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Art Deco styled Napier, located alongside the water, is the best known part of Hawke's Bay.

A decision to explore this lovely region a bit further will be very worthwhile, and perhaps consider staying in the village of Havelock North rather than the better known Napier.

 
 
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What to See and Do in Hawke's Bay

Key information for the intending visitor to Napier, Hastings, and Havelock North
 


click image for a larger map

Hawke's Bay has something for everyone, and good weather and beautiful scenery for all.

The Hawke's Bay region is centered on the twin cities of Napier and Hastings.

Part of a series on travel to and in New Zealand - click the links in the right hand column for more articles.

 

 

Most visitors to New Zealand never go to Hawke's Bay, which is perhaps a compelling reason for you to visit!

You'll be immersing yourself in a more genuinely New Zealand part of the country and culture, and an area of great beauty and with wonderful weather for most of the year.

Why Visit Hawke's Bay

The undiscovered secret that is Hawke's Bay is clearly indicated by the need to have a 'Why Visit Hawke's Bay' section - no justification is needed for places such as Rotorua and Queenstown, but fewer international visitors know of Hawke's Bay.  Thanks to the miracle of the internet, and this web page, you're now joining the elite few who are 'in the know'.

Indeed, the lack of international tourists is one reason to visit.  The region is much less 'sophisticated' (or, perhaps, much less spoiled) by the presence of international tourism, and you're getting a much more genuinely New Zealand experience, in shops, on the streets, in restaurants and bars, and in the places you'll be visiting.

It is conveniently located more or less in the middle between Wellington and Auckland, and if you're planning on traveling between these two cities anyway, it isn't a huge detour to swing through Hawke's Bay as part of your traveling.

You'll find a relaxed life style, good weather, beautiful surroundings, lots of wineries, some fascinating architecture, plenty to do, and will have the pleasure of venturing off the main tourist trail through the country, widening your experience to encompass some of the 'real' New Zealand.

Hawke's Bay bills itself as the country's leader in food and wine production.

About the Name

Confusingly, the body of water to the east of the Hawke's Bay region is called Hawke Bay.  But the region as a whole is known as Hawke's Bay.

In case you wondered, it was so named by Captain James Cook while sailing on his voyage of discovery around New Zealand in October 1769; he named it for Sir Edward Hawke, a prominent naval commander and then First Lord of the Admiralty in England.

Getting to and from Hawke's Bay

Hawke's Bay is located on the east coast of the North Island, more or less half way between Auckland and Wellington.  But because it is not on the direct route between the two main cities, many people bypass this lovely area altogether.

Hawke's Bay is easy to get to and include in your New Zealand itinerary.  It is four hours drive from Wellington (200 miles Napier to Wellington), and three hours to Rotorua (140 miles).  Auckland is 260 miles away, about a six hour drive.

You can get to Hawke's Bay by rental car, scheduled inter-city bus service, by air, or as part of a tour - either a formal tour of NZ or a short mini-tour taking you only to Hawke's Bay.

Train service used to run from Wellington to Hastings and Napier, and extending on further north to Gisborne.  First the Napier up to Gisborne part of the service was cancelled, and then a few years back, service to Hastings and Napier was also cancelled.  There are no plans for it to be reinstated.

If you're driving yourself, we recommend you break a  journey to/from Auckland with a stop for a few nights in Rotorua.  If you're traveling to/from Wellington, you can easily travel between the two areas in a single day, making only short stops en route rather than adding any overnight stays.

If you're spending an extended amount of time in New Zealand, you might want to consider adding Gisborne into your travels between Auckland and Hawke's Bay.

If you're flying, there is one main airport in the area, on the northern side of Napier (city code NPE).

Traveling around Hawkes Bay

We suggest you should consider having a rental car for your time in Hawkes Bay.  It is much easier to independently travel around if you have a car, than if you're forced to rely on infrequent public transportation, taxis, and if you're limited only to tour options that include pickup/return to/from the accommodation you're staying at.

