33 + Awesome things to do in Gisborne NZ and nearby (Insider Ideas From a Local Gal!)

Created by Elly McGuinness

Last Updated: April 16, 2021

Located on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, Gisborne holds an incredibly special place in my heart. It’s my home town! Yep, I spent the first 17 years of my life growing up in this awesome beach town. Not only renowned for its chilled out, laid back vibe, there are also plenty of things to do in Gisborne NZ.

I now slow-travel around the world full time with my young family and consider the world as my home. However, Gisborne is still my most-special home! I’m excited to share some of my local knowledge and a few of the things I love about this place.

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It’s so much more than the name “Poverty Bay” may imply!

Captain James Cook was a British explorer. In 1769, he and his crew were the first Europeans to arrive in New Zealand, and Gisborne was the first place they landed. Captain Cook promptly named the area “Poverty Bay” when he didn’t receive all the provisions he wanted.

The Gisborne area is also known as “Turanganui-A-Kiwa” in Maori, one of New Zealand’s official languages. The region between Young Nick’s Head and Tuaheni point is now officially known as “Turanganui-A-Kiwa/Poverty Bay”

A petition was submitted by Gisborne school students to change back to the original Maori name. Subsequent submissions were considered before deciding on the dual name. You may also hear the Gisborne area being called “Tairawhiti”, another Maori name.

The combination of a stunning natural landscape, friendly locals, and a strong sense of culture and community make Gisborne an amazing place to visit. The word “poverty” certainly doesn’t do it justice, and I’m excited to share some of our favorite things to do in Gisborne with you.

Turanganui-a-kiwa-so much more than poverty bay-view of Sponge Bay island from Kaiti hill

Getting to the Gisborne area

You’ve got a few main options for getting to Gisborne, which is known as being a little bit isolated as its a few hours’ drive to the next closest city:

1.   Fly there

2.   Drive the “fast” way through the beautiful Waioeka gorge if you’re heading in from the North. The winding gorge road is full of beautiful native bush.

3.   Drive the slow way there via the East Cape if you’re heading in from the north. This coastal route takes in several beach villages.

4.   Drive through the Wharerata hills and enjoy more winding roads, if you’re arriving from the south.

Gisborne boardwalk-Waikanae to Midway stretch

The best things to do in Gisborne New Zealand

Try surfing, boogie boarding, or just splash about in the waves

Gisborne is a great place to add to your North Island itinerary, and I’m not only saying that because I grew up there! Two of the major draw cards are its laid back feel and world class surf beaches. 

If you’re interested, organize a surf lesson or hire a board. The town beaches generally have much gentler surf than Wainui beach, which is just out of town, and is our most famous surf beach.

You can also take stand up paddle board lessons or paddle in a kayak along the Gisborne rivers, if you prefer gentler waters!

things to do in Gisborne-surf, swim, splash in the waves-Colin and Ayla running into the water

Watch the sun come up in the world’s most Eastern city

Another little Gisborne claim to fame is that it’s the world’s most Eastern city (or “town” depending on who you ask. It’s classification is borderline!). If you’re talking towns or cities, Gisborne is the first place in the entire world to see the new day dawn.

I’d highly recommend choosing one of its wonderful beaches as a location to watch the sunrise. You can get up with the birds and know that you’ll be one of the first people in the world welcoming the new day in!

The best thing is that watching the sunrise is completely free. The two main town beaches are Waikanae and Midway. Wainui beach is about 5-10 minutes’ drive from town, which is where this shot was taken when we were house sitting for friends! 

Things to do in Gisborne-watch the sunrise in the first city to see the sun-wainui beach view

Titirangi Domain (Kaiti Hill) 

If you’re looking for scenic, and potentially physical Gisborne activities, check out Titirangi Domain, also known as Kaiti hill. You can drive up and enjoy incredible views over the vast expanse that is the Pacific Ocean, and also of the city.

If you’d prefer some physical activity, you can take an “easy” walk up. Of course, the difficulty level is a perceived thing, but it’s only 130m high, so it’s not like a half-day hike or anything. You can walk up the road, and over the other side, and then back over again! If you choose this option, be very careful of the traffic. Some cars drive much too fast up the road.

Better yet, walk the 2.4km loop trail. Use the fitness course if you feel inclined, and make sure to pause and enjoy the various lookout points. You can also check out the Captain Cook monument and observatory. Enjoying all that is on offer at Titirangi domain is definitely one of our highly recommended things to do in Gisborne.

