Gisborne, New Zealand, is the first place in the world to see the start of each new day as the sun peeks over the horizon line. A small coastal city off the main tourist track, there are a surprising number of unique things to do in Gisborne.
Steeped in Maori culture and history, it is worth a visit. We spent our limited time here hiking, relaxing in hot pools, hand-feeding stingrays, walking through the national arboretum, drinking coffee, or at a waterfall.
Gisborne has something for everyone.
20 Unique things to do in Gisborne NZ
Get up early and watch the first sunrise of the day
There is no excuse for missing sunrise in Gisborne if you spend the night. It happens every morning, starting each day for the world. It’s the city that was watched closely at the turn of the current millennium, the first place in the world to experience the new year.
You will want to spend at least one night in Gisborne to be here at sunrise.
An inherent bonus of starting your day early in the morning is more daylight to enjoy all of the things to do in Gisborne. It may be a small New Zealand city (estimated population is 33,000), but it offers a surprising variety. A coastal town, there are both water and land-based activities.
Soak up history at Poverty Bay
I’ll admit, the name “Poverty Bay” doesn’t hold much appeal when you first hear it; that is until you understand a bit of Gisborne history:
In 1769, Captain James Cook became the first European to set foot on New Zealand soil. He was seeking fresh food and water after his long journey on the Endeavour. Traditional greetings between him and Toka a Taiau, the Maori chief, were misunderstood, Maori were killed, and Cook sailed away without any provisions, thus naming it Poverty Bay. As they sailed north around the East Cape, they found everything thing they needed in the next bay, thus naming it the Bay of Plenty.
Two statues not to miss:
Water-based things to do in Gisborne
Surf or swim in the waves
Surfing is popular in Gisborne. In fact, the city has two surf lifesaving clubs, suggesting it is a surfer’s paradise. Many of the dedicated surfers are up with the sun. There are several Gisborne beaches along the coast, ranging from more gentle to bigger surf waves. There is something for just about everyone.
Swim in the Olympic pools – Gisborne
If saltwater is not your thing, check out the 98-metre water slide and the Olympic Pools. Gisborne takes swimming seriously, and the pool complex opens at 6 am daily. We stopped by just after sunrise, and a group of enthusiastic morning people were doing a water aerobics class. The slides were closed at this early hour, and the outdoor temperature was in the low teens.
My favourite Gisborne region activity was the Reef Ecology Tour with Dive Tatapouri. Donning waders (waterproof boots attached to waterproof overalls) and carrying a stick for balance, we carefully followed our guides and shuffled out into the ocean at low tide.
Standing shoulder to shoulder to form a human wall, we watched wild kingfish, eagle rays and short-tail stingrays. If you have time to do only one thing in the Gisborne region, this is it.
Fish from the pier or take one of the many Gisborne fishing charters. Whichever you choose, there is plenty of fish out there, even some big game.
If you don’t believe me, check out the impressive catches covering the walls of the Gisborne-Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club. If you can find a member to sign you in, it’s a tasty place for a “locals” dinner.
Soak your cares away at Morere Hot Springs
Soaking your cares away in natural hot springs is a must-do for any visitor to New Zealand. The beauty of Morere Hot Springs is that the water is in tubs and pools, contrasted with cold pools and surrounded by 364 hectares of native bush dominated by nikau palms.
Hiking trails let you explore for hours or just a few minutes before you dip into a tub. And the healing waters felt as though they were caressing me while at the same time moisturising my skin.
We stopped at Morere Hotsprings while driving from Napier to Gisborne.
Get a natural adrenaline rush at Rere rockslide
For me, it was the icy cold water, cool air temperature, and lack of preparation that stopped me from indulging in this natural rockslide. For those braver than us, it was a blast. This natural wonder is about a 30-minute drive from Gisborne.
The city council has put up warning signs that are ignored about the risk of serious injury and death and poor water quality from nearby beef and lamb farms.
