Tatapouri, New Zealand

Story by guest blogger JM Merchant. Photos Copyright © Joanna Abram.

TATAPOURI CAN BE found on the eastern cape of New Zealand’s North Island. Despite its proximity to the city of Gisbourne (the nation’s surfing capital), Tatapouri is gloriously quiet and secluded. It may be set on one of the country’s major highways—but stand by the road and all you’ll see is the hills in front of you, the sea at your back . . . and a selection of flat possums on the tarmac.

If there’s one thing the Kiwi nation hates, it’s possums. With no natural predators on either island the little blighters are free to destroy hundreds of tons of New Zealand’s slow-growing vegetation every night. I’ll never forget the delighted whoops of our driver, Lauren, every time she went over a freshly-squashed possum, and the cheers and groans that echoed down the bus. Or the taste of the “Headlight Delight” possum pies produced by Pete of the Bushman Centre.

But that’s another story!

The Dive Tatapouri Centre, where we stayed, is run by the Savage family. We were greeted by Chris and two-year-old Alfie, who insisted on showing us around the moment we stepped off the bus into the late afternoon sunshine.


Dive Tatapouri Centre

Chris, like most Kiwis, was a delightful host, once she managed to be heard over her son! After informing us that in the event of an earthquake (and in case of a tsunami), we should “run like a hairy goat” up the hill behind the cabins, she left us to explore the little piece of paradise that is Tatapouri.

The beach doesn’t extend far beyond the centre, but it’s peaceful all the same and you can easily forget that the rest of the world exists. (See feature photo.)

We were delighted to be escorted to the water’s edge by Alfie, who taught us the proper way to throw stones into the sea.

Lessons in stone throwing from a local expert

As the sun began to set, Dean and the boys returned in the boat with the evening meal. No doubt this was the freshest and tastiest fish I have ever eaten. A variety of fish and mussels were pulled off the back of the boat, cleaned right there on the beach (you can see fish being cleaned on a rock behind Alfie in the photo above) and put straight onto the barbecue.

The fish was so fresh we happily ate some of it raw—although the more squeamish of our group had it dipped in lemon juice to “pre-cook” it.

Ultra-fresh fish and mussels go straight on the barbie

The thing I love most about the people of New Zealand is that they make you feel at home. We spent the evening sat around a fire drinking beer, watching the most mystical sunset, asking any and all the questions we wanted and being taught the very basics of the Maori language.

A large number of nights in New Zealand I spent in dorm rooms. I was fortunate that most, including this one, were very pleasant and clean—even though the majority of the beds creaked. On this occasion, however, I slept on the sofa in the living room. There were plenty of beds in our cabin, but one of the guys snored like a freight train. How anyone slept in the dorm that night I do not know.

The cabin where I claimed the snore-free zone

After rising nice and early with the sun, most of us spent a lazy day on the beach, waiting for those brave enough to try out the shark cage to return.

As the tide went out, one of our group was guided to the reef a short distance from the beach, where she was swarmed by hungry stingrays. Her shrieks of laughter as the rays nudged her boots and quickly took the fish from her hands showed us that these creatures don’t need to be feared, as long as they are treated with respect.

Feeding stingrays off Tatapouri Beach

Later I took one of the centre’s kayaks out for a gentle paddle around the bay, but didn’t get far before getting stuck on the reef.

The best thing about Tatapouri is the relaxing atmosphere. There is no pressure to do anything other than lie in a hammock and read or sit on the wall and just watch the water.

Sunset in Tatapouri, New Zealand

Sunset in Tatapouri

Magical Tatapouri. When I go back to New Zealand, this will be one of the first places I revisit.


Guest blogger JM Merchant

JM Merchant

JM Merchant (or Jo Abram to most) lives in the North End of London, although she aspires to the West End. An occasionally employed sound engineer and stage manager, most of her time is currently spent reading pirate tales as she works on her first novel. She blogs and posts short stories at Am I A Writer Yet? and tweets as @JMMerchant86.

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  1. Hi Jo – am so glad you enjoyed your time with us at Tatapouri and loved reading your blog – look forward to seeing you when you return to Tataporui.

    • JM Merchant says:

      Thank you so much for your hospitality Chris! I hope I did your home justice!
      Jo x

  2. Well Jo, you found a part of NZ I’ve never been to, and now I want to go! Next time you’re here in Aotearoa, perhaps you can be my East Coast tour guide. I’m sure Ember would enjoy helping Alfie return all the stone to the sea as well 🙂

    Awesome post, I look forward to hearing more about your travels, past and future.

    • JM Merchant says:

      You’re on Renee! Plenty more tales to come, something good had to come from 5 weeks sat on a bus 😉
      Jo x

  3. Hayley Irwin says:

    Hi Jo,

    I loved reading your account of our stay in Tatapouri, it brought back so many memories. This was one of my favourite places in the whole of New Zealand as you’re right, it did have such a magical, calming atmosphere. Brilliant post and i look forward to reading some more! hope you’re well,

    Hayley x

    • JM Merchant says:

      Hi Hayley

      Great to hear from you and glad you liked the article. I think Tatapouri was the one place on that East Cape expedition where I would gladly have stayed on for another month! 🙂
      Hope you guys are well.

      Jo x

  4. Wow! Beautiful pictures and the vacation sounds like paradise! I love that it was a relaxed family-style atmosphere….my kind of vacation!

  5. Jo,
    What a beautiful place! Looks so relaxing!
    I am trying to make it to that part of the world, but it’s quite a trip from the Northeast of the U.S. Someday soon I hope!
    Great article, and pictures too!
    Alfie’s a cutie!

    • JM Merchant says:

      I can’t recommend the country enough, it’s like another world over there.
      Hope you get there someday.

  6. Jo,
    This is amazing!
    I smiled from the first word to the last one.
    Cant believe there is a photo of me feeding the stingrays, didn’t even know one exsisted.
    I’m back in NZ now, but on the south island.
    Perhaps over summer I will head back up there. Truely magical spot.
    Thanks hun

    • JM Merchant says:

      Hi Cass
      Jealous! Want so badly to get back over there, say hi to Lolly for me if you bump into her!
      Yes, that was unfortunately the only photo of you feeding the rays, the zoom on my camera couldn’t quite cope with the distance.
      Hope you have a blast back in Aotearoa!
      Jo x

  7. I have always wanted to go to New Zealand, and I feel like I was taken to a little piece by your post — thank you! I love your photos, too, just beautiful. Tatapouri really does sound and look magical.

  8. What an idyllic-sounding spot! Just the sort of place my partner and I love to go. Although I’m not so sure about the dorm sleeping given that there’s usually one freight-train snorer among the bunch! 😉

  9. Thanks Lisa, glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

    You’ll be glad to know there are other sleeping arrangements available, I was just a slowpoke getting into the cabin and missed the rooms, a mistake I didn’t make again while I was in New Zealand!

    Jo x

  10. Jo,
    I loved your story. Thanks for sharing you travels with us. I have never been to New Zealand but have always wanted to go and after reading your story, now even more.