Tairāwhiti Gisborne history & culture

Tairāwhiti Gisborne has a fascinating past, with human habitation reaching back more than 600 years. Māori settlers arrived long before Europeans and sheep were introduced long before grape vines.

The city we call Gisborne today was first discovered by humans around 1450AD, when the Tākitimu and Horouta migration wakas sailed in from Polynesia. One waka was captained by a man called Kiwa, so the Tairāwhiti region was called Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa, which means 'the great standing place of Kiwa'.

James Cook, another great sea captain, arrived a little over 300 years later. He stepped ashore at Kaiti Beach near the mouth of the Tūranganui River. You can visit the spot - it's known as the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve.

When European settlers started arriving in the region, the settlement was called as Tūranga. This name was changed in 1872 to Gisborne, to avoid confusion with Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.

Tairawhiti Museum & Art Gallery

Gisborne might be one of New Zealand's smallest cities, but it has a museum that punches above its weight. Located at the city end of Stout Street, Tairāwhiti Museum and Art Gallery charges only a few dollars for admission. Of all the Gisborne things to do you might be considering, make this one a priority.

Semi-permanent exhibits include 'Watersheds', a snapshot of local history; Gisborne Photo News, a wonderfully retro look at the region and its people; Wyllie Cottage, the oldest European house in Gisborne; and the Te Moana Maritime Museum, which looks at 1,000 years of maritime stories and technology. If you're a surfer, you'll love the surfboard exhibition.

One part of Tairāwhiti Museum is particularly well-reviewed. It's the 'C Company' memorial house, which honours the men of the 28th Māori Battalion. The exhibits in the house are humbling and thought provoking.

Open until October 2020, Tū te Whaihanga is a special exhibition of 37 Tairāwhiti taonga (treasured artefacts). After 250 years overseas, these pieces have returned home on loan from British and German museums. The first of the taonga to leave our shores travelled aboard the Endeavour with Captain James Cook following his first voyage to New Zealand.

Waka Voyagers cultural & sailing experiences

In Gisborne you have a unique opportunity to experience the seafaring side of traditional Māori culture aboard a magnificent 22-metre twin-hulled waka hourua (historic canoe). You can choose a fascinating 90-minute cultural experience onboard the waka while it rests alongside the wharf or set sail for three hours on the ocean, where you'll be treated like a member of the crew. Additional charter sailings can be booked for groups.

Whichever experience you choose, you'll gain unique insights into the exceptional seamanship and navigational skills of the first people to reach New Zealand hundreds of years ago.

The onboard cultural experience is usually available twice a week, however this increases to twice a day when cruise ships are in port. The sailing experience is available on Saturday mornings. Be sure to book ahead.

East Coast Museum of Technology (ECMoT)

Run by a group of volunteers, this museum is a tribute to the brilliant inventions of the past. You'll see farm machinery and fire engines, home appliances and military vehicles, tractors and milking equipment. There's even an IT section with archaic creations from the dawn of computing. ECMoT is six kilometres inland from Gisborne city and open every day.

Guided tours up Maunga Hikurangi

Māori guides from the local Ngati Porou tribe can guide you to a rare cultural experience high on Maunga (Mount) Hikurangi. You can choose to be the first in the world to see a new day dawn or book a visit for later in the day. Both experiences will immerse you in traditional Māori culture and fascinating history of this sacred maunga. You'll also discover the stories behind nine large carved pou depicting Maui and reveered Ngāti Porou ancestors.

Keep exploring Tairāwhiti Gisborne