A Quick Overview of Hawke's Bay

As you can see from the map at the top, there are two main cities in Hawke's Bay - Napier and Hastings, located about 15 miles apart.

The region does extend as far north as Wairoa, and as far south and inland almost as far as Dannevirke, but these are very small towns with little to see and do in them, and most people will sensibly choose to stay in the Napier/Hastings area.

Where to Stay in Hawke's Bay

Although Hastings has the slightly larger population, Napier is by far the better city to stay in.  Hastings is landlocked, Napier is on the water.  Hastings is flat, Napier has a lovely hill to add character to it.  Hastings has limited shopping, Napier has much better shopping.

There is one other place to consider when looking for a place to base yourself.  This is Havelock North, a lovely little town on the slopes of Te Mata Peak, a distinctive hill that dominates much of the surrounding area.

Havelock North - the locals refer to it as 'the village' - is an easy going lovely little town, with some nice restaurants, plenty of wineries nearby, and conveniently close to both Hastings and Napier.  It makes for a wonderful base from which to relax and recreate during your time in Hawke's Bay.

If you follow our advice, you'll probably choose to stay in either Napier or Havelock North.  In Havelock North most of the accommodation is motel style accommodation, with some bed and breakfast operators and some unexciting hotel choices too.  In Napier you have a wider range of accommodation styles, and if you're staying in Napier, you might want to consider staying somewhere with an ocean view.  One of the better known larger hotels with ocean views, right in the city centre, is the 3 star Scenic Circle Te Pania Hotel.  An art deco style hotel with history and 'character' to it is The Masonic, also very centrally located.  The rooms are by no means luxurious, but you might find it an interesting place to stay at.

One other interesting hotel in Napier is the first class/deluxe County Hotel.  This is in one of the very few buildings that survived the earthquake, and is the former Hawkes Bay County Council Building, erected in 1909. 

If you choose to stay at a place with an ocean view, you'll almost certainly be separated from the ocean by a moderately busy road, and so you should ensure the property has in room air conditioning so you can stay cool in summer without needing to open the windows and be bothered by traffic noise at all hours of the day and night.

Or for a very different type of experience, you could stay in one of the more rural bed and breakfast establishments, including very upmarket places such as Mangapapa Lodge, or a similarly upmarket ultra-deluxe boutique B&B on 'the hill' in Napier, The Master's Lodge.

There is nowhere of particular interest or appeal to stay at in Hastings.

If you stay in Havelock North, you should choose one of the motels close to the center of the village so you can walk into town for meals.  There are several to choose from, with our two favorites being the Village Motel and the Harvest Lodge.

Consider motel choices

If you're staying a bit longer, consider staying in a motel, the same way most New Zealanders do.

Motels in New Zealand are not the cheap and sleazy places with rooms rented by the hour that Americans often associate with the word 'motel'.  Instead they are usually of a high standard, and offer some cooking facilities and possibly separate bedroom(s) as well as a living area.  A motel typically doesn't have an on-site restaurant, although some motels will bring you breakfast in the morning to your room.

Motels are great if you want to spread out in a more spacious unit, and if you would like to be able to store and serve some food yourself.

Motels are generally less expensive, per night, than hotels, and offer more living space in their units.

Many motels belong to a national rating system called 'Qualmark'.  Look for a motel with a Qualmark rating of at least four stars as an indicator of good quality.

There are many motels to choose from, throughout Hawke's Bay.

How Long to Stay in Hawke's Bay

To enjoy the essence of Hawke's Bay, you want to relax and take it easy.  For that reason, we recommend three nights as the minimum time to stay there.  Of course, you can stay for a shorter length of time if you wish, and equally you can stay longer, too.

Typically you'll arrive into the area in the afternoon of the first day/night, and so if you are staying three nights that gives you two full days plus the balance of the day you arrive and some of the morning you depart to enjoy the area.

