18 great things to do in Gisborne – First to see the light

Are you on the hunt for incredible things to do in Gisborne? Read ahead for our top recommendations!

Gisborne is a city on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It is best known for its beautiful weather, wonderful wineries, impressive surf culture and relaxed way of life. It is also the first city in the world to see the sun each day.

But there’s so much more to this charming spot than first meets the eye.

While you’ll certainly come across surfers in abundance, you’ll also be able to tackle an enormous rockslide, feed stingrays, and explore the area’s magnificent hiking trails. With so many incredible things to do in Gisborne, it’s unsurprising that this relatively small city is gaining some serious traction with tourists!

Whether you feel like taking things easy with a leisurely beachside stroll or want to learn more about the area’s connection to Captain Cook’s famous voyage, there are plenty of things to do in Gisborne that will set your soul alight.

Are you ready to learn all about this glorious coastal city?

Let’s dive right in.

Nathan and I taking a selfie in front of a lake during our reef ecology tour at Dive Tatapouri.
Nathan and I on our reef ecology tour at Dive Tatapouri.

17 Amazing Things to Do in and around Gisborne

1. Feed Stingrays at Dive Tatapouri

Are you looking for truly unique things to do in Gisborne? If so, you should pay a visit to Dive Tatapouri to engage with the glorious stingrays.

Dive Tatapouri runs its tours around low tides, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with stingrays in their natural environment.

While you’re on this excursion, you’ll be given a brief rundown on the rays and what to expect from the experience before getting kitted up in waders and heading into the water. Once out in the bay, you’ll get to know their wild short-tail stingrays, eagle rays, and other marine species.

What sets this tour apart is the fact that you can touch these majestic creatures and get to learn more about their unique personalities from your tour guide. You’ll also learn about their habitat, behaviours and role in the marine ecosystem.

This was our favourite experience in Gisborne and a real must-do for animal lovers!

532 Whangara Road, State Highway 35, Tatapouri Beach, Gisborne 4073

Did you know? As these tours only run during the warmer parts of the year, you need to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

2. Relax at Makorori Beach

While you’re visiting Dive Tatapouri, we suggest you swing by Makorori Beach.

The surf there is good (in fact, it is recognised as a nationally significant surf break), the snorkelling is good in the rock pools at low tide, and lifeguards are on duty during the day if you want to swim.

If you’d like to learn how to surf, we recommend joining a lesson at the Salt Shack Surf School.

Makorori Beach is beautiful at any time of day, but we particularly recommend visiting for one of those famous Gisborne sunrises.

Waves crashing in the sandy shores of Makorori Beach.

3. Hike up Kaiti Hill

Fans of scenic views and long hikes are bound to appreciate a walk up to Kaiti Hill (also known as Titirangi).

Although it’s not the most relaxing thing to do in Gisborne (it’s a relatively steep hike to the top!), we’d say that it’s one of the finest things to do in the area.

If you’re not aware of this spot’s historical significance, let us quickly fill you in.

Kaiti Hill’s base was the spot where Captain James Cook first explored New Zealand’s soil, making this place a must-visit location for history buffs.

While you’re here, you can amble along the walking track that leads to four separate scenic lookouts.

Along the way, you’ll spot a statue of Captain Cook, a handful of important native trees, and even a historical gun emplacement from WWII.

When you reach the top, take plenty of time to admire the expansive vistas over Wainui Beach and the Young Nick’s Head cliffs.

In addition to making an excellent photo opportunity, we recommend you factor in some time to enjoy watching the world go by from up there.

The view of Gisborne and the blue waters crashing down the white sandy beach taken from the top of Kaiti Hill.
Photo credit: Brook Sabin.

4. Relax at the Morere Hot Springs

While you’re in Gisborne, consider taking a trip to Morere to bathe in the incredible Morere Hot Springs. 

Producing over 250,000 litres of warm water each day, these springs are known for their therapeutic minerals and calming temperatures.

