Although I have not travelled in this area for quite a long time I suppose the drive along the Bay of Plenty to the East Cape has not changed a lot. After you have left the relatively busy tourist towns of Tauranga/Mt. Maunganui and Whakatane/Ohope behind, you get a feeling for the old NZ where life happens at a lower pace.
The sad thing about Tauranga and Whakatane, especially the Tauranga area, is that we nearly always see it in negative light on the TV news, for gang-related crimes, and out-of-control youths. This is a pity as the stretch between Mt. Maunganui and Ohope is nearly one endless sandy beach you should enjoy. In Te Puke is Kiwifruit Country where you can learn everything about NZ's national fruit. From Whakatane you can make trips to volcanic White Island, and inland to Te Urewera Nat. Park.
Shortly before Opotiki you should stop at a carpark with two huge wooden poles and learn a bit about Maori history as you now enter a region which is easily recognisable as Maori land, with lots of Marae (meeting grounds), small colonial churches and vast uninhabited landscapes, sheep or cows on the road.
This place is called "Te Ara ki te Rawhiti" - the Pathway to the Sunrise. You find carvings of Tarawa, the ancestor from Hawaiki, with a fish, the canoe Te Tohora. On the other pole is Rawhiti, the rising sun - and the rest of NZ history: Pakeha and Wahine (white and Maori people), Kiwi, Fern and Pine, and Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forest.
The trip is magic around the end of the year as the whole coast wears a red ribbon of flowering pohutokawa, which is as magic as on the Coromandel, and the sea is shimmering turquoise-blue.
We stopped a million times to photograph incredible bays and picture-postcard views, as the road meanders softly up and down along the coast. And all those Maori places...
Outstandingly beautiful places were Te Kaha Tukaki with its Marae, and a nice white church, amidst grazing horses and cows, or Raukokore with its lonesome Anglican church, next to a huge pine tree.
In Waihau Bay you just have to stop, so spectacular is its location. Funnily enough we nearly drove into a cow on the road near Cape Runaway ;-)
And then you reach Hicks Bay and the East Cape, and the magic gets just better...
My (second) photo and the actual name of this attraction are no more identical. In 2004 the name "Kiwifruit Country" was changed into "Kiwi360". And you can read a lenghty esplanation why. To me it is one of those cases when PR and advertising experts think too much. A good name does not need such explanations like the one I read on the "Kiwi360" website:
"In 2004, we became Kiwi360. A name change was a natural progression for the business, better reflecting our vision to become a hub of attractions and events at an international level. The use of 360 (degrees) speaks to our all-embracing focus on those things that make New Zealand special – our cultures, peoples, land, history and industry.
The Kiwi360 Logo device is the shape of a kiwifruit slice, made up of Maori canoe paddles (waka hoe). The inclusion of Waka Hoe symbolises the land's Maori heritage, the Mana Whenua of this land to the Tauranga Moana Iwi, and the orderly cooperation between peoples which has resulted in the success of our business."
Still the main thing they do there is growing kiwifruit - which comes from China ("Chinese Gooseberry") and was first planted in NZ in 1904.
But ok... Te Puke ("The Hill") sits on Maori land and is now owned by a Maori trust. So let's have our kiwifruit with canoe paddles.
At Kiwi360 you can learn everything about the fruit that has been commercially exported since 1953. Nearly 90% of NZ's exports to 78 countries in the world - 80 million trays - are grown in the Te Puke region.
Kiwifruit grows on vines which are higher, thicker and wilder than those of wine grapes. The guided 40 minute tour on a childish train (KiwiKart) leads through the orchards where you will see different varieties, and learn that one male plant is needed in every row, so the bees can do their pollination job. I hope that the weight measure of ripe kiwi fruit still takes place in a kind of kiwifruit throwing machine - the lightest ones fly far, the heavy ones land in a nearer piece of cloth and roll softly into their trays.