapuni, Gisborne, and there are several motor camps and POPs in the area, including one at Rere, near the Falls. Self contained motorhomes can stay at Eastwoodhill Arboretum for a fee of $10.