Although the water bubbles up to the surface from a fault at around 50 degrees Celcius, it cools down to a pleasant 40 degrees before being pumped through to nearby pools and baths. So, don’t worry about things getting too toasty.

You’ll need to drive just under an hour via State Highway 2 to get to Morere, but slipping into these beautiful hot springs will make you forget about the detour.

3968 State Highway 2, Morere 4078

A woman dipping in the pool of Morere Hot Springs.
Photo credit: Hawkes Bay NZ.

5. Go Cycling Along the Motu Trails

If you love mountain biking should explore the extensive Motu trails while you’re in Gisborne.

They are part of the official New Zealand Cycle Trail, leading riders from the Gisborne coast to backcountry areas of the city. These offer impressive mountainside and ocean views.

If you start from Gisborne, we highly recommend heading out to the Wainui Beach Cycleway or the Oneroa Cycleway for prime lookouts.

Not only will your bike enable you to cover plenty of ground, but it’ll get the wind rushing through your hair while you experience some of the finest coastal lookouts around.

Talk about a win-win!

A biker exploring the extensive Motu trails in Gisborne.
Photo credit: Tairawhiti Gisborne.

6. Grab a Beer at Sunshine Brewery

If you love great beers and even better service, then you’re bound to love Sunshine Brewery.

Considered one of the most impressive breweries in New Zealand, this place has served up some of the finest pints in the country since 1989.

Each beer is inspired by Gisborne’s long summers and surf scene. So, you can expect bright packaging, cool flavours, and an atmosphere that welcomes all.

Strict on their use of all-natural ingredients, every beer here hits the palate with a fresh tang that’s completely addictive.

Need we say more?

49 Awapuni Road, Awapuni, Gisborne 4010

A pizza served outdoor with a Sunshine Beer beside it.
How good does this ‘Tropic Thunder’ look? Mozzarella, jalapeno, pineapple, red onion, and chorizo on a tomato base topped with sriracha mayo and roquette. Pair it with one of the Shineshine Brewery drops.

7. Learn About the Region at the Tairāwhiti Museum

If it’s a rainy day, we recommend heading to the Tairāwhiti Museum. Considered to be one of the best regional museums in New Zealand, this place has a lot to offer.

It’s just a 5-minute walk from the city centre and is home to a huge variety of displays and exhibitions.

Although these change throughout the year, you’re guaranteed to learn a great deal about the regional history of Gisborne.

One of the best exhibits within the museum is the historic cottage and ship that you can actually explore.

After you’ve spent some time wandering around the exhibits, you can also take break in the Exhibit Cafe.

10 Stout Street, Whataupoko, Gisborne 4010

Looking into Different surfboards in Tairawhiti Museum.
The Te Moana Maritime Gallery at Tairāwhiti Museum.

8. Stroll along the Tupapa Heritage Trail

Located along the Turanganui-a-Kiwa waterfront, the Tupapa Heritage Trail is around 4 km long and offers you a chance to see the city through the eyes of those who lived here first.

There are ten markers along the heritage trail. For the best experience, you’ll want to download the interactive app; this will allow you can learn about each landmark and point of interest as you walk past.

Although you can start the trail wherever you like, we recommend starting at Introduction Point.

9. Check out Gray’s Bush Scenic Reserve Walks

If you love the outdoors then make sure you try out some of the walks within Gray’s Bush Scenic Reserve.

There are two main trails that link up within the reserve, taking you through a kahikatea forest. This forest used to cover a wide area around Gisborne, but unfortunately, not much of it remains today.

Both of the trails within Gray’s Bush Scenic Reserve start from the car park, and a full circuit of both will take you around 40 to 60 minutes.

One of the trails is also a wheelchair-accessible trail and is clearly marked, making this area suitable for all mobility levels.

Make sure you read the interpretive signs along the way too.

A path in the woods covered with dried, fallen leaves.
Photo credit: Department of Conservation.

10. Ride the Gisborne City Vintage Railway

You don’t have to be a huge history buff to appreciate a visit to the Gisborne City Vintage Railway.

