State Highway 35 Itinerary


Remote beaches and Māori villages

3-4 Days 334 KM


  • Dive Tatapouri
  • Maunga Hikurangi
  • Motu River Jet



Take the road less travelled around the East Cape to find secluded beaches, charming coastal villages, and a slower pace of life you hadn’t realised you'd missed.

Discover the places time forgot on this road trip around the East Cape. Along the way, you’ll encounter rural villages, cows strolling along empty beaches, and horses still being used as transport. Linking all this together will be State Highway 35, a winding, empty stretch of coastal road that resembles anything but a highway. This 334 km journey from Gisborne to Ōpōtiki typically takes 3-4 days – just enough time to unwind and soak it all in.

Day 1. Gisborne to Tokomaru Bay


Secluded bays


  • Dive Tatapouri
  • Cooks Cove Walkway
  • Café 35
89 KM

Begin your journey by exploring the beautiful seaside city of Gisborne. Highlights include boutique wineries, Rere Rockslide, Eastwoodhill Arboretum(opens in new window), and Gisborne Railbikes(opens in new window), where you’ll cycle along a disused railway line.

When you’re ready, head north onto State Highway 35. Stop at Tatapouri for the region's best wildlife encounter. On a Dive Tatapouri(opens in new window) tour you’ll walk onto the reef to interact with stingrays. Yes, you read that correctly. All that will be separating you and these wild creatures will be a few millimetres of rubber wader. But don’t panic, the guides are experts at handling these beautiful and very friendly animals.

Pull over at Tolaga Bay for one of the region’s most iconic photo ops. Here, you'll find the Tolaga Bay Wharf, which is Aotearoa New Zealand’s longest pier (and, probably, its most photographed). Take the Cooks Cove Walkway to find a naturally formed hole in a cliff overlooking a secluded cove.  Note, this walkway is closed for the lambing season from 1 August until Labour Day (fourth Monday of October).

Next, take a guided tour with Tipuna Tours(opens in new window) to learn about the Māori history and culture of the region. When you’re done, hit the road and continue north.

At Tokomaru Bay, visit Café 35(opens in new window) for a pāua (abalone) pie. These legendary pies, made with pāua sourced from the Chatham Islands, are regular contenders for New Zealand’s annual supreme pie awards. If you don't like seafood, they have a range of red meat options, including boil-up pies.

Settle in for the night at the Te Puka Tavern(opens in new window), which also offers affordable beachside apartments, or at The Post Office(opens in new window), an historic building that has been converted into a holiday home. 

Day 2. Tokomaru Bay to Te Kaha


Iconic landmarks


  • Maunga Hikurangi
  • Raukōkore Church
  • East Cape Lighthouse
170 KM

Take a guided tour to the summit of Maunga Hikurangi(opens in new window), the sacred mountain of Ngāti Porou (Māori tribe). From an elevation of 1,750 metres, you’ll see the extraordinary sights of the region and learn about the mountain’s historical and cultural significance for local Māori.

For lunch, head to the remote Māori settlement of Ruatōria, where you’ll find Kai Kart Café and Yummy Dumplings food trailer. Both places also make great coffee. 

Next, visit the East Cape Lighthouse on New Zealand’s eastern-most tip. Note, the winding road to reach the lighthouse offers spectacular scenery, but also a few hair-raising bends. Note, check with Maritime New Zealand(opens in new window) before you go. Access to the East Cape lighthouse can close due to severe weather events.  

Continue along the cape to find another local landmark: the Raukōkore Church. Perched in a lonely spot by the sea, this simple but elegant church is a must-visit for anyone interested in photography. 

Stop at the Nuthouse Café(opens in new window) in Whanarua Bay for homemade ice cream with macadamia and mānuka honey. Don’t forget to stock up on milk chocolate macadamia nuts and macadamia nut butter for the remainder of your journey.  

Your choice of overnight accommodation depends on whether you prefer seaside or forest scenery. Opt for Te Kaha Beach Hotel(opens in new window) for views overlooking the Bay of Plenty or choose Sheldrake Bnb(opens in new window) for pet-friendly accommodation that feels a bit like staying in a treehouse.  

Day 3. Te Kaha to Ōpōtiki


Motu River


  • Motu River Jet
  • Motu Trails
  • Hukutaia Domain
63 KM


Discover Motu Trails

Spend the morning travelling the ‘mighty’ Motu River on a Motu River Jet(opens in new window). This unforgettable experience takes you deep into Raukūmara Forest Park, where you’ll discover untouched native forest teeming with birdlife, the site of an historic Māori pā (village), and very few other people.

Next, make your way to a charming little cove called Opape Beach. Stop here for a quick dip or a stroll along the beach.

Finally, head to the rural town of Ōpōtiki, where State Highway 35 and the road trip officially end. But there’s still plenty to explore, including Hukutaia Domain, where you’ll find a 2,500-year-old Puriri tree and Motu Trails(opens in new window), which are some of New Zealand’s best cycling trails. 

Find accommodation along the touring route

Where To Next