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Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa  (Māori)
Central and northeastern Gisborne viewed from Kaiti Hill
Central and northeastern Gisborne viewed from Kaiti Hill
Gisborne is located in New Zealand
Location in New Zealand
Country New Zealand
Region Gisborne Region
 (June 2020)
 • Total 37,000
Time zone UTC+12 (NZST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+13 (NZDT)
Area code(s) 06

Gisborne (Māori: Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa "Great standing place of Kiwa") is a city in northeastern New Zealand and the largest settlement in the Gisborne District (or Gisborne Region). It has a population of 37,000 (June 2020). The district council has its headquarters in Whataupoko, in the central city.

The settlement was originally known as Turanga and renamed Gisborne in 1870 in honour of New Zealand Colonial Secretary William Gisborne.

Early history

First arrivals

The Gisborne region has been settled for over 700 years. For centuries the region has been inhabited by the tribes of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti. Their people descend from the voyagers of the Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru, Horouta and Tākitimu waka.

East Coast oral traditions offer differing versions of Gisborne's establishment by Māori. One of which legends recounts that in the 1300s, the great navigator Kiwa landed at the Tūranganui River first on the waka Tākitimu after voyaging to the region from Hawaiki and that Pāoa, captain of the waka Horouta, followed later. According to one legend, Kiwa waited so long for the Horouta canoe to arrive that he called its final landing place Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (The long waiting place of Kiwa).

However, a more popular version of events is that Horouta preceded Takitimu. In 1931, Sir Āpirana Ngata stated that Horouta was the main canoe that brought the people to the East Coast and that Ngāti Porou always regarded Takitimu as "an unimportant canoe". Māori historian Rongowhakaata Halbert affirmed this account, stating that Paoa's crew on the Horouta were the first inhabitants of the East Coast after migrating from Ahuahu or Great Mercury Island. Paoa gave his name to various places across the region, most notably the Waipāoa River (Wai-o-Pāoa).

During the 14th century, Māori tribes built fishing villages close to the sea and built on nearby hilltops.

Captain Cook landing

Gisborne's Kaiti Beach is the place where British navigator Captain James Cook made his first landing in New Zealand upon the Endeavour. Cook had earlier set off from Plymouth, England in August 1768 on a mission bound for Tahiti. Once he had concluded his duties in Tahiti, Cook continued south to look for a large landmass or continent. Young Nick's Head was thought to be the first piece of New Zealand land sighted by Cook's party, and so named because it was first observed by cabin boy Nicholas Young on 6 October 1769.

On 9 October, Cook came ashore on the eastern bank of the Tūranganui River, accompanied by a party of men. Their arrival was marred by misunderstanding and resulted in the death and wounding of nine Maori over four days. It was also on the banks of the Tūranganui River that first the township of Tūranga, then the city of Gisborne, grew as European traders and whalers began to settle in the river and port area.

The landing site was commemorated by a monument in 1906, on the 137th anniversary of Cook's arrival. In 1964 the Gisborne committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust registered the land around the monument as a historic reserve, and in 1990 it was designated a National Historic Reserve and put under the care of the Department of Conservation.

European settlement and town growth

Starting in the early 1830s, traders such as Captain John Harris and Captain George E. Read set up the first trading stations along the Tūranganui river and are attributed to the founding of the town. Over the next 30 years, many more European traders and missionaries migrated to the region. In 1868 the government bought 300 hectares of land for a town site. The town was laid out in 1870 and the name changed from Tūranga to Gisborne, after the then colonial secretary, and to avoid confusion with Tauranga. In 1872, Gisborne's first public school was opened and its first newspaper, the Poverty Bay Standard was established. A town council was formed in 1877.


Gisborne location
NASA satellite photo of Gisborne

Gisborne is a coastal city located on the east cape of New Zealand's North Island. It sits at the south end of the Gisborne District and also within Poverty Bay. The Poverty Bay Flats encompass Gisborne city as well as surrounding areas Mākaraka, Matawhero and Ormond where vineyards and farms are prominent. Gisborne is flat towards the shoreline, but forested and hilly inland.

Gisborne boasts a large stretch of coastline encompassing the Waikanae and Midway, Kaiti, Sponge Bay, Wainui and Makorori white sand beaches, which are popular for swimming and surfing.

Sometimes referred to as the 'City of Rivers', Gisborne sits at the convergence of the Waimata, Taruheru and Tūranganui rivers. At only 1200 meters long, Tūranganui is the shortest river in New Zealand.

Kaiti Hill (Titirangi), which sits directly above Cook's landing site, provides expansive views over the city and wider Poverty Bay. Many archaeological sites have been identified on Titirangi, including burial grounds, terraces, and middens. Titirangi sits near the summit.

In the wider area surrounding Gisborne are two arboreta, Eastwoodhill, the National Arboretum of New Zealand at Ngatapa which spans over 130 hectares, and the smaller 50 hectare Hackfalls Arboretum at Tiniroto.