The railway is home to the only remaining Wa-class steam locomotive – the Wa165. This train was built way back in 1897 and has been chugging away happily since then.

As it’s a hardy locomotive, it was often used to tackle the tough ascents between Gisborne and Moutuhora. In other words, this train is one tough cookie!

This service doesn’t run during the winter months. But if you’re visiting Gisborne at any other time, you should take the incredible excursion from Gisborne to Muriwai.

You’ll be able to take a close look at the original restored seats and take in the spectacular views as you cross the Waipaoa River.

We suggest you check the opening times of this attraction and their timetable before booking.

109 Customhouse Street, Awapuni, Gisborne 4010

A black steam train cruising on its track.

11. Enjoy the Gisborne Botanical Gardens

The next spot on our list of things to do in Gisborne belongs to the glorious Gisborne Botanical Gardens. This public garden dates back to 1874.

It spans an impressive 5.1 hectares between Aberdeen Road and the Taruheru River. We’re not kidding when we say that there’s so much to do here.

When we’re visiting, we often start at the southeast corner of the attraction (which is regarded as one of its oldest sections). This is home to the garden’s famous plant collections. There you’ll spot natives including cabbage trees and different varieties of New Zealand hebe.

If you have time, we also recommend checking out the amazing Japanese Garden (for the cherry blossoms), the Palm Desert Garden and the Australian Garden. The latter features amazing plants from our sister state, and it’s well worth exploring for half an hour or so.

Oh, and before we forget – you cannot miss the incredible Botanical Gardens Aviary. It features over 100 free-flying birds that flit above your head as you walk through. You can expect to spot pigeons, canaries and sparrows, but keep an eye out for colourful parrots, lovebirds, and a few melodious finches too.

And for the little ones, there’s an amazing playground there too.

We told you these botanic gardens packed a punch!

391 Aberdeen Road, Gisborne 4010

Two kids playing in a circular swing in the Botanical Gardens.
Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Gisborne Herald.

12. Go Surfing off Tuamotu Island

If you’re on the hunt for things to do in Gisborne, then you need to check out Tuamotu Island – pronto! It’s located right on the western edge of Sponge Bay and although you can spend time admiring the glimmering waters around the island, this place is most popular with avid surfers.

The groundswells here are seriously impressive and the left-hand reef break adds to the consistency of the surf.

You’ll need to be careful to avoid sharp rocks and urchins as you’re catching the waves near Tuamotu Island, but the summer surf around here is genuinely unbeatable.

If the gorgeous scenery and pleasant conditions weren’t enough to sway you, we’ve found that this place is almost always quiet. So, you’ll have full control over the waves and won’t have to battle with anyone to have your chance on the water.

It’s a real hidden gem.

A surfer surfing on the turbulent waves.

13. Sip On Local Wines

Picture this scene…

You’re sitting right by the waterfront, you have a few small plates on the go, and you’re sipping truly delicious wine that’s created right where you’re sitting. Sounds amazing, right?

Well, prepare to live your dream at one of the many wine cellars in Gisborne. This is one of the largest wine-producing regions in the country.

So, it only makes sense that the area is home to several top-notch wineries.

Although you can’t go far wrong with any of Gisborne’s wineries, we suggest hitting up Milton Vineyards & Winery, The Vines @ Bushmere Estate, Bridge Estate Vineyard or Wrights Vineyard and Winery for the best pours.

A bottle of unopened wine left on top of a post in Wrights Vineyard and Winery.
Wrights Vineyard and Winery is one of our favourite wineries in Gisborne.

14. Check Out the Local Farmers’ Market

There’s truly nothing like an incredible Farmer’s Market, and the Gisborne Farmer’s Market is no exception to that rule.

It’s the place to be in Gisborne for local produce and artisanal goods and is proudly perched on Stout Street. It’s easy to find but if you’re stuck, just ask a friendly local for help and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Head along on a Saturday between 9.30 am and 12.30 pm.

We recommend picking up fresh fruit, a loaf of bread, local cheeses, and a few regional pours to create the perfect NZ picnic.

