Origin of name: Originally called Toka-a-namu, on account of the area's impressive sandfly population but, over the years, it changed to Tokomaru - aka Toko. Population: 393. Check it out: Tokomaru Bay' " />

Kia ora: Tokomaru Bay

Elisabeth Easther dives right in to the East Coast’s pristine beaches, natural beauty and chilled-out vibe.

Origin of name: Originally called Toka-a-namu, on account of the area’s impressive sandfly population but, over the years, it changed to Tokomaru – aka Toko.

Population: 393.

Check it out: Tokomaru Bay’s 8km of pristine coastline is one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth.

Local lore: There was once a powerful woman in the region called Ruataupare. She was the wife of Tuwhakairiora and, while their children were growing up, Ruataupare’s children were referred to as the noble offspring of Tuwhakairiora, bearing only their father’s name. Understandably this offended Ruataupare, so she returned to her home of Tokomaru Bay where she gathered her people and summoned them to fight for her honour. War broke out, Ruataupare was victorious and her name was revered and feared throughout the land. Ruataupare established herself as chief of the people of Tokomaru Bay and from that time the tribal group of this area has been known as Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare – the family of Ruataupere.

Old news: Captain Cook passed through and hung out for a spell in 1769; following in his wake, the early missionaries had a bit of luck here too, although these days rugby is on a par with religion: more tries are being converted than people.

Meet the locals: Tokomaru Bay is popular with artists, musicians and craftspeople, interesting people doing interesting things – some people call Toko “the craft centre of the coast”.

Famous local: Baye Riddell, renowned Maori ceramicist, has fans coming from all over the world to peruse and buy his wares.

Best website: gisborne.co.nz

Big business: Forestry, followed closely by farming.

An opportunity: It would be lovely if someone could please open a super cafe near the water. Is anyone out there looking to make a major life change?

Sources of pride: The people are friendly and the coastline is captivating. Plus they breed amazing rugby players around here.

Town fiestas: Horse sports and equestrian events are popular. Pa Wars is also a big deal, moving around various marae in the region. Various pa are pitted against each other in a number of sports and events.

Here for a short time: Have lunch at the pub, go for a swim and visit the wharf area.

The wharf: Here you’ll find the ruins of the freezing works, now protected under the Historic Places Trust. The art gallery is down at the wharf, too, and is where you’ll find Riddell doing his thing. Also, you can fish off the wharf and, as there’s a project under way to restore it, before long it’ll be even more amazing.

Best reason to stop: For the scenic beauty, the swimming, fishing and surfing.

Kids love: Fishing off the wharf, horse riding on the beach and playing by the sea.

Best park: The rugby grounds are right next to the beach so while you watch a game you can also see the sea. Take note, rugby games bring the whole community out so if you’re lucky you might catch a match when they kickoff on a Saturday.

Best playground: Aside from the beach, the wharf and the great outdoors, there’s also the council playground on the reserve next to the beach, which has swings and a skate bowl.

Patrons enjoy the sensational sea views and a couple of quiets on the balcony of the popular Te Puka Tavern in Tokomaru Bay. Photo / Alan Gibson
Patrons enjoy the sensational sea views and a couple of quiets on the balcony of the popular Te Puka Tavern in Tokomaru Bay. Photo / Alan Gibson

Best walks: Hike up Mt Hikurangi. This walk, known as Te Ara hi Hikurangi, is a bit of a mission but if you’re keen to be the first in the world to see the sun rise, hike to the hut the day before (about three-four hours from the carpark) then wake two hours before dawn to climb to the summit. It’s partly on private land, so contact Te Runanga o Ngati Porou before you set off. A lovely DoC walk in Anaura Bay goes towards Gisborne. This easy, two-hour loop is for people who love bush, birds and bay views.

Best view: Mt Hikurangi is the first place in New Zealand to see the sun and at 1754m it’s also the North Island’s highest non-volcanic mountain. Take a guided tour by 4-wheel drive or hike it, but be sure to contact the iwi first. The dawn will melt your heart.

Best place to pull over: As you come down Busbys Hill into Tokomaru, stop at a place on the right-hand side. On a beautiful day, you’ll see the whole bay spread out before you.

Best swim: With all that beach at your feet, you’ll figure it out.

Best museum: Admittedly, it’s 90km away in Gisborne but the Tairawhiti Museum is an exceptionally good provincial museum.

Nice arts: At the art gallery at the end of the wharf you’ll find the works of Riddell and lots of other interesting artists. Also, two thirds of the way up Mt Hikurangi you’ll find nine carved whakaro. These magnificent sculptures tell the story of Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga and his whanau and were built to celebrate the new millennium. Awe inspiring.

Cultural outings: Hikurangi Guided Tours, based in Ruatoria. Contact them through ngatiporou.com and let them know what sort of tour you’d like and they’ll organise the perfect outing for you.

Top shop: The Four Square has most everything you’ll need from gumboots to bubbly.

Top digs: Last year Lonely Planet described Stranded in Paradise Backpackers as the best place to stay on the East Coast. “It scores the awards for views, eco-loos and free Wi-Fi. Tenters have a panoramic knoll (astonishing views) on which to pitch.”

Cream of the coffee: Te Puka Tavern does a decent cup.

Best food: Choose between the Kai Cart, the local takeaways and the pub. The battered mussels at the Kai Cart are perfect after a morning surf.

Wet your whistle: Te Puka Tavern looks out over the bay and is spot on if you’re after a brew with a view.

Best adventure: Go surfing or at least play in the waves. Try riding along the beach with Tokomaru Horse Treks, and be sure to climb Mt Hikurangi. Fishing is also big round here, off the rocks, from the shore, on your boat or off the wharf.

Join the club: Te Puia Golf Course has spectacular sea views over Waipiro Bay.

Best-kept secret: The whole East Cape is a bit of a secret. The number of New Zealanders who’ve never visited is astonishing because when people get there, they wonder what took them so long.

Wildlife: There used to be a whaling station here and, despite the decimation, southern right whales still pop in from time to time. The bush is alive with native birds including korimako (bellbirds), pipiwharauroa (shining cuckoo), piwakawaka (fantails), tui and kereru among them.

The verdict: Seriously unspoiled.

- NZ Herald