Things to do in Gisborne-Walk up Titirangi domain-Kaiti hill-city view from a lookout

Chill out at Gisborne Library

As full time travelers, one thing we really miss in most of the countries we visit are libraries. New Zealand is full of incredible libraries. It’s something that locals might take for granted, as you’ll probably find one in every town.

Hang out at the library if you’re looking for things to do in Gisborne on a rainy day, especially if you have kids! You can sit and read books, and there are some study areas too. The Gisborne library often has activities going on for kids, especially over the summer holiday period and during other school holidays. So make sure you ask or pick up some information leaflets while you’re in there.

Things to do in Gisborne-chill out at the Gisborne library in town

Gisborne Olympic pool complex

Gisborne’s Olympic pools are one of the popular places to visit in Gisborne, especially in the summertime. In the cooler months, you can still enjoy swimming laps in the covered and heated swimming pool. Or you can book in to use the therapy pool (spa).

In the summer months, even more is on offer. There’s a large outdoor kids pool, which sometimes even features a rope swing into the pool. The fast and fun hydroslide is hugely popular, as is the diving pool with two different heights to choose from. 

Toddlers aren’t forgotten, with an awesome shallow pool and fun slide for the tiny ones. The Gisborne Olympic pools complex is a great spot for a summer’s day out. There’s also a bbq area so you can bring your own food to cook. Or, you can just chill out on the grass, and the kids can play in the playground. Ask about other things such as aqua fitness classes, and swimming lessons.

The olympic pools are located directly across the road from Midway Beach surf life saving club. So you can also visit the beach afterwards if you’d like to! Across the road to the side of the pools you’ll also find some good playgrounds, and a cool little paved area for kids to ride their bikes and scooters and practice learning road rules.

Visit a winery

Gisborne has this wonderful warm microclimate. The combination of the great sunshine, top winemakers, and fertile soil make it an excellent wine-producing region. Gisborne is especially well-known for it’s excellent chardonnay. Other top varieties include Gewurztraminer and Merlot.

Try one of the beautiful and highly-rated Gisborne wineries in the countryside, such as Bushmere Estate or Matawhero Wines. Or pop along to the Gisborne Wine Centre, conveniently located on the Esplanade in town. The food here is also fantastic.

Things to do in Gisborne-baby shower with friends at the Gisborne Wine centre-Crawford Road kitchen

Gray’s bush

If you’re after things to do in Gisborne and you really love nature, you can’t miss Grey’s bush. Located down back Ormond Road, it’s just a stone’s throw from the town centre (about 10 minutes drive), but it feels a world away. 

The reserve consists of a beautiful landscape of surviving original New Zealand bush. It’s the only example of such on the Gisborne plains. From tall old trees (400-500 years old!) and dense native undergrowth to an abundance of birdlife, it’s a beautiful place for a stroll.

Gray’s bush is both wheelchair and stroller accessible, and there are two well-maintained, and easy walking tracks (15-60 minutes). Just leave your dog at home!

Things to do in Gisborne-Gray's Bush Scenic Reserve-Ayla sitting on giant tree root

Tairawhiti museum

Tairawhiti museum is another great example to add to your itinerary of things to do in Gisborne on a rainy day. At only $5 entry, and free for under 12’s and locals, it’s an affordable, and interesting place to visit. 

Learn about Maori culture and the local area via the exhibitions and events. The kids will love exploring the Star of Canada, a cargo steamer that was shipwrecked on the rocks of the Gisborne foreshore, and now rests here permanently. As the oldest European house still standing in Gisborne, Wyllie cottage is another popular attraction here.

Things to do in Giborne-Tairawhiti museum-Ayla playing in the Star of Canada ship

Eastwoodhill National Arboretum

Eastwoodhill National Arboretum is located about 30 minutes drive from Gisborne. It’s a beautiful nature area to visit, especially during the changing seasons (most notably spring and autumn). It’s full of both exotic and native trees and has an amazing nature playground, as well as walking trails.

The walking trails are well-labeled. We did the 45 minute ‘red leaf’ trail with Ayla when she had just turned three. I was so proud of her because it was the first trail she had walked any length of. (She went on to climb a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia on her 4th birthday, and also completed a walk of a few hours in Penang, Malaysia when she was just four!)

She did most of the red leaf trail herself. I only carried her for 5-10 minutes! I managed to keep her on track by giving her the job of finding the red leaves to follow and telling her about how wonderful and strong her legs were!