If you need a pick-me-up, one of the strong vendor coffees is bound to put a spring in your step too.

Stout Street, Whataupoko, Gisborne 4010

Delicious pastries with caramel and chocolate toppings.
We love a good farmers’ market!

15. Wander Around the Eastwoodhill Arboretum

If you’re even remotely interested in exotic trees, peaceful gardens, and tranquil walkways, you’ll love everything that Eastwoodhill Arboretum has to offer.

Covering 135 hectares and open between September and May each year, the Arboretum is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon in the Gisborne area.

The arboretum’s expansive collection boasts trees from the Northern and Southern hemispheres and guides visitors through a beautiful exhibition.

You’ll find it just 35 kilometres north of Gisborne’s main town. And though it may be a bit of a trek, we think it’s well worth the detour.

Oh, and did we mention that those with mobility issues can arrange a dedicated jeep tour?  We give it two thumbs up when it comes to inclusivity.

2392 Wharekopae Road, Gisborne 4072

Pro Tip: You’ll pass the arboretum as you head towards the Rere Falls and Rockslide, so why not tie all three in together?

A tube slide for kids in Eastwoodhill Arboretum.
Photo credit: Eastwoodhill Arboretum.

16. Slip and Slide Down the Rere Rockslide

Considered one of the best things to do in Gisborne by a mile, the Rere Rockslide is certainly something that you’ll want to add to your itinerary.

This naturally-formed waterfall is a mere 30 minutes from Gisborne and is an ideal place to visit when the weather heats up.

On an average summer’s day in Gisborne, you’ll find adventurers grabbing boards or inflatables and literally sliding down the 60-metre rockslide for an adrenaline-filled few seconds!

Before you head down with the entire brood, it’s worth noting that this experience won’t suit everyone. For example, it may be too intense for children.

However, if you’re up to the task and feel like taking the plunge, it’s wild, wacky, and oh-so-much fun!

Wharekopae Road, Ngatapa 4072

Did you know? Boogie boards will see you race down the rockslide really quickly, but an inflatable lilo/airbed travels at a much more leisurely pace. If you don’t have your own lilo/boogie board, it’s still worth heading out as people will often leave theirs behind our loan you one.

17. Pack a Picnic to Enjoy at Rere Falls

On the way to the Rere Rockslide you’ll pass the Rere Falls. They are beautiful and the perfect spot to stop for a picnic or to lay on the grass and enjoy the sunshine.

It’s easy to drive down to the car park. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the waterfall. As the walk to the falls is so flat and close, it’s suitable even for people with mobility challenges.

When you next visit Gisborne, be sure to spend a day checking out the Rere region.

Wharekopae River, Wharekopae Road, Gisborne

18. Catch Fish at Tolaga Bay Wharf

The final thing on our list of things to do in Gisborne is fishing at Tolaga Bay Wharf – though it is 45 minute’s drive from town, it’s worth it.

This amazing pier is approximately 660 metres long, so it’s ideal for avid anglers who struggle to secure a spot at other popular fishing locations around New Zealand.

Before we delve into the local fishing scene in more detail, we thought we’d regale you with a touch of history about this iconic pier.

It was originally built in 1929 and was designed to be a primary offloading base for cargo ships coming to the area.

When this plan was poo-pooed in favour of using a convenient road through Tairāwhiti, Tolaga Bay became a tourist hotspot for fishing and gentle strolls. Hey, we’re all for it!

Whether you’d like to try your hand at angling for a full day or simply want to walk up and down the pier snapping incredible shots of the bay, you’re bound to agree that it’s one of the best things to do around East Cape.

And in case you were wondering – the pier has been extensively reconstructed since being built back in the 20th century. So it’s super safe.

160 Wharf Road, Tolaga Bay 4077

Tolaga Bay Wharf in Gisborne, stretching over a hundred feet to the sea.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this list of things to do in Gisborne!

As you can see, there’s so much to explore here.

If you’ve recently visited Gisborne, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Written by Grace, Abbie and Sarah.

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