Gisborne is one of those many places in New Zealand to which I have never been. It's not really on the way to anywhere that I have ever particularly wanted to go and there is nothing there in and of itself that has ever given me the inspiration to pick up sticks and head over to the East Coast.
However, the chance for a rendez-vous with friends over Easter weekend gave me the perfect excuse to go there and explore. SpecialK and I took the tiniest of planes in the Air New Zealand fleet and, an hour after departing Wellington, arrived on the train track-crossed runway of Gisborne's airport.
Gisborne itself is a small town, with almost everything within walking distance. Unfortunately, it has been devastated by the blight of inner city apartment development (the Bay View apartments were inappropriately named considering they look more over the industrial port than the beautiful beaches). The abundance of large supermarket chain stores, fast food outlets and, most numerous of all, liquor distribution establishments (I am sure there are more LiquorKings in Gisborne than there are post boxes) confirmed that Gisborne is a Kiwi tourist mecca.
The town is blessed with beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and dripping in as much New Zealand colonial history as anyone can ask for. However, the arrival site of Captain Cook, where he first set foot on New Zealand soil, is marked by a phallic column that now no longer actually has a direct view of the bay, as the aforementioned industrial port has wrapped itself around the park and now almost completely separates it from any sense of connectedness to the Pacific Ocean at all (the accompanying photo shows the view towards the bay - honestly!).
The people we encountered were (mostly) fantastic examples of friendly Kiwis. The impeccably polite taxi driver insisted on calling me "sir" for our short trip to the motel; the motelier herself was fantastically helpful and not at all as scary as other moteliers I have encountered; a retailer was able to laughlingly dismiss my request for a tacky fridge magnet with a breezy, "We don't tend to stock tacky things here", though she admitted as she showed us the magnets available that some of them were fairly garish; and a wonderful woman in a second hand book shop offered everyone cups of tea and then decided to take me on a tour of the shop that mainly involved her pointing to shelves and reading the label of what was stored there, though her failing eyesight meant that I picked up the duties about half way through. Gisborne was also full of antique vehicles for a car show, and, as it was Easter, the true-believing Christians were out in force, driving around on floats and entertaining everyone with the latest on Christian rock music, or else prowling the streets, megaphone in hand and the Word of the Lord on their lips, or else just hanging out with the rest of the Destiny Churchers at Gisborne Girls' High.
All up, we spent but two nights in Gisborne and, as none of us were Surfer dudes and there was a hint of a wind that made hanging out on the beach a bit painful, that proved ample enough time to taste Gisborne's wares. I am sure there are some things we failed to both see and appreciate, but for now I can consider the case for Gisborne closed.
Verdict: Not so much an independent town as a beach-front suburb, but beautiful nonetheless