What to See and Do in Hawke's Bay

There is plenty to see and do in the region, and one of the valid activities to do is 'nothing at all' - just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful area.

The following list represents activities that we have on our own personal 'must do' list, and which other people have generally found to be high quality experiences, too.  Use this as a suggested starting point for planning your own time.

Napier - Art Deco

New Zealand is very geologically active, and small earthquakes are quite common in much of the North Island.  Occasionally, there is also a large earthquake, once such being a 7.8 magnitude quake on 3 February, 1931, centered 10 miles north of Napier, and lasting 2 minutes.  525 aftershocks were recorded in the two weeks that followed.

256 people were killed, more than 400 hospitalized, and thousands more had minor injuries.  Nearly every building in both Napier and Hastings was destroyed, and more than 15 square miles of sea became dry land as a result of a 6 - 9 ft rise in ground levels.  The current airport is on part of this new land.

Many of the buildings that weren't completely destroyed by the earthquake in Napier were attacked next by fire.  The earthquake had destroyed the city's water supply, and fires, aided by a breeze off the sea, burnt down much of the rest of te city.

As a result of the devastation caused by this earthquake, Napier's entire downtown area needed to be rebuilt, which it duly was, and predominantly in the style of the period - Art Deco.  Hastings was also rebuilt with a mix of Art Deco and Spanish Mission styles.

We residents of Napier tended to take the Art Deco buildings for granted in our city, and indeed many of them became dilapidated with the passing of the years.  But then some foresighted person realized that Napier offered one of the most complete 'frozen in time' tableaus of Art Deco style architecture of anywhere in the world, and the city has proudly restored many of the buildings and now features them prominently as a tourist attraction.  There are various guided and self guided walks and tours offered, Art Deco festivals in February of each year, and other themed activities.  Details can be found here.

Napier - Classic Sheepskins

As a New Zealander myself, I tend to take some things for granted about my home country.  One such thing is sheep.  NZ currently has a population of about 4 million people and 60 million sheep - there are sheep everywhere (almost).

As well as sheep everywhere, so too are sheep products - meat and wool items being the most prominent.  I was reminded of this when leading a tour of Travel Insider readers to New Zealand.  As a 'filler' I included a stop at a company in Napier, Classic Sheepskins, allowing people to tour through a tannery to see how sheepskins are processed, and then to browse through their gift shop.

To my surprise, this was one of the highlights of the tour, and almost every person staggered out of the gift shop with lots of purchases.  Prices seemed very fair and quality very good.

The company is in an unassuming building, in an industrial district close to Napier's port.  It might make a fun type of 'different' thing to see/do as part of your Hawke's Bay experience, and you could follow it up with a wander around the port of Ahuriri, currently undergoing a massive revival and gentrification, and perhaps a meal or drink at one of the nice restaurants there.

Havelock North - Te Mata Peak

On a clear day the view from Te Mata Peak is breathtaking, with wonderful views over the entire Hawke's Bay region.  Now that the road is sealed all the way to the top of the Peak, it is an easy drive, but take it slowly and carefully, especially around the corners, and be on the lookout for stray sheep on the road.

There are some walks that you can enjoy around the hill - there's a map and starting point by the cattle stop below the restaurant as you drive up.  And talking about restaurant, the Peak House Restaurant, much of the way up, is a lovely place for lunch and dinner [update, 2010 - it seems they are not serving dinner any more, just lunches, morning and afternoon teas].  You can eat outside on their deck as well as inside, with good food and fair prices.

An interesting adjunct to the restaurant is the owner's Barbeque Gourmet cooking courses.  As well as courses that are held once a week for five weeks, he also has intensive weekend courses that would be more suitable for visitors only in the area for a short time, and single three hour workshops.

Regional Wine Trails

Hawke's Bay is a wine lover's delight.  There are some 70 wineries in the region, and you can readily put together your own self-drive wine trail, or you can go on a wine trail tour (and leave the driving to someone else).