She was also motivated on the walk because she knew that her older friend Ben had been on a five day tramp with his dad. She thought this sounded pretty cool, so I explained that the trails like the ones at Eastwood hill are a perfect training ground!

Overall, Eastwood Hill is just gorgeous and we’d highly recommend a visit as part of your itinerary of things to do in Gisborne

Things to do near Gisborne-Eastwood Hill National Arboretum-playground-Ayla

River and beachside walkways

Gisborne has some beautiful city centre walkways that have gradually been getting connected over time. The routes are flat, easy, and wheelchair-accessible, and can be used for walking, cycling, and jogging. Walk the boardwalks/concreted paths along the city rivers and beaches and take some of the most scenic areas in the city. It’s an absolute must-do for your list of things to do in Gisborne.

(That’s me with my dad, mum, brother, and Ayla in the Gisborne boardwalk photo below!)

Things to do in Gisborne-family walks along the Giborne boardwalks-Waikanae to Midway beach section

Walk the track up to Makarori headland and the Okitu Bush Track across the road

Ok, so if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ve probably realized that hiking is always a major feature in my “things to do in XYZ” posts. I just love it! And you’re probably realizing that there are plenty of great walking tracks and trails to choose from in Gisborne.

The Makarori headland walkway is short and sweet, with some incredibly rewarding views over the extensive surrounding coastline. You’ll get your heart rate up but it’s super short and so beautiful. There is a car park at the bottom where you can begin the walk from.

Because it’s short, you might want to combine this walk with a walk around the beautiful (and also short) Okitu bush trail, just across the road. Be very careful if you’re crossing the road though. Cars can come zooming around the corner from up the coast.

Things to do in Gisborne-Okitu bush scenic reserve walk-Elly with Romy

Walk out to Sponge Bay Island at low tide

If you go up the lookout on Kaiti Hill, you’ll be able to see Sponge Bay island, off the coast of Kaiti beach. It’s possible to walk out there if you time it right and go at low tide, so make sure you check the tides!

It’s not a walk we would have taken our then three-year-old on, so Colin and I went together as a date. There was a lot of rock stepping and water wading, plus scrambling through the bush as we looked around the island. So consider adding this mini-adventure to your list of things to do in Gisborne (which we would now also choose to take our very active seven-year-old on).

Things to do in Gisborne-walk to Sponge Bay Island-Colin thumbs up after walk

Visit Waihirere Domain

About 9km from Gisborne (further along back Ormond road, and past Gray’s bush) is Waihirere Domain. It’s a nice area for a picnic and has a very old playground, but it kept Ayla very happy at three years old!

The best feature though is the beautiful 1-hour return walk to a mini waterfall. We saw a few birds and goats, and there was a little pool at the end of the walk. I was hoping to fill our drink bottles with some delicious fresh spring water, but I noticed an oily film on top of the water, so it clearly wasn’t pristine and we weren’t going to drink it.

It’s sad that so many waterways in New Zealand are actually quite polluted. Although work is being done to clean them up, the waterways don’t always live up to the “clean green” image that New Zealand is supposedly well-known for.

Things to do in Gisborne-Waihirere Domain waterfall walk-Ayla in the water

Whataupoko Mountain bike park

Up near the end of Fox street, you’ll find a pretty cool mountain bike park with 7km of trails, and some nice views. If you don’t have a mountain bike, the trails are also suitable for walking, so you can add them to your trail walking list.

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Te Kuri Farm Walkway

Yep, there’s another fantastic walkway in Gisborne that involves a steady climb where you’ll be rewarded with some incredible panoramic views. A little longer than some of the other walks I’ve mentioned, it’s a 2-3 hour loop walk (5.6 km). Make sure you take water with you and be aware that the walkway is closed during lambing season.

Things to do in Gisborne NZ-view from Te Kuri Farm Walkway

Botanical gardens

The Gisborne botanical gardens are a lovely spot to hang out with, especially if you have kids. The playground there has certainly had an upgrade since I was a kid, and it’s pretty awesome. Take the tiniest bush boardwalk track ever, check out the plants and birds, and enjoy a picnic near the riverbank. Certainly, consider adding it to your itinerary of things to do in Gisborne!

Things to do in Gisborne-Botanical gardens playground by the river-Claire and Ayla

Watch a movie at the dome cinema

The dome cinema is a super-awesome movie experience. It’s super cozy with beanbags for seats. Order your pizza and drinks, and sit back and relax. We highly recommend the experience!

The Odeon Multiplex is more of a standard type of cinema in the city, so you can check that one out if you prefer.

