Gisborne is a vibrant and progressive community located in the north eastern corner ofNew Zealand’sNorthIsland. As a region, it offers many natural attractions, including an extensive coastline of sandy beaches with renowned surfing breaks – as well as natural bush and farmland.
“What also makes Gisborne unique is its diversity and progressive culture. Historically, it is the first place where the European and Maori met. Gisborne is also the first city in the world to see the dawn of the new day,” says MayorMeng Foon. The Maori name for the area is Tairawhiti, which means ‘the coast upon which the sun shines across the water.’
According to local tradition,KaitiBeachnear the city was the site of the first European landing inNew Zealandby Captain James Cook. Maori are said to have perceived Cook’s ship Endeavour as an enormous bird, and Cook and his men were thought to be ‘atua’ or spirit people.
The great outdoors
Gisborne in area is the largest district council in theNorthIsland– covering 8,355 square kilometres of land, with 1,855 kilometres of local roads. The population is close to 46,000, up from 20,000 people in 1950.
During citizenship ceremonies at the Council, Mayor Foon takes a moment to ask new residents why, out of all the different places they could have chosen, they went with Gisborne. “They said, ‘This is the nicest, warmest climate, and also a great place to bring up children and experience the great outdoors,’” Foon reports.
In addition to being the ideal place to settle, Gisborne is also a great area to visit. At the moment tourism is a developing sector, representing 4 per cent of the local economy, but Mayor Foon sees considerable potential for growth.
Many of the travellers visiting Gisborne come from overseas, with many coming to enjoy cycling on the Motu Trails and the Rere Falls Trail that offer it all and discover a place where your perfect ride is a journey of freedom and adventure, or the east coast Pacific Highway, “looking at all the naturalness of the coast and enjoying the beaches,” Mayor Foon says.
Gisborne is rich with business and employment opportunity, with more than 2,800 businesses located in the Gisborne district. Key local economic industries include agriculture, horticulture, fishing, farming and forestry. Wine production is also a valuable asset.
Agriculture has been the most important industry since early settlement, with sheep and cattle farming dominating the sector. However, agriculture has diversified over the years and now forestry, viticulture, horticulture and industries such as food processing are becoming increasingly important.
When it comes to challenges facing the district, Foon admits the global financial crisis put a small dent in their economy, but also presented an opportunity. During the economic hardships, farmers recorded the highest prices ever for their meat and wool products. “When the world corrects itself it will want more of the products that we have,” he says. “At the end of the day – as the population grows – everybody has to eat and the Gisborne district will continue to provide quality sustainable food.”
Many of their businesses think “land to plate” in terms of the way they grow food. They pride themselves on making the food locally – rather than sending something overseas for processing. “We’ve got a lot of innovation and vision in our local businesses to continue to down this path,” he says.
Looking ahead to the not-so distant future, Foon says the Gisborne Council will continue with its environmental stewardship to ensure good, quality infrastructure for the region to grow. The goal is to grow without losing the environmental attributes that make Gisborne so appealing.
“We want it to be green,” Mayor Foon says. “We believe that as the world gets more cluttered, places like Gisborne will be a great place to visit for tourists and also a great place to live.”
Eastwoodhill, the national arboretum of New Zealand, is located 35 kilometres northwest of Gisborne and is said to have the largest and most comprehensive collection of Northern hemisphere trees south of the equator, encompassing an area of 135 hectares. It includes roughly 4000 different trees, shrubs and climbers, including 170 species currently on the IUCN world endangered species list.
Te Araroa, a Gisborne Region township, is also home to the largest pohutukawa tree in the world. “We do value our natural attributes,” Mayor Foon says.
“Business-wise, I see the wine industry coming to the forefront, and having a dominant role in the economy of our district,” he adds. Gisborne will also see a lot of its community infrastructure remodelled – made larger and modern to meet the standards that will attract additional conferences and events.