Gisborne calls itself the "eastern most town of the world", being for once the eastern most town of New Zealand while also being bigger than any town on islands in the east. Despite that claim, Gisborne is actually quite a small town. One of those towns where everybody knows everybody and nothing remains secret for very long. Being very remote, even for New Zealand standards, both the population as visitor numbers are few. Only in the summer the town welcomes some tourists, who heard that Gisborne is one of the best spots for surfing. Indeed according to New Zealand meterological data, the east coast is the sunniest spot in New Zealand.
The east coast including Gisborne also has the largest Maori population in New Zeland. When you walk through town, most of the people you will meet are Maori. As every town and village in this region, Gisborne has a Marae (a meeting house) where Maori can meet and exchange. It is open to public and you can visit it, even as non-Maori, but you should call and ask for an okay first.
Bilge Rat's and my first impression of the town was, that it was a redneck backwater town far off New Zealand's centers. Another girl described it as Hicks-Ville and all of us were reminded by images of Texas, by the way the people live here. They are extraordinary friendly and outgoing. If you sit on some bench, you can bet that under 10 minutes somebody will sit next to you and engage you in some idle chit-chat. Especially in public places, like the library, many people will talk to you out of curiosity. The same counts for people working in shops, receptions or restaurants; you will not be able to make a purchase without a small exchange about today's gossip.
The people's homes look like in American movies. They are orderly lined up along each other, all use wooden lattices painted in bright colors and all have a little lawn in front.
The city center basically consists of one street called Gladstone Road. Along this street all the major shops and restaurants are aligned. There is also a nice city tower with a bell indicating the current hour.
One of the coolest things about Gisborne is that it has a beautiful beach in walking distance from the city center. The water of the sea is blue and unpolluted. The sand is nice and full of shells. When the tide comes, you can find interesting things being left behind by the water. Mostly its wood, stones and shells, but we also found bones from strange animals and other things. There is almost no human garbage among the things swept shore, which is amazing and shows just how remote this place is. Every trip to the beach is an adventure, as you never know what to find. And the view, especially during sunset, never ceases to amaze us.
Another place we quickly grew to love is the local library: HB Williams Memorial Library. For once it is the only spot to conveniently access the Internet. There is a free wireless hotspot inside the library and five computers, which you are allowed to use 30 min/day. This regulation is due to the heavy demand for them. Most people in Gisborne have no Internet and their only chance to access it are the computers in the library. There are no Internet Cafes or the like in this town and most people never heard of anything like wireless Internet or hotspots. It's a bit like living in the past here. Even in the library the speed you can get is very moderate. It;s usually between 10-20 kb/s. But at peak hours it goes down to 1 kb/s. Bilge Rat read that New Zealand is aware of its poor Internet and planned an upgrade, however than all the budget for that plan went into the national banks during the financial crisis. Stupid banks...
Every Saturday morning between 9:30 and 11:00 there is a farmer's market next to the museum across the river, where local farmers can sell their self grown crops, bakers can sell their bread and so on. We found it to be a great place to get high quality regional vegetables and fruit, as well as real bread, otherwise really hard to find in New Zealand. City bakeries and super markets only sell the white toast bread, no loafs of real bread.
Often you even can listen to a local band playing during the opening hours of the market and sometimes there are competitions going on as well. Bilge Rat and me were asked to join the "grow the biggest pumpkin" competition.
A must visit in town is the local museum: Tairawhiti Museum. It is made with much care and love and exhibits the history of the town, as well as local artists and other interesting things.
The permanent exhibition tells the story of the first encounter between Captain Cook, the first European to set foot on the east coast, and the local Maori tribes. We will write about that interesting encounter and its far fetching consequences in a separate post. Furthermore you can learn about the local Maori tribes and their culture and history. For example there was a renowned Maori queen, who was so famous, that even in Britain people talked about a beautiful island queen with countless men at their disposal.
There is also a varying art exhibition displaying art of local aritists. When we first visited the museum, we were truly lucky. The art displayed was from one John Hovell, a famous Maori artist and as it happened we arrived just in time to listen to the artist himself talking in dialog with a talented art critic, who just finished writing a book about John, about his art. Not only did John display a beautiful heart-warming childish character, through the dialog we were able to grasp a lot of Maori culture and thinking.
We also learned that John illustrated the now famous book "Whale Rider", probably the most famous book/movie from New Zealand. However back then, the author Witi Ihimaera did not think the book would see well, since it is about Maori and islander culture, so the audience was few. John was a friend of his and he asked him for the illustrations. Alas later editions of the book do not include Johns illustrations and the first edition is really rare. It sells on the Internet for between 250$ and 1000$. Since we both fell for Johns charm, I really wanted to find that book for Bilge Rat's birthday. And as it happened we found it in a local second hand bookshop, just outside the library, for amazingly cheap 15$. Lucky, heh?
Finally the museum exhibits some of the first ships that set sail to and from Gisborne as well as a maritime exhibition inside.
So it is definitely worth a visit, even if your stay in Gisborne is short.