Jump off the tracks into the river
The old train tracks curve and cross the river. While not encouraged by the city, we were told taking the plunge is a favourite activity amongst young people.
Land-based things to do in Gisborne
Hike or drive up to Kaiti Hill lookout
A 30-minute hike along bushwalk tracks up to the top of Kaiti Hill (Titirangi Domain) rewards walkers with fantastic views of the region from Gisborne towards Mahia. Despite knowing this, we simply ran out of daylight. Alternatively, there is a fitness trail filled with local exercise enthusiasts running up and down steps.
Discover new flora at the National Arboretum of New Zealand
Eastwoodhill Arboretum is the National Arboretum of New Zealand. A destination that changes with the seasons, it was full of colour when we visited in autumn. It’s a must-see for all nature lovers, boasting over 3,500 different trees from around the world.
This natural tree museum has over 25 kilometres of trail options ranging from an easy 45-minute walk through the flat ground to an over three-hour hike with moderate to steep grade. The map and trail markers make it easy to follow and know where you are. Bring a camera.
Be impressed by Rere waterfall
The mist rises as the water crashes down only 5 metres off the cliff edge. Te Papa Rāhuitanga o Rere (Rere Falls) is loud yet a bit mesmerising. I think any time of day other than midday will render better photos of this Gisborne waterfall.
Read a book
Or just check out the brand-new library in town. Open less than a week when we visited, we didn’t get a chance to go inside (as it was evening by the time we walked by). We heard from a few locals that it is lovely and well worth a visit.
Check out some of the local artwork
All around town, we saw intriguing statues, Maori carvings and some street art. Here are a few of my favourites:
Take a photo of the town clock
Standing proudly in its prominent location in the centre of the main road in town, the town clock chimes at seemingly random intervals. I imagine there is a logic to it, but we couldn’t figure it out.
More things to do in Gisborne
- Have a cuppa (coffee) with friends, new or old
Shops, restaurants, and cafes fill Gladstone Road (the main street in town). With so many options, we asked locals for the best coffee and were quite pleased with both Verve Cafe and Peel Street Cafe.
- Head to one of the Gisborne vineyards for wine tasting
We can’t do it all, and for us, coffee trumps wine. Therefore with two days, we had two visits to coffee shops and no time for wine tasting. However, it is a recommended activity in the region with local wineries, including Bushmere Estates, Matawhero Wines Poverty Bay Wine Estates / Bridge Estate.
- Visit the Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery
Considered to be one of New Zealand’s best regional museums, it hosts impressive exhibits like the travelling DaVinci exhibit we saw when it was at MOTAT.
- Walk the boardwalk
The Oneroa Beachfront cycle and walkway opened in 2015. Paralleling the sea and providing continuous views, the boardwalk connects the Olympic Pool to the city.
Where is Gisborne NZ?
Gisborne is on the east coast of New Zealand, at the southern gateway to the East Cape. It is just over 200 kilometres north of Napier and only a six-hour drive from Auckland. There is a bus to Gisborne from either city or from several other locations. We visited Gisborne as part of an Auckland to Wellington driving adventure.
If you don’t have a car, consider a private tour to destinations of your choice. This gives you the flexibility to include Gisborne, the East Cape and other amazing areas of New Zealand so often missed by tourists. Get pricing and more information on a Private VIP Luxury Tour
Like most cities in New Zealand, there is a variety of accommodation options from which to choose, ranging from luxury to backpackers. We opted to stay in a midrange motel. Our top three recommendations are:
- Portside Hotel – Heritage Collection: This lovely boutique hotel sits at the water’s edge. Offering ocean views, a swimming pool and some fun and funky decor, it’s the perfect upscale stay in Gisborne.
