Gisborne Cruise Port

Port of Gisborne: An Overview

Gisborne is New Zealand's most easterly city and lays claim to being the first city in the world to see the sunrise every day. (Thousands of people flocked there to greet the new Millennium in 2000.) The most easterly point, East Cape Lighthouse, is another 170km further north. The city of 36,000 people is the largest in the Eastland region of New Zealand. While several cruise lines have been including Gisborne on their itineraries in recent years, the Eastland region is still largely unvisited by international travellers.

Sitting on Poverty Bay, at the confluence of three rivers (the Turanganui, the Waimata and the Taruheru) and within an easy drive of a string of beaches, both north and south, Gisborne is a water-lovers' paradise. The area was first settled by Maori around 700 years ago. The first European to arrive was Captain James Cook aboard the Endeavour who landed near the mouth of the Turanganui River in October 1769 -- just six months before he landed in Botany Bay (Australia). Cook named it Poverty Bay due to the area's perceived lack of fresh herbs, which he hoped to collect to starve off scurvy amongst the crew. It was actually one of Cook's crew, a 12-year-old cabin boy called Nicholas Young, who first sighted New Zealand and after whom the amazing landform, Young Nick's Head, at the southern end of Poverty Bay, is named. History fans can seek out the two statues of Captain Cook and determine which one is the 'fake', along with the statue of young Nick. Today's passengers will marvel at stunning white cliffs at the entrance to Poverty Bay and the rolling hills that can be seen from the beaches north of the city. Some 33km north is the village of Whangara well known for its impressive marae (Maori meeting place) and the location for the book and film, Whale Rider.

Gisborne is wine country -- the third largest producer of wine grapes in the country, after Marlborough and Napier and -- and New Zealand's Chardonnay capital. Around 16 wineries produce excellent chardonnay, viognier, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris and reds such as Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Grenache. Several such as Poverty Bay Winery, Kirkpatrick Estate and Wrights Vineyard & Winery have cellar doors open for tastings in the warmer months from October to April. The first stop is the Gisborne Wine Centre at the Inner Harbour cruise ship wharf, which showcases all the wine of the region. Beer lovers are catered for with a micro-brewery close to the port.

Hanging Around

Gisborne is a tender port. Ships anchor in Poverty Bay with passengers tendered to the Inner Harbour, which is part of Eastland Port. This sheltered waterway is flanked by a marina dotted with yachts, new apartment buildings and a handful of restaurants. The harbour has several piers and sheds; most passengers will arrive on the wharf near Shed 3, which houses the excellent Gisborne Wine Centre. Apart from offering tastings and sales of wines of the region, its restaurant serves lunch and dinner. The Esplanade (a road) runs behind Shed 3 and from where passengers can pick up shuttle buses into the town, and also board the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus known as the Hopper Bus. Passengers are greeted with a Maori performance and once out of the port area, volunteer city ambassadors are often on hand to help with directions.

The cruise companies set up a marquee at the wharf manned by staff. It's an easy 10 to 15-minute walk to the city centre -- turn left when exiting the wharf at the Esplanade, then turn left again at Wainui Road, walk across the pedestrian bridge and you're there. Cafes near the port and marina offer Wi-Fi. The city's HB Williams Memorial Library, in Peel Street, has computers with free internet connection.

Don't Miss

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.)

Getting Around

On Foot: It's an easy 500m walk into Gisborne from the port, and most attractions such as the Tairawhiti Museum and the Riverside Walk are close to the I-Site visitors centre. The town centre is small enough to easily stroll around. A car is needed if intending to visit the east coast beaches some 10km to 20km away.

By shuttle bus: A free shuttle takes passengers the short distance into town from the port to the town's I-Site visitor centre.

By Taxi: Pick up taxis in the town centre. Some may also be waiting at the port. As drivers may not take credit cards, always check first. (Gisborne Taxi Society 06 867 2222)

By Bus: A Hopper Bus (hop-on-hop-off) makes a one-hour loop from the wharf, leaving every 20 minutes or so. The bus stops at various tourist attractions including the Botanic Gardens, the museum and the craft market at Treble Court. Cost is A$10.

By Bicycle: Mountain bikes, commuter bikes, electric bikes and tandems are available for rent for two hours or half a day on weekdays and Saturday mornings at reasonable rates. (422 Gladstone Road, Gisborne, 06 867 4444 or 027 4713929; www.bikeys.co.nz) Other operators may also have rental bikes at the wharf.

Private tours: Independent travellers may find local tour operators at the port although it's best to book them in advance. Gisborne Tours runs trips to wineries and includes many of the city sights. Tailor-made tours can also be arranged. (Gisborne Tours; 021 204 1080; www.gisbornetours.nz).

Beaches

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.

Lunching

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.)

Where You're Docked

Ships anchor in Poverty Bay and tenders pull in at the Inner Harbour at Eastland Port, which is 500m from the heart of town.

Watch Out For

Jumping off the old railway bridge (also called the train tracks bridge) is a ritual in Gisborne. Kids and young-at-heart adults line up to jump into the river below for fun and the amusement of visitors. The bridge is a short walk from Eastland Port.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Visit www.xe.com for current rates. Credit cards are widely accepted, although some taxis may not take them. ATMs are the best way to get local currency and there are several of these in town, at the banks (such as the ANZ Bank, Westpac and Bank of New Zealand) and other retail outlets such as petrol stations.

Language

English is the official language. Many of the names of attractions are Maori and signs and instructions may be printed in both languages. The Gisborne and Eastland region of New Zealand has a strong Maori population.

Best Souvenir

New Zealand greenstone (or nephrite jade) makes a good, lightweight keepsake or gift. Greenstone jewellery is made onsite by carvers at The Stone Studio, not far from Midway Beach. The studio has a stall at the cruise ship market that is set up in the middle of town (Gladstone Street) when ships call. Passengers should be able to pick up other souvenirs there as well. (The Stone Studio NZ; 237 Stanley Road; 06 867 3900; open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm; Saturday 10am to noon; closed Sundays. Other times by appointment.) The staff are happy to pick up interested passengers from the port and drive them to the studio.

Best Cocktail

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.

For More Information

On the Web: Out East

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Australia/New Zealand

Independent Traveler.com: New Zealand Travel Guide

--By Caroline Gladstone, Cruise Critic contributor

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