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East Coast Holiday: Driving to Whakatane

Seeking the sunrise has been a theme a few times on this East Coast holiday and today we got up extra early for another sunrise mission. The location for the sun vigil was East Cape lighthouse and we had a 50km drive and then a walk up a path of 700 odd steps before we’d be able to relax.

We left the backpackers while it was still dark and drove to Tikitiki, turning north on to highway 35 towards Te Araroa. The drive was fine, the dreaded unsealed road from Te Araroa out to East Cape not being too bad in the dark. The sky was getting light as we parked by the road and headed up the hillside track to the lighthouse. The steps definitely took their toll, and we weren’t exactly dawdling given we didn’t want to miss the sunrise. Arriving at the lighthouse I was surprised at how many people were there already, this little corner of New Zealand obviously a popular spot (OK, there were only a dozen or so people but that was more than I had expected).

Keryn sat down on the grassy slope in front of the lighthouse while I moved around trying to figure out where would be best to get shots. The sun rose slowly, a narrow gap on the horizon between ocean and cloud layer giving us a view of the bright yellow ball of light before the clouds absorbed the glow. It was peaceful and thanks to the steps we were quite warm, it was a good way to start the day.

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Keryn watches the sun rising over East Island

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Keryn again, with the lighthouse

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Watching the sun rising

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Morning light over farmland by the car park

We headed back to the car and drove back to Te Araroa. Here we visited Te Waha-o-Rerekohu which is the largest and oldest pohutukawa tree in New Zealand. There was a sea mist coming in and the tree looked quite mystical in the early morning light.

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Visiting Te Waha-o-Rerekohu

With petrol stations few and far between in this part of the country we made sure to top up at Te Araroa, first finding someone to unlock the lone pump and paying across the road at a store. Then we headed back to the backpackers to pack up and say goodbye.

The journey then took us back on the road to Te Araroa, travelling the same road for the third and last time that day. The road continued northward and then at Hicks Bay we were finally heading out west. The American contingent had left the backpackers before us and we passed them on the road, seeing them a few more times catching us up as we stopped. We had a few stops on this coastline but only one where we went to see something. At Papatea Bay we came across a beautiful wooden church and spent some time looking inside and wandering the rocky shoreline. The Raukokore church was quiet and sat on a point looking over the bay, two horses out front tethered but not very well with one free of its rope and happy to approach Keryn. Penguins nested underneath the church, a sign asking people to be quiet for their sake. Walking on the rocks heading out into the bay we investigated rock pools and surprised some crabs, seagulls watching as we wandered.

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Raukokore church and the horses

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Inside Raukokore church

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A resident of the rocks

We were making good time and decided to take a diversion, heading down the Waioeka Gorge road when we reached Opotiki. The Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve has a number of signposted stopping points with the history of early settlers in the area and plenty of walking tracks. We did some short walks, visiting the Waioeka River and a few interesting bridges.

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Tauranga Bridge, a harp suspension bridge over the Waioeka River

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Manganuku Bridge, a howe truss bridge over the Manganuku Stream

The last stop was taken at the Whinray Scenic Reserve and a viewing of the Motu Falls. This side trip was a bit of a drive and hope mission, it sounded halfway interesting and turned out to be another little gem of a place to visit. Our walk at Whinray wasn’t long, just far enough to cross the swing bridge over the Motu River and see the waterfall.

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The Whinray Scenic Reserve swing bridge

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Looking at the Motu river waterfall

Once back at the car we drove on to Whakatane and the nearby Ohope Beach Top 10 where we pitched for the next two nights. The Top 10 was right next to the beach and we had a choice of places to put the tent, eventually ending up near the kitchen and ablution blocks. After all the driving neither of us were really up to cooking so we asked for a good nearby fish and chip shop and were directed to Ohiwa Oyster Farm Takeaway just outside Ohope on Wainui Road. It was a good choice, a good way to end an enjoyable road trip day.

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One thought on “East Coast Holiday: Driving to Whakatane

  1. Hi Brendon

    I work for the Department of Conservation in the Marketing team. I am writing an article about different recreational activities in the Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve. Browsing the internet I came across your blog story about Waioeka Reserve. I’m wondering if I can use your images of the Manganuku Stream Bridge, Tauranga Bridge and the swing bridge at the Reserve for our website and a magazine feature. You will be fully credited as the photographer. Could you please let me know on my email Many thanks in advance

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