Check price and availability at Portside Hotel
- Waikanae Beach Motel: This is where we stayed, in a clean and tidy one-bedroom apartment. The proprietor is both friendly and helpful, making suggestions for meals and even moving my laundry to the dryer so I could get out to dinner quicker. It is perfect for families and anyone who wants to be close to the beach at an economical price.
Check pricing and availability at Waikanae Beach Motel
More on Gisborne
- Despite all these cool things to do in Gisborne, if you ask locals what they like best about living here, the first thing usually mentioned is the weather.
- According to this article in the New Zealand Herald, even though Samoa and Tokelau crossed the dateline several years ago, Gisborne is still first to see each new year based on the earth’s rotation.
- After spending time in Gisborne, we loved our drive around the East Cape to Opotiki. It’s one of our favourite New Zealand road trips.
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These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
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Which of these things to do in Gisborne do you think you will try?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
Disclaimer: We worked with Tairāwhiti Gisborne, the local tourism board. Also, we were provided with many complimentary entrances, tours, sample items, or media rates to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
I would love to visit NZ. I know I would particularly enjoy the earliest sunrise and the bike and wine tour. Sounds so fun! Thanks for the info.
HI how do I share this article on Instagram please? Morere is a tiny place but packed with character and more exploring and adventures just around every corner. Next time you come be sure to come and see us for somewhere comfortable to stay on our beautiful 30 acre pasture & woodland property 🙂
Weirdly, I’ve never heard of Gisborne! I really need to visit New Zealand as there are too many beautiful places to see and explore – it looks magical and Gisborne is no exception. Incredible sunrise and how fun is that rockslide!? Great and super informative post! Thanks for sharing!
It’s not as odd as you would think. Gisborne is off the primary tourist track, but it shouldn’t be. There is so much to do there.
If I ever get back to NZ, I will visit Gisborne. I’d love to see the stingrays and soak in the hot springs. Your shots are lovely.
Gisborne looks like such a special place. I’d love to visit to see the sunrise and the waterfalls and slide down that rock slide. Love all the natural things to do in the open air in this town.
So many great suggestions!!! I’m planning to go to NZ next year so this will definitely come in handy!
I hope you are planning to stay a while, there is just so much to see and do in our beautiful little country.
I’m usually pretty good with adventurous things but I think I’d be a little scared of wading out to hand feed the sting rays. I should probably learn more about them – I got scared of them after Steve Irwin died. It looks like Gisborne is a beautiful place with so much to see and do!
Honestly, I was a bit apprehensive about the stingrays, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our travels. They actually explain what happened to Steve Iriwn, and then stingray become a lot less scary.
For an off the beaten path, there are a surprising number things to do in Gisborne, indeed. I would love to photograph the sunrise, but hand feeding the stingrays, not so much. I have an aversion for these creatures since my husband got stung by one of them. The pain was excruciating, so I don’t think I’d take any chance getting close to one of them. How nice that you could do some wine tasting too.
People like Captain Cook had such limited imagination to come up with names for “new” places. We should rename him Captain Obvious!
There’s so much to see and do in Gisborne, I wouldn’t know where to start, I’d want to do everything at once. Except, perhaps, jumping o the river from the tracks.
Feeding the stingrays looks like fun, and I love the artworks you show in this post. But I especially love the fact that the clock strikes at random intervals!
Rere Rockslide looks like fun (if only it won’t be cold and dangerous). The views from Kaiti Hill Lookout are simply stunning! I haven’t heard of Gisborne before, would love to visit
Definitely a new city for me! So interesting to learn about this one! It has so many awesome things to do and sunrise is definitely the best!
Lydia C. Lee
I’ve never heard of this place – passing on to a friend who is in NZ at the moment.
New Zealand is so special. It still marks one of my favourite trips. I didn’t have the chance to visit Gisborne, but I look forward to going back one day!
