Traffic in the communal kitchen of the YHA picked up early with a large group of American students trooping in for a bite before starting their study tour for the day. Most of them had toasts with peanut butter and jam. Breakfast for us consisted of fruits, muesli and milk. Sandwiches were packed for lunch. Bags were stuffed into the car and we were ready to leave earlier than programmed. Route for the day was set as Whakatane Beach – Opotiki – Gisborne. I had toyed with the idea of taking the route via Hicks Bay and decided to drive through the Opotiki Gorge instead.
The Whakatane Beach turned out to be a very minimal experience, due to rain and redevelopment in the beach area. The town is less than 90 km from Rotorua and lies at the mouth of the Whakatane River. It is the third largest town in the Bay of Plenty region, besides Tauranga and Rotorua. Whakatane is claimed to have been inhabited by Polynesian settlers since 1150 AD. A rock near the beach carries a metal female figure, as a memorial to Wairaka, a chieftainess, who saved the canoe Mataatua from drifting, somewhere around 1350 AD. The earliest Maori settlements were in what is now called the Whakatane Heads, which overlooks the beach. The majestic Mount Maunganui stands stately in the background.
The town has a lovely Maori center called Mataatua, where one can appreciate Maori culture and traditions. The Mataatua is the most travelled meeting house and New Zealand’s only repatriated Maori center, having been moved from city to city between 1879 and 1996. This beautiful carved house is manned by proud, but extremely friendly, Maoris who showed us around and put on a 7-minute video documentary showcasing their traditions.
The Waioeka Journey is the highlight of the drive from Opotiki to Gisborne. The stunning Waioeka Gorge is the longest in North Island. The gorge winds through rivers and extensive farmlands and the views that such a landscape would afford is the main reason for choosing this route over the coastal hicks Bay route. However, incessant and, at times, heavy, rain put paid to our desire of feasting on the sights along the way. Rain ensured that the wipers were always on with some windshield misting and possibility of skidding on the tyre paths along the way. The drive was, nevertheless, enjoyable. When the rain eased up a bit, after the gorge was long over, we stopped for a short eat about 60 km short of Gisborne. The delightful views from that rest location will long remain in the mind. Light drizzle drove up back into the car and onwards to the Waikanae Beach Motel, where we were scheduled to halt the night.
The Motel was just a stone’s throw away from the beach and, therefore, the name of the motel was justified. The pleasant old lady completed the formalities quickly and gave us keys to two lovely rooms, cozy, commodious and comfortable. After a cup of coffee we left for the information centre from where we gathered what we could do in the short while that we would be in the town. The lady told us about the statues of Captain Cook and his handyman and the landing point of Captain Cook. I lost directions given by Google Maps and gave up the search for the statues. Instead, we drove to the Port of Gisborne and hit pay dirt. At the entrance to the log yard of the port is an obelisk on a square base commemorating the landing of Captain Cook in Gisborne in October 1769 and a plaque beneath it gives details of the celebration of the bicentennial of the landing in Poverty Bay. The Port is busy with overwhelming traffic of logs, presumably pinewood.
When I was walking around on the beach clicking away on the beautiful sights of the sunset I found a middle-aged woman picking shells from the beach in a plastic container. The container was soon more than full and she collected some more in the folds of her skirt. I saw her struggling with her ‘finds’ on the beach and went up to her and saw the lovely collection. As she was huffing and puffing her way on the beach I offered her help to carry the heavy container to her car. When I took the container in my hands and saw how far her car was parked I realized that the generous offer I had made would tax my shoulders and arms. I had a bright conversation with the supremely talented lady. She uses shells for craftwork; she turns them into various priceless exhibits which she sells on the gypsy trail called Extravaganza, which keeps her and husband, Douglas on the road for over seven months in a year. They are home in New Plymouth for less than four months during the year. They travel around in a Caravan, which is their home and workshop. Their son, she told me, is a very talented musician and daughter a theatre artist.