Play mini golf

The mini-golf course in Gisborne is located at the Gisborne i-site and is a fun activity if you’re looking for things to do in Gisborne. You can grab any other information you need about things to do in Gisborne while you’re there. There’s also a skatepark across the road, which is fun if you have kids with scooters or bikes.

The i-site is not far down the road from Waikanae beach. So you could always head down that way afterward for ice cream at Captain Morgans, or a walk along the boardwalk or beach.

Play tennis

If you can get hold of some tennis rackets and balls, there’s a tennis court that anyone can use down at Waikanae beach, next to the holiday park there. It’s right next to the playground, so kids will also enjoy that. And of course, you can enjoy a swim or walk along the beach afterward.

Rere Falls

If you’re looking for things to do in Gisborne and don’t mind a little drive out into the countryside, Rere falls is about a 45-minute drive from the city. It’s a beautiful 10m waterfall where you can take a picnic, have a little splash, and just enjoy the beautiful nature.

Things to do near Gisborne-Rere fall picnic area-Tiniroto

Rere Rockslide and the Champagne Pools

Not far along the road from Rere falls, is the Rere rockslide. It’s definitely on the tourist radar of Gisborne things to do and see now, especially due to popular videos like the one below. 

The rockslide itself is free to use. Just bring your own boogie board, or tube to slide down on. We have seen people slide down without them too. The rocks are smoothed over somewhat, from all the rushing water. However, bear in mind, they’re still rocks, and injuries can happen!

You need to know the basics of using a boogie board to keep clear of the rocks on the sides at the bottom. While you’re cruising down on a board on your stomach, keep the front of your board lifted slightly, your knees up, and elbows in! 

If you do it well, you should skim across the water nicely at the bottom! We didn’t take our daughter on it at three years old. I thought she was still a little small for it, but it’s always fun to watch others zoom down it.

Even if you’re not up for the slide itself, it’s a great spot for a picnic. And here’s a bit of local insider knowledge…

Splash about in the natural Champagne Pools

After you’ve been to the rockslide, head a little further along the road (maybe about 200m from memory?). Here, you can access a little track down to the champagne pools from the left-hand side of the road. The natural pools are such an amazing hidden gem. You can jump off a rock into the lovely cool water, slide down a little mini waterfall, and play in nature to your heart’s content. 

We took many day trips as teenagers to take in the rockslide and the Champagne pools. It’s a pretty epic and fun summer’s day out.

Doneraille Park

Doneraille Park is a lovely camping area near Gisborne. At 61km from the town, it’s also a great option for a day trip. Play in the gentle river rapids, take a picnic, and maybe even consider visiting the beautiful Awapiko waterfall nearby.

We used to love swimming at the waterfall as teenagers in the Gisborne summer. Visiting comes with plenty of personal responsibility, including very slow and careful driving on the unpaved, windy road to get there. 

Make sure you pack all your rubbish out and be aware that facilities here are very limited to none. Pollution in this once unspoilt area has been an issue at times. This is due to an increased number of visitors who aren’t respectful of this area of natural beauty.

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Snorkel at the Marine Reserve

Go for a snorkel at the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako marine reserve, located 16km up the coast from Gisborne. Because it has been a protected area for a while, the sea life there has flourished.

Take a day trip or longer to Tolaga Bay

Located about 45 minutes drive up the coast from Gisborne, Tolaga Bay was the spot we used to go camping as a family (and with extended family!) every summer. Walk along the 600m wharf (and jump off the end into the ocean, of course). 

Try the beautiful Cooks Cove walkway, which you’ll start before you reach Tolaga. Or go to the other end of Tolaga Bay. You can enjoy walking around the rocks at low tide and take a walk up to the lookout point there.

Day trip to Tolaga Bay-lookout walkway-Ayla at top

Climb Mount Hikurangi

If you’re up for an epic adventure, consider climbing Mount Hikurangi. Stay in the hut up there, and then climb to the peak early in the morning to catch the sunrise. Or you can watch it from outside the hut like my friend Sue and I did.

I’ve written a full post about this adventure, which you can read all about here.

Things to do between Gisborne and Napier-Morere hot springs-cabin stay across the road

Things to do between Napier and Gisborne

Morere Hot Springs

Morere hot springs make an excellent day trip from Gisborne, or stopover on your Gisborne to Napier route. These are genuine thermal springs where you can relax in mineral-rich water. 

