Today we explored the countryside around Gisborne, first stop was the picturesque Rere Falls about half an hour inland from the city. This area, Ngatapa, was also the site of a major engagement in the East Coast Wars between the rebel leader Te Kooti and the pursuing British troops.
Our highlight of the day though, without a doubt, was our visit to Eastwoodhill Arboretum. Many New Zealanders won’t even know such a place exists and the story behind it is fascinating. This is the National Arboretum of New Zealand, a truely impressive collection of 4,000 different trees from all over the world. Eastwoodhill is the life’s work of Douglas Cook, a larger than life Gisborne character who was inspired to create one of the largest collections of trees in the world after convalescing in the English countryside after being wounded in World War 1. We were driven all over the property in their open topped 4WD by the Curator Martin and on the way he shared all his expert knowledge as well as colourful stories about “Cookie”, such as how unannounced guests would be surprised by his habit of working in the garden wearing nothing but one single gumboot!
Now it wouldn’t be a visit to Gisborne without trying some of famous local wines so after saying goodbye to Martin and the tranquil green world of Eastwoodhill, we headed back towards town to treat ourselves to a lunch and wine tasting at our favourite Gisborne winery, then on to the excellent Tairawhiti Museum for those who wanted to, while others took the option of a walk through town. I have a sneaking suspicion that a few may have even taken a little afternoon nap but no-one would admit to that at dinner!
I have to give mention here to the wonderful meals and super friendly service we enjoyed on our visits to restaurants in Gisborne. In recent times you may have probably noticed a regional dining renaissance all over New Zealand, some of our smaller towns and cities now offer some of our best dining and this was certainly the case here. We had great dinners at two local restaurants, the Works and the Union Steam Ship Company, and our breakfasts at the Flagship Cafe were works of art (no joke, see the photo below).
It was a special night for me too, as my Uncle and Aunty who live in Gisborne joined our group for dinner and shared their local knowledge and a few good laughs with the group. They have lived in Gisborne for 40 years and had a lot in common with our guests, I think I managed to mostly escape unscathed from embarrassing childhood stories from my aunty too!