Good morning Rhonda her in Amherstburg, Ontario, CANADA. It’s now 8:30 am and the sun is out. It has been raining over night and we’re suppose to get thunderstorms in the afternoon. Sunrise on the beach in Gisborne New Zealand looks very beautiful. I wonder if I could get up see this beauty? You asked, Would you go down this 60-metre natural rockslide? Are you kidding me! and if the water is that cold, never. Now the loud noise of Rere falls is my thing. I love to see any waterfalls. The Local Artwork is also what I would go see. These were very unusual pieces of artwork. Thank you Rhonda for showing us fantastic things. See you my friend.
New Zealand is one of those places that’s on my list, but I still haven’t managed to. I’m really hoping to head that way soon. Breathtaking photos and more motivation for me to get over there!
New Zealand is a someday must visit on our list! those falls look amazing
I would absolutely watch the sunrise in Gisborne and then I would march right on up to Captain Cook and give him a talking to! Imagine going to someone’s house looking for food and then getting mean when you didn’t get any. Hmpff! After all that I would need a dip in the hot springs and a few glasses of the local wine. Gisborne sounds wonderful.
LOL Katy, I love your attitude, but you are so right. Although, I think the problem happened from the misunderstanding the traditional Maori and traditional English greetings.
Looks like the place I can visit with the whole family. Love the scenery and the choices of activities that we can do there!
Gisborne looks like a natural paradise. The views are stunningly beautiful. I would love to feed stingrays, get soaked in Morere Hot Springs, visit the Rere Waterfall and watch that hypnotic sunrise. Thanks for sharing this lovely list and amazing photographs. 🙂
Feeding stingrays, rock slides and hot springs all in one place? Oh, how I want to go!
Wow, now I really want to go to New Zealand. Those were some amazing photos.
Wow, so many great things! I love that sunrise, what a great way to start the trip.
I enjoy going to hot springs in Japan but have never been to one elsewhere. The one here sounds like so much fun. I like that you can first go hiking and explore the beautiful nature before jumping in a hot spring!
Wow, I would definitely love to be here and enjoy all these beautiful scenery. I just don’t know what’s with the sunrise and sunset, but I always love to see both of them if I get the chance. The sunrise in Gisborne looks really stunning and I fall in love with it. I would also love to see the Rere waterfall and get to drench myself in a hot spring, If I can take it. I’ve seen so much natures beauty in Gisborne, New Zealand and hopefully I can go here the soonest. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Your first photos is stunning, Rhonda! I would definitely have that made into a canvas wall photo. Wow! I love learning more about NZ. I hope to visi tyour country one day.
Feeding the stingrays seems so scary but so amazing!
It seemed scary before we did it, but out in the water with the guides it seemed perfectly safe.
Great pics! I went to New Zealand several years ago, but I don’t think I visited Gisborne. However, if I ever get to go to New Zealand again, I want to stop by. The nature and the weather are just stunning! 🙂
Most tourists don’t make it to Gisborne. Too bad though, there are so many really unique things here.
Wow. Beautiful shots! We have looked into actually moving to New Zealand. My hubby is in the tech industry, and the country has been recruiting, even offering to fly people over to interview and the like. The problem is, the pay doesn’t match US standards, and the cost of living seems pretty high. Still, it’s beautiful and we want to visit some day.
We moved here 16 years ago and still love it. It’s really only housing and petrol that are substantially more expensive. We find that tourist things cost more than locals activities, and much of what we do is free.
Love the photos, the sunset looks amazing. I haven’t been to New Zealand yet but really want to go. The nature looks so amazing. I love that you include all the different things to do in Gisborne. New Flora at the National Arboretum looks like a beautiful place to check out. and I would definitely try the rockslide, looks so fun. Thank you for sharing 🙂
Gisborne is an interesting town, quite full of life.
So much to do and so much to see. What I like most is it’s more rural than big city. I like that.
What great shots you take.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I saw a special about the Rockslide! They said people come from all over the world to ride it.
