East Cape is the easternmost point of the North Island.The East Cape Lighthouse was put up on Otiki Hill in 1922 – it was fully automated in 1985 and is controlled from the maritime headquarters in Wellington now.
Getting there is an adventure by itself — I’ll blog about the drive around the cape another day but if you’re in the area the lighthouse is well worth a visit! The only way to get to it is from the town of Te Araroa, there are 3 roads that leave Te Araroa and the lighthouse is well marked so it isn’t hard to find the right one.
Before setting out to the lighthouse, drive down Kahukura Street and Moana Parade in Te Araroa to see Te Waha O Rerekohu – the oldest and largest pohutukawa tree in New Zealand. It is right on the school grounds and hard to miss as there is a Maori hut underneath it and it is HUGE! It is estimated to be about 600 years old and I’ve never seen anything like it. Kauri trees get wider and taller as they age. Pohutukawa trees start branching out – the branches of this one go in all directions and extend really far out so it looks like you’re looking at a stand of trees rather than just one.
The road to the lighthouse clings to the coastline and is a feat of engineering as Mother Nature seems to have tried to claim it back a few times. It reduces to one lane in some parts and, like most NZ roads, has very few straight patches for its 22 kilometer length so takes about 20-30 minutes to drive. You’ll drive past pastures, beaches, cows and sheep (of course) – the road is sealed in some parts but mostly unsealed and there’s a small section that is literally right over the water.
At the end of the road is the walkway to the lighthouse and a public toilet. You can see the lighthouse on top of the hill from the parking area (carpark) but not very well. The last part of the road and the place where you park is in what must be a horse ranch – we saw about 50 horses in this area and many ponies and they were freely able to walk amongst the park cars. We don’t know why they have horses in the middle of nowhere but they were beautiful!
To really see the lighthouse though, bring good walking shoes and be ready to climb 700-800 steps to the top. The trail is really well done with wooden reinforcements to keep the dirt from eroding and pretty solid steps all the way up. But, the entire trail pretty much goes UP so be prepared for some huffing and puffing unless you’re in great shape. The first part of the walk goes through someone’s private land and then you go through a gate and start heading up. Something like 700 steps later and you’re at the top – there’s one bench along the way to take a break if you need it.
From the top of the hill you have an amazing 360 view around the cape and will be standing at the foot of the lighthouse.