The Gisborne Lifestyle: A Land of Plenty… and Plenty of Fun
By Justine Tyerman
A little city by the name of Gisborne on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island has what the rest of the world has lost… or is looking for. Peace, prosperity, freedom, space, pure air, pristine beaches, abundant sunshine (Gisborne weather is generally temperate), generous people, and land so fertile that when we rip weeds out of the garden, they take root again and continue to grow. Ahhh... the Gisborne lifestyle!
New arrivals to Gisborne are awestruck by the beauty of this seaside gem on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, encircled by a horseshoe of green hills. They cannot believe their good fortune to have discovered this most easterly city in the world, first on the planet to see the light of each new day. You can see the joie de vivre on their faces, as if they hold the key to paradise. It’s good for us to mingle with such folk because they refresh our sense of wonder at how blessed we are to call this place home.
An American friend of mine tells me that the fact the ozone layer is a little thinner here is a good thing.
“It means Gisborne is closer to Heaven,” she says. The proof? All her prayers were answered when she and her husband left the United States nine years ago and came to live in Gisborne, in a beautiful house on several acres of lush farmland overlooking stunning Wainui Beach.
Her husband, a veteran surfer, was astonished when he first moved here. Accustomed to crowded waves, he often found himself the only person on the beach with his pick of perfect, world-class breaks. And he couldn’t believe the Gisborne real estate values; he didn’t need to forfeit his soul to buy their gorgeous beach-view waterfront home. A similar property in California would have cost many millions, he says.
The Gisborne Lifestyle... is a Land of Plenty
Like pretty much everyone who lives here, our friends love Gisborne for its smallness. Known to the locals as ‘Gizzy’, it’s a compact city with a population of just 37,000 where everything is handy. A trip across town takes five-six minutes, we park right outside the shop, hair salon, or restaurant we’re going to, and rush-hour traffic is a queue of 10 vehicles at the main set of lights in the business district. We are spoilt!
People from high-stress big cities relish the laidback, cruisy lifestyle, long hours of sunshine, and the generous, down-to-earth, unassuming, practical Kiwis who live here. There’s a groundedness and a complete absence of pretension among Gisborne inhabitants.
Newcomers are delighted at the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood here, baskets of which arrive on your doorstep when a friend has a surplus. There’s seldom a need to buy such things as citrus, kiwifruit, squash, apples, and avocados because someone you know usually has a bucket or two to give away.
Two large crayfish were thrust into my hands the other day as a thank you gift for helping a friend. My husband came home from golf at the weekend with a sack of squash from his golfing buddy. My hiking friend left a bucket of mandarins at my door. We reciprocated with tomatoes, avocados, beans, feijoas, persimmons...
The Gisborne Lifestyle... is Fun Things to Do
The Gisborne region is also renowned for its luscious wines. Sheltered by hills and mountain ranges, Gisborne’s warm, dry climate is moderated by the nearby Pacific Ocean with its cooling afternoon sea breezes, typical of many of the world’s great wine-growing regions. These conditions help preserve natural acidity and tropical fruit flavours in the wine, while the fine clay and silt loam soils create full-flavoured aromatic wines with ‘a haunting marine note’, thanks to the proximity to the sea. Few regions in New Zealand compete with the sheer diversity of grape varieties grown in Gisborne.
As for dining out, we eat so well at home and at friends’ places, it takes a lot to drag us out to a restaurant. But the town is well-served with a variety of excellent eateries, with the best Gisborne restaurants offering everything from casual to fine dining.
Never underestimate this little town. It’s full of eyebrow raising surprises like Rhythm and Vines, one of the top venues in the world in which to see in the New Year. It’s so popular, in fact, that the three-day music festival is due to celebrate its 17th year at Waiohika Estate this year.
And Rocket Lab, the world’s first private rocket launch pad, was established two years ago at the tip of the Mahia Peninsula, just south of Gisborne. The local newspaper, The Gisborne Herald – one of only four independently-owned newspapers left in New Zealand – recently reported Rocket Lab had so far put 24 satellites into orbit from Mahia.
The Gisborne Lifestyle... is a Celebration of History
There’s a wealth of fascinating history in Gisborne. Maori landed their voyaging waka (canoes) on our shores in the 14thcentury after navigating their way across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki by the stars.
This year, the Te Ha Sestercentennial (250 years) commemorates the arrival here of British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook and his ship, the HMS Endeavour, in October 1769. Cook’s first footfall on Aotearoa-New Zealand soil and the first formal meetings between Maori and European happened right here on our shores.
Captain Cook named the region Poverty Bay because he could not find the supplies here that he needed for his ship and crew. It’s a serious misnomer for this land of plenty, one of the most fertile areas of New Zealand.
However, the bay will soon have a new name that dates back centuries. In October 2018, the New Zealand Geographic Board Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa confirmed a proposal to change the name of Poverty Bay to Turanganui a Kiwa / Poverty Bay. Turanganui a Kiwa means ‘the great or long-standing place of Kiwa’, the navigator of the Horouta waka (canoe). Kiwa was first to step ashore on the beach near the Turanganui River about 700 years ago.
The greater East Coast region has a mellifluous Maori name which seems to capture the essence of the place for me: Tairawhiti – ‘the coast upon which the sun shines across the water’.
Contributing Editor Justine Tyerman is an award-winning travel writer, journalist, and sub-editor from Gisborne, New Zealand, with 20 years’ experience in newspaper and freelance work. Check out her work at www.just-write.co.nz and Tyerman’s Travels Facebook.