It is hard to recommend specific wineries to visit, because most of them are good.

One of my favorites however is Clearview, founded and owned by a former schoolmate of mine, Tim Turvey.  They are best known for Chardonnay wines that are almost overwhelmingly intense, and they also have an excellent on-site restaurant, open for lunches but not dinners.

Close to Clearview is Kim Crawford Wines, and if you're going to Clearview, you'll enjoy a stop at Kim Crawford too.

Another notable winery is New Zealand's oldest winery (established in 1851), Mission Estate.  It was the first winery in New Zealand, and for a very long time the only one to make a methode champenoise sparkling champagne style wine, and is owned by the Marist Brothers - a religious order (also known as the Society of Mary).  Now wholly a winery, but still owned by the Marist Brothers, the winery offers tours twice a day of the former seminary building.

Close to Mission Estate is the Church Road Winery, which also has a wine museum.

The best way to plan a wine trail of your own is to get a wine trail map from any of the Tourist Information centers in Hawke's Bay (or download a pdf copy from here) and then decide which part of the region you want to tour.  The region west of Hastings is particularly well suited for a lazy afternoon's touring through several lovely wineries in the Gimblett Gravels, Roy's Hill and Triangle areas.

If you're staying in Havelock North, you've plenty of wineries close by to your east.

Cape Kidnappers

If you look south across the bay from Napier (great views from the Bluff Hill lookout) you'll see the white cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.  This beautiful area is notable for having the largest mainland gannet colony of anywhere in the world, and a safari along the beach to where the gannets live is a wonderful way to spend half a day.  You can either walk (but not at high tide) or take one of the organized tours (here's one such tour operator).

The gannets are best seen between about early November and late February, and the colony is closed between July and mid October each year.

Beaches

You are never very far from the water in Hawke's Bay, but surprisingly there aren't many classic beautiful beaches.

Much of the beachfront has stones rather than golden sand, and perhaps the best beaches are to be found at Waimarama and Ocean Beach, both situated east of Havelock North.

Other Sights and Attractions

There are plenty of other things to see and do in the region.  For example, you might like to visit the Arataki Honey factory just out of Havelock North - founded in 1944 by two brothers, the better known of whom is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt Everest (you'll see his picture on the NZ $5 bill).  Sir Edmund Hillary, born in 1919 and still going strong, is without a doubt one of the greatest New Zealanders ever, and is a man of highest principles.  His honey is very good, too.

Close to Arataki is the Te Mata Cheese Company.  This company makes its own cheeses from fresh cow, sheep and goat milk; it probably isn't worth making a special visit, but if you're in the area with spare time, it is an interesting short stop - or a longer stop on a nice day if you choose to sit at one of the outside tables and enjoy some fresh cheese and perhaps a glass or two of wine to go with it.

Just around the corner from the Te Mata Cheese Company are a couple of the more esteemed restaurants - the Black Barn Bistro (open for lunches only, Wed - Sun - and there's a farmer's market on site on Saturdays, too), and Craggy Range Winery's Terroir restaurant, described by Conde Nast Traveller magazine as offering 'a meal as close as you can get to perfection'.  Terroir serves lunches and dinners most days of the week.

There are several good golf courses, some with very reasonable green fees in the area.  Fishermen will enjoy fishing in the Tuki Tuki or one of the other nearby rivers.  And if you're feeling very adventurous, consider parapenting (aka paragliding - sort of a cross between a parachute and a hang glider) down the almost vertical east face of Te Mata Peak.

A less threatening form of air travel is a hot air balloon ride, offered out of Hastings.  And a sedate form of ground based travel is to ride a bicycle - much of the region is flat, making it ideally suited for bike riding.

For more information

See this website - the official Hawke's Bay Tourism website - for more information about Hawke's Bay.

More About NZ Touring and Traveling

Additional helpful information on other destinations to visit during your NZ travels will be coming in future articles in this series.
 

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Originally published 2 Mar 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

 
 
 
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