Up until Samoa and Tokelau's dateline shift in December 2011, Gisborne claimed to be the first city on Earth to see the sun rise each day. However, this is now only accurate in New Zealand's summer months.


The region is sheltered by high country to the west and has a sunny climate with a yearly average of 2,200 sunshine hours. The annual rainfall varies from about 1000 mm near the coast to over 2500 mm in higher inland country. According to the NIWA dataset for 1981–2010 normals, Gisborne narrowly edged several other cities to have the warmest summer maxima of official stations. Winters are slightly cooler than more northerly areas, rendering that over the course of the calendar year, Gisborne is not the warmest station of the country. Even summertime mean temperatures are lower than northerly areas in spite of the highs due to the cooler nights. In spite of this, yearly mean temperatures are still some way above average for New Zealand as a whole.

Climate data for Gisborne (1981-2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 38.1
Average high °C (°F) 24.9
Daily mean °C (°F) 19.2
Average low °C (°F) 13.6
Record low °C (°F) 3.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 54
Mean monthly sunshine hours 249.9 200.7 190.7 164.9 145.6 128.6 124.1 163.3 180.7 219.4 217.5 232.4 2,217.7
Source 1: NIWA Climate Data
Source 2: Météo Climat


Art and culture

Gisborne is home to a large Māori population, with 48.9% of the population identifying as Māori, compared to the national average of 14.9%. The Poho-O-Rawiri and Te Kuri a Tuatai marae are located in the city suburbs. The Tairāwhiti Tamararo Regionals are an annual regional haka competition held in Gisborne in memory of Karaitiana Tamararo.

Gisborne is host to Rhythm & Vines, an annual 3-day music festival held over the New Year at Waiohika Estate. In 2012 and 2013, Rhythm and Vines made skinny dipping world record attempts.


  • The Gisborne City football team won the Chatham Cup in 1987. Its home ground is the Childers Road Reserve.
  • In rugby union Gisborne is home to the Poverty Bay team, who play in the Heartland Championship rugby competition.
  • In cricket, Gisborne is part of the Northern Districts Cricket Association, and first-class matches are held at the Harry Barker Reserve.


Historical population of Gisborne District
Year Pop. ±%
1986 45,758 —    
1991 44,361 −3.1%
1996 45,962 +3.6%
2001 43,971 −4.3%
2006 44,463 +1.1%
2013 43,656 −1.8%

The Gisborne urban area had a usual resident population of 34,527 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 3,294 people (10.5%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 3,228 people (10.3%) since the 2006 census. There were 16,623 males and 17,907 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.93 males per female. Of the total population, 8,229 people (23.8%) were aged up to 15 years, 6,603 (19.1%) were 15 to 29, 14,184 (41.1%) were 30 to 64, and 5,511 (16.0%) were 65 or older.

In terms of ethnicity, 58.8% of the population identified as European (Pākehā), 51.6% as Māori, 5.3% as Pacific peoples, 3.5% as Asian, and 1.3% as other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

Gisborne had an unemployment rate of 9.4% of people 15 years and over, compared to 7.4% nationally. The median annual income of all people 15 years and over was $24,400, compared to $28,500 nationally. Of those, 41.9% earned under $20,000, compared to 38.2% nationally, while 19.6% earned over $50,000, compared to 26.7% nationally.

Gisborne has the smallest percentage of population born overseas at 9.7% compared to 25.2% for New Zealand as a whole. The highest of these are British totalling 1,335 or 3.1% of the population. Furthermore, 73.0% of the population could speak in one language only, 16.2% in two languages and 1.1% in three or more languages.

Individual statistical areas in Gisborne district (2018 census)
SA2 name Population Dwellings Median age Median income
Centennial Crescent 1,566 573 33.1 years $23,100
Elgin 2,583 900 31.0 years $22,100
Gisborne Central 300 210 44.3 years $29,600
Kaiti North 2,178 783 40.9 years $29,300
Kaiti South 3,060 1,026 30.3 years $22,400
Lytton 1,371 567 67.2 years $23,700
Makaraka-Awapuni 969 387 44.6 years $29,400
Mangapapa East 1,179 477 38.7 years $33,200
Mangapapa North 1,425 510 31.9 years $27,500
Mangapapa South 1,926 690 31.0 years $25,300
Outer Kaiti 2,565 753 25.9 years $19,700
Riverdale 1,275 510 43.0 years $30,400
Tamarau 2,367 744 29.2 years $21,900
Te Hapara East 1,992 840 37.4 years $24,800
Te Hapara North 2,013 768 39.9 years $26,100
Te Hapara South 2,178 816 33.4 years $23,800
Wainui-Okitu 1,716 714 41.0 years $43,500
Whataupoko East 1,812 720 42.8 years $38,600
Whataupoko West 2,052 864 41.4 years $30,100



Gisborne Airport serves as the domestic airport for the Gisborne Region. Regular flights between Auckland and Wellington are serviced by Air New Zealand under the Link brand, while a smaller airline called Air Napier provides services to Napier and Wairoa. For 25 years Sunair operated from Gisborne to Hamilton, Rotorua, Napier, Whakatane, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Paraparaumu and Wellington but those services were eventually suspended after 25 years.