Interesting. We met some Germans and the girls in the photo above are British. It makes me wonder if people come to New Zealand for the rockslide, or if people visiting New Zealand already head to the slide. Either way, it’s a fun fact.
What an adventure. I love the wall of people looking for stingrays.
It was a real highlight, not just of Gisborne. Hand feeding the stingrays is one of the coolest things we have done in New Zealand.
Looks like a fabulous place to vacation. I’d be up with sunrise, exploring all day and end with the stingrays.
Stingrays are based on tides. For us it was the end of the day as that is when low tide was that day.
I’d really love to visit New Zealand one day, let alone Gisborne! I’ve learned so much about the place from reading this, like the story of James Cook. It’s quite sad about the history behind Poverty Bay however, I’m glad we don’t live in those times any more! And I’d love to feed the stingrays! It must be awesome to get so close to them.
Touching the soft and slimy skin of the stingrays was a once in a lifetime event, and feeding it even cooler.
This is amazing and loved your images!! Definitely in my wishlist 🙂
Have an awesome day!
Gisborne, or anywhere in New Zealand? Both are great wish list items.
This really made me miss New Zealand! While I only spent 9 months living there last year, I really long for it all the time! I actually never made it to Gisborne, although I’ve been in the general area. What I love most about the North Island are all the opportunities to learn about Maori culture. I really loved reading this and looking at the pictures, so thanks for that!
We have been here in New Zealand for 16 years and this was my first time in Gisborne or the general area. I really enjoyed it.
Wowza – beautiful shots. I love the sunrise photo.
The sunrise was really special, especially knowing it is the first to start the day. Oddly, I have gotten up just before the sun every day since our visit last week.
Hi Rhonda – looks to be an amazing thing place to visit .. thanks for the showing us around – cheers Hilary
Hilary, it is a wonderful city, and worth a visit.
We have a good friend who came to Powell River, BC, from New Zealand. He’s been here a long time but sounds like he just arrived. – Margy
That’s what they say about me. I have been here in New Zealand for 16 years and still sound like I just arrived.
I want to go to Gisborne. Except for jumping off the bridge (maybe when I was younger), I want to do everything your wrote about. That clock tower reminds me of the tower on the UC Berkeley campus. 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful tour.
LOL – the city doesn’t really want people jumping off the bridge, so you are all set.
Awesome Rhonda. We never made it down Gisborne way but ran into many folks from this town when chilling in Opotiki. I loved my time in the region; interesting too how the next proper supermarket from Opotiki is hundreds of kilometers away in Gisborne, I believe. Per the homeowner’s insight at least.
It wouldn’t really surprise me. We drove all the way around the east cape from Gisborne (the long way) to Opotiki and I don’t remember seeing anything like a grocery store.
L. Diane Wolfe
I love all of the natural things to do. I’d be up early to see the first sunrise of the day. Then I’d be off to feed stingrays.
I was up both mornings enjoying the sunrise. The stingrays are only at low tide, so we ended up doing that late in the day. Plenty to fill the in-between times though.
Kay L. Davies
How wonderful to be one of the first in the world to see the sunrise! I would certainly love to see that, if I’m ever up to such a long-distance adventurous travel. Fortunately, it seems there are one or two easy adventures for old ladies here, too. I enjoyed this post very much!
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel
There is plenty to do for everyone here, young or old, adventurous or not.
What a nice place loved the tour Rhonda nice to see blue skies very rare here in London heheh!
Have a tourtastic week & thanks for posing by 🙂
The weather is the number one thing the locals rave about when we ask what they like best about living here. So, I am guessing the blue skies are pretty normal.
It looks a really wonderful place to visit, I understand why everyone that I speak in the UK who was travelled to Australia and NZ, they all come back saying they loved NZ, this place for example looks marvellous and specially that sunrise, so magical!
Have a great week Rhonda!
New Zealand is fantastic, and Gisborne is like a bonus. I don’t really know why more people aren’t flocking here.