The Pacific Coast Highway (SH 35) is a motorway that stretches the entire rugged East Cape of New Zealand’s North Island, and also touted as one of the most scenic drives in the world.
We completed our journey along this magnificent but incredibly difficult 420km stretch (possibly longer, since we started off at Rotorua towards Opotiki) first to Gisborne and later completing the other stretch to Napier the next day, and got looks of disbelief from several people after recounting this crazy move of ours for trying this in a day or 2. It was for most part, a completely isolating drives in one of the most remote parts of the country with nary a shop or petrol station – I think I could have been the only one with human hair for miles – but also one of the most varied and at times, the most spectacular.
It was dusk before we hit Gisborne, and still racing through the end of the last 50km towards the city when night fell. Craig and Tracey Williams are chatty, social and wonderful hosts with the added advantage of having 2 kittens in their care. With much gratitude I fell into bed not long after dinner at The Rivers.
This route quite possibly encompasses all that one might need to be initiated into what I might term the “grown-up” driver: all manner of roadkill, numerous potholes to avoid on high speed, hairpin turns, corkscrews, stupid idiots masquerading as drivers, washed out roads, a maori on a galloping horse, unmarked lanes, single lane bridges, nice cafe owners and finally curious cows/sheep that are surprisingly loud in the valleys. Look ma, no hands! I think I’ve just grown up.
Napier is the last stop on the east coast on my itinerary before I head to Wellington the next day. Levelled by an earthquake and fire in 1931, the entire town was rebuilt in the Art Deco style that was characteristic of the zeitgeist defining the early decades of the 1900s. Walking through the city centre is like finding oneself displaced in a Miami-vice set with Al Capone calling the shots behind all the businesses while flapper girls rush out in frilly dresses to soothe Indiana Jones’ frazzled nerves.
My visit to the East Cape however, coincides with the Olympics 2012 and more often than not, I found it hard to decide between staying in, watching swimming events and going out to explore a new town. The tough 15 minute walk a steep uphill to my accommodation is certainly incentive enough not to move?