By Janice Strong

From Gisborne, through the Bay of Plenty and on to Rotorua, our tour of New Zealand’s North Island explored European history and even older Maori culture, outdoor adventure and fine wines – even the beginnings of the country’s tourism industry.

L259_A3Tourism New Zealand/Ian TraffordWe flew to Gisborne, the gateway to Eastland, New Zealand’s land of firsts. Eastland is the place where the first Polynesian migration canoes landed, where Captain James Cook made his first landfall and where the Maori and Europeans first encountered each other. And, Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sunrise every day. It’s also the unofficial “Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand”.

From there it was on to the Bay of Plenty, named for the region’s abundant agriculture production and fishing grounds. Adventure is the name of the game here with blokarting (land sailing), sky diving and dolphin encounters on the adenalin menu.

Our tour ended in Rotoru, the birthplace of New Zealand tourism. Beginning in the 1800s, people flocked here from around the world to see the amazing Pink and White Terraces – vast, naturally formed silica terraces that cascaded into a volcanic lake. The Te Arawa people were their local guides. Unfortunately, the terraces were destroyed in the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption. For a good look and understanding of the Maori culture check out Te Puia, New Zealand’s Maori Cultural Centre; Tamaki Maori Village; and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.

Along the way, our tour of the eastern part of New Zealand’s North Island gave us the chance to enjoy some uniquely Kiwi experiences:

L267_A3Tourism New Zealand/Ian Trafford• Whalerider Tour. Whangara is a lovely seaside Maori community about 30 kilometres from Gisborne, where the movie Whale Rider was filmed. We joined a guided tour of the village with Hone Taumaunu, a cultural consultant on the picture, and visited the home where much of the filming took place and heard the story that inspired the film.

P1010048Janice Strong• Wild Stingray Feeding. A few minutes up the road from Whangara, Dive Tatapouri offers the chance to walk the reef of Tatapouri Bay and hand feed wild eagle and sting rays. We were kitted out with chest waders and walking sticks, then followed the guide to the water’s edge where the rays came right up to us.

P1010068Janice StrongWhite Island Tour. Our tour started with a 90-minute cruise to White Island, followed by a guided tour of the live marine volcano. We donned hard hats and gas masks and passed the remains of the old sulphur mining factory, passed boiling mud pits and venture right up to the main crater’s edge. There are also tours that reach the island by helicopter.

glow worm photoWaimarino.comGlow Worm Tour. Our guided excursion began at dusk with snacks and drinks on the edge of a lake where we donned safety equipment and teamed up to man double kayaks. Paddling along a stream we entered a canyon and were enchanted by the glowworms on the canyon walls.