Through the entrance is a lovely picnic and bbq area. There’s a cool outdoor pool and a warm indoor pool. Take a five-minute walk up the track through the beautiful native bush to the pools and changing rooms at the top.

Here you’ll find three smaller pools. One is a super cold plunge pool, which is perfect for anyone who likes to practice the Wim Hof Method! The other two pools range between warm and hot (i.e. one is hotter than the other).

You can also opt to book a private pool, or enjoy some other beautiful walks there. Colin and I stayed at the cabins across the road for a couple of nights. It was a cheap and relaxing getaway spot. As guests in the cabins we were even allowed to arrange to use the pools late in the evening, which was just perfect.

Things to do between Gisborne and Napier-Morere hot springs-cabin stay across the road

Visit the Mangaone caves

The Mangaone caves are not hugely well-known, but they are well worth the visit! Located between Gisborne and Wairoa (just 5km South of Morere), the Mangaone cave track is an easy one to explore. We took Ayla when we were on our way to Mahia Peninsula. Again, she had just turned three.

Discover the gorgeous cave full of formations such as stalactites and stalagmites after a 20 minute walk through private farmland. The turnoff from the main road is signposted, but honestly, you’ve got to look closely for it. It was a small yellow sign last time we visited.

After parking your car on the small grassy verge, there’s a short, steep walk up the hill to begin with. You’ll no doubt pass by plenty of cow poo on the way to the cave, and when you get there you’ll notice it’s very dark (of course, it’s a cave). So bring your torch, or preferably a head torch to have your hands free.

The ground was muddy and wet when we were there. There are ladders you can climb to explore deeper into the crevices if you want an extra little bit of adventure.

Things to do between Gisborne and Napier-Mangaone caves walk and exploration

Visit Mahia Peninsula

If you’re after an ultra-quiet and laid-back vibe, visit Mahia Peninsula. You’ll turn off to Mahia Peninsula on the drive between Gisborne and Napier. You can walk the lovely, and well-maintained Mahia Peninsula scenic reserve track in amongst the dense vegetation, or simply enjoy hanging out at the beach.

Things to do between Napier and Gisborne-Mahia Peninsula Beaches-Ayla playing in sand

Lake Waikaremoana

Located 80km from Gisborne, and 60km Northwest of Wairoa,  Lake Waikaremoana is simply stunning. To get there, you’ll turn off the Napier to Gisborne road. The lake is a well-loved destination for kiwis who love fishing or tramping, and there is a 3-4 day tramp on offer there. 

Of course, you can just visit for the day if you like, and try part of the hike – a steep walk up to Panekire Bluff, and back down again. The full 3-4 day hike is known as one of New Zealand’s great walks. We hope to complete it next time we are home. I’ve just done the walk to Panekire Bluff as part of a day trip before, but haven’t gone further around the trail.

Other things to do in Gisborne or nearby

By now you’re probably past asking the question: “Is Gisborne worth visiting?” In my humble (and ok, slightly biased) opinion, it absolutely is!

I haven’t even covered everything on offer. A few other ideas include:

  • The Gisborne railbike adventure, which is a relatively new and unique Gisborne attraction. We are definitely going to try it out next time we are home!
  • Visit crazy caterpillars indoor playground if you have kids, it’s a rainy day, and you just want a coffee and a break. It’s not amazing by International standards, but it should keep the kids super happy for some time!
  • Try the stingray experience with Dive Tatapouri. This is another one we haven’t tried yet.
  • Take a ride along Gisborne’s vintage railway. The restored steam locomotive takes you on a slow and scenic ride from Gisborne to Muruwai in the countryside. We haven’t been on it yet but intend to next time we visit. Make sure you check out their website for information on upcoming trips, as they only run on specific dates. Sometimes this is just a couple of times each month, or less often.

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A final local’s tip about things to do in Gisborne…

If you really want a local experience, go jump off the bridge in the city, into the river below. Best to watch some of the local kids doing it first, to make sure you do it right. If not, just make sure you do it at your own risk, at high tide, and watch out for rowing boats that could be gliding along underneath the bridge.

So there you have it. A little slice of heaven that is called Gisborne, New Zealand. It’s a place I’m very proud to call my original home. If you’d like to join the conversation and have any questions or comments about the Gisborne region, please leave them below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Elly McGuinness

Elly has been inspiring people to make sustainable changes to their health, fitness and lifestyle for 20+ years. She takes a holistic approach to wellbeing, is the creator of the Holistic Health Highway and is the author of the Amazon 5-star reviewed book ‘Burning Fat for Good’ which you can get here.


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