State Highway 2 NZ.svg State Highway 2 connects Gisborne to Tauranga via Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne to the northwest, and to Napier and the rest of Hawke's Bay via Wairoa to the south. SH 2 travels towards Gisborne from the northwest from Te Karaka, a settlement approximately 31 km northwest of Gisborne. SH 2 passes through Makaraka, a suburb on the outer fringes of Gisborne. It then crosses the Waipaoa River and makes its way south through Manutuke and Wharerata before it enters the Hawke's Bay Region towards Nūhaka, Wairoa, and eventually on to Napier.

State Highway 35 NZ.svg State Highway 35 (part of the Pacific Coast Highway network) begins at a junction west of Gisborne with SH 2 just before SH 2 crosses the Waipaoa River on its way south to Manutuke. SH 35 borders Gisborne Airport to the south and enters Gisborne city on the southwestern fringes. It makes its way through the city out to the east, and continues up the coast connecting Gisborne to the East Cape.

Gisborne Post Office
1916 bus and bullock team outside the Post Office

Public transport

Public transport is poorly developed in Gisborne, with only 0.2% of trips made by bus in 2013/14. This compares with 2.3% nationally, which itself is amongst the lowest proportions in the world. Go Bus is contracted to the council to run 22 services a day on 6 routes Monday to Friday, using 2 buses. From 1913 to 1929 Gisborne had battery-powered trams. Since then public transport has declined to about a fifth of the usage then. In 1930 the municipal buses travelled 6,631 mi (10,672 km), and carried 28,531 passengers in 2 weeks. In 2012/13 the city buses carried about 78,000 passengers in 52 weeks, at a cost of about $120,000 a year, with about another $85,000 from fares.


Gisborne is the northern terminus of the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line railway, which opened in 1942 and mothballed (track kept in place but all services cancelled) in 2012. The permanent way has since suffered storm damage including bridge collapses and the line is believed unlikely to re-open for economic reasons. Prior to this, an isolated section of line operated from Gisborne to Moutohora – intended to be part of a line to Auckland via Rotorua, and later part of the East Coast Main Trunk Railway line. This connection was never completed and the Moutohora Branch line closed in 1959.

Rail passenger services were provided between Gisborne and Wellington until 1988, when the Endeavour express was cancelled north of Napier. Today, only the Gisborne City Vintage Railway operates limited heritage train rides out of Gisborne.


In February 2018 the first grants from the Provincial Growth Fund included $2.3 million for the Gisborne port.


Gisborne nz 2
Coastal suburbs of Gisborne viewed from Kaiti Hill
  • Awapuni
  • Elgin
  • Gaddums Hill
  • Heatherlea/Darwin Road
  • Inner Kaiti
  • Kaiti
  • Makaraka
  • Manutuke
  • Mangapapa
  • Makorori
  • Riverdale
  • Riverside
  • Riverview
  • Sponge Bay
  • Tamarau
  • Te Hapara
  • Te Wharau
  • Victoria
  • Waikanae
  • Waikirikiri
  • Wainui Beach
  • Whataupoko

In popular culture

Gisborne City was the setting of the 2014 drama film The Dark Horse, a biographical film starring Cliff Curtis about the late speed-chess champion, Genesis Potini. The film was shot in Gisborne and Auckland in the winter of 2013.

In March 2016, Gisborne hosted the premiere of Mahana, a New Zealand film set in Patutahi and Manutuke, and based on Witi Ihimaera's semi-autobiographical novel Bulibasha: King Of The Gypsies.

Sister cities

Gisborne had three sister cities in the Sister Cities International Program, two are in the United Kingdom (one in Wales and Scotland), the third being Palm Desert, California in the US.

  • United States Palm Desert, California, United States
  • Japan Nonoichi, Ishikawa, Japan
  • Australia Gisborne, Victoria, Australia
  • Spain Valverde del Majano, Segovia, Spain

Sister ports

  • Japan Gamagōri, Aichi, Japan
  • People's Republic of China Rizhao, Shandong, China


The harbour was host to many ships in the past and had developed as a river port to provide a more secure location for shipping compared with the open roadstead of Poverty Bay which can be exposed to southerly swells. A meat works was sited beside the harbour and meat and wool were shipped from here. Now the harbour is the home of many smaller fishing boats as well as ships loading logs for export.

The city maintains a rural charm and is a popular holiday spot. Local industries include agriculture, horticulture, farming and forestry. Wine production is also valuable to the local economy.


Gisborne City has four main high (secondary) schools: Gisborne Boys' High, Gisborne Girls' High, Lytton High and Campion College. Campion College is a Catholic co-educational school.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Gisborne (ciudad) para niños

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