Taupo to Napier Road Trip

waipunga falls

After a leisurely breakfast and a stroll along the lakeshore we set off bound for Napier on SH5, following a route forged in 1874 when a two-day Taupo-Napier Highway coach service began.

These days it takes around two hours. We make a stop at Waipunga Falls where there’s a parking area and viewing point. Bob takes a photo and then we continue to Tarawera which provided a resting point overnight for passengers taking the Taupo-Napier coach service. Comfort for the travellers included a soak in the hot sodium springs on the banks of the Waipunga River.

Before long we hit the orchards and vineyards of the Esk Valley where citrus fruit, avocados and grapes are grown, indicating that we’ve arrived in Hawke’s Bay. When we enter Napier itself, Bob is struck by the wealth of art deco and Spanish Mission style buildings. I relay the story of the 1931 earthquake and the subsequent rebuilding of the town in the modern architecture of the time.

We join an informative one-hour walking tour of the inner city’s buildings with Doreen Smith, a knowledgeable volunteer guide for the Art Deco Trust. Bob’s already pretty good at spotting the zigzags, sunbursts and fountain shapes that characterise the design of the period, but soon I’m like a professional too. Seeing how keen Bob is, Doreen recommends we return for one of the Art Deco Weekends held in February and July. It’s a time when folk polish their vintage cars, dress in their best art deco gear and take part in ‘bubbly’ breakfasts, café crawls, celebrity tea parties, and glitzy costume and coiffure competitions. Doreen’s already got a gorgeous frilly black skirt and black feather band lined up for the next event!

After a lunch of freshly made bagels at De Luca’s Café, we finish the day with a tractor and trailer ride out to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. This is a nostalgic trip for me and although Bob’s not so keen “to take a bumpy beach ride” he soon gets into the spirit of things as our tractor and trailer set off in a convoy with two others along the beach.

Access to this unique gannet colony is available at low tide and we pass massive white sandstone cliffs en route. Our driver points out fragmented fault and tilt lines along the way which tell the story of the region’s many earthquakes.

We stop near the cape and walk uphill to where gannets – in their thousands – nest on a rocky plateau. An hour and a half is given to spend time viewing the birds before we board our trailer and journey back along the beach. On the return I share my vivid memories of this trip as a child with Bob as we bounce back towards Napier. The National Aquarium was another highlight that I remember clearly and I wonder out loud if we should visit tomorrow. “Perhaps,” says Bob distractedly as his tummy gives a distinctly loud growl, “but more importantly can you remember where you ate dinner?”