After spending nine long months working in Auckland, it was finally time for us to start our month and a half long road trip through New Zealand’s south island before heading on to Asia! We opted to forego the direct route down to the bottom of the north island and visit the east coast on our way down instead. Gisborne, Napier, the Putangirua Pinnacles, and Cape Palliser were all on our list of things to see before reaching Wellington.
Gisborne wasn’t necessarily our destination as much as Rere Rockslide was. We had stumbled across this natural rock slide on Facebook, seeing a video of people racing down it on boogie boards. Before visiting we had bought a cheap air mattress and even though it was the middle of spring in New Zealand, which means it wasn’t warm, we were set to go down the slide.
We reached the rockslide after a 40 minute drive from Gisborne. The first thing to greet us at the slide was a big sign, stating that the water quality was not up to health standards and swimming wasn’t recommended. The sign gave us some concerns, but there were a few locals already in the water and going down the slide, so we thought we’d give it a shot. The rockslide was a lot longer than we expected, it looked definitely shorter in all the videos. We first watched a few other people going down before we grabbed our air mattress. David took one for the team and went first, as I still wasn’t totally convinced, especially after putting a foot into the freezing cold water.
David carefully waded across the stream and down he went. When he came back up and said that it was fun, although he spotted a dead deer at the edge of the pool at the bottom, I overcame my doubts and headed into the water as well. The hardest part was the freezing water and walking through the stream to the starting point. The ride down itself was fun and not at all painful (although it definitely looks like a bumpy ride). Hitting the bottom pool with the deep freezing cool water and swimming to the shore was the least pleasant part of the rockslide, but the experience was definitely good over all.
We were a bit disappointed by how the rockslide actually looks compared to the videos. The water quality is a real concern and unfortunately a lot of people have left their trash everywhere, which makes the area a relatively unpleasant place. We watched a couple of locals discard their broken styrofoam boogie boards straight down the slide. If you’re in the area and it’s a nice (preferably summer) day, a visit to the Rere rockslide can be fun, but in our opinion it is not worth doing a big detour just for that.
Te Ana Falls
A little further on our way from Auckland down south we stumbled across a beautiful waterfall. Just next to the highway about 30 minutes before Napier, we suddenly saw a sign on our left side, saying track to Te Ana Falls. We had some spare time, so we decided to check them out. The track was about 40 minutes round trip and another 15 minutes each way to a second waterfall, Tangoio Falls.
Not knowing what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised when we reached Te Ana Falls. The waterfall wasn’t incredibly high, but the setting was beautiful. After a while we decided to move on and also check out the second waterfall. It was a steep climb up the hill, and we were hoping for another pleasant surprise, but when we reached the lookout, we were disappointed. Tangoio Falls didn’t look very impressive, at least not from far away and there was no way to get a closer look.
We spent a few hours checking out Napier, but unfortunately Cape Kidnappers was off limits due to the gannets hatching, and the city’s art deco downtown was a bit underwhelming. While it was a pleasant place, we moved on quicker than we had planned.
One place on the southern end of the North Island was very high on our to do list: the Putangirua Pinnacles. The rock formations look surreal and served as the filming location for a few scenes of the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The start of the hike to the Pinnacles was well marked from the main road heading toward Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island of New Zealand. There are a couple of different shorter or longer hikes in the area, we decided to hike to the Pinnacles and the lookout over them, which would end up taking us around two hours total.
The hike led us along a river bed for a while until we saw the beginning of the Pinnacles. Up to then the path was flat and easy, but moving further toward the Pinnacles, the track got a little steeper. The rock formations looked incredible, tall, skinny rock structures forming small pathways between them. As they were caused by erosion, this can also cause a problem for visitors. Rockfalls are possible and the Pinnacles may disappear or look very different in the future. We walked around between the Pinnacles for a while and could definitely recognize the place from the Lord of the Rings movie.
After a while we headed back down the path anf then turned right toward the Pinnacles Lookout. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the lookout. The view was spectacular and totally worth the climb up. It had been really cool wandering between the Pinnacles, but seeing them from above gave a whole different perspective of the sheer size of them. From the view point we also got our first good look at some of the mountains on the South Island in the distance.
Cape Palliser is the southernmost point of the North Island and probably most known for its lighthouse standing on a cliff and a seal colony below it. From the Pinnacles it took us around 20 minutes to get to the Cape Palliser lighthouse, the last 5 kms of the road were a rough dirt road, but it was worth the effort.
From afar we could already see the red and white striped lighthouse sitting high up on a rock. A long stairway with over 200 steps lead up the rock to the Cape Palliser lighthouse. We scrambled up the rock behind the lighthouse to get a better view, and it looked like plenty of people had the same idea before us based on the rough trail over the guard rail. From up higher the view proved to be amazing, overlooking the lighthouse and the bay. We also managed spot a few seals, so we headed back down to get a closer look.
Just below the lighthouse we walked onto the rocky beach, and there they were: dozens of seals laying around lazily on the rocks. We got pretty close to them and they didn’t seem to mind, barely looking up to see what was going on. Among all the big adult ones, we also spotted one baby seal sleeping on a big rock.
Between the Pinnacles and the Cape, the trip proved to be a great way to cap off our time on the north island. Heading toward Wellington we were excited to catch the Picton Ferry the next morning and finally visit the beautiful south island the locals had told us so much about!