Napier Travel Guide

Located on the east coast of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is one of NZ’s premier food, wine and lifestyle destinations. Home to NZ’s oldest operational winery it’s also the largest red wine producing region in the country. Wine lovers will discover more than 50 wineries in the region; over 30 of them provide a cellar door experience where you can visit, tour and taste. At some of the more boutique style vineyards such as Clearview Estate the knowledgeable person actually pouring the wine is often the winemaker themselves!

We take three days to tour Hawke’s Bay towns of Napier and Hastings where we fill our picnic hamper to bursting point with gourmet delights found en route, then travel south to the capital city. We visit Marineland and the National Aquarium of NZ, taste the regions’ award winning wines and join locals at a Farmers’ Market.

After a relaxing lunch at a café on Napier’s Marine Parade, we view Hawke’s Bay Museum and Exhibition Centre. There are extensive exhibits of contemporary and traditional Maori art, ceramics, textiles and the social history of the region, but we agree that the highlight is Survivors’ Stories, a riveting video telling the tale of Napier’s devastating 1931 earthquake. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, the quake hit the city at 10.46 am on 3rd February 1931. In two-and-a-half minutes, Napier and nearby Hastings were literally shaken to the ground and 258 people lost their lives in what remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster. The town was rebuilt and the former ornate Victorian architecture replaced with the clean lines of concrete buildings of art deco design.

In search of some lighter entertainment we continue with a visit to the National Aquarium of New Zealand. It’s home to a wide range of NZ marine animals and other native species, including the tuatara and kiwi.

Bob’s keen to watch the feeding show and so we hop aboard the travelator, which journeys through glass tunnels in the oceanarium, where, much to our delight, we see a diver handfeeding a large stingray and shark.

Then we spend time at the not-so-native Possum World, where the skins of these pesky creatures are used to create beautifully styled blankets, slippers and hats. A local business, it relies on possums caught in nearby forests, and after the skins are dressed, they’re sponged, stretched, stencilled and sewn on site. There’s a small museum to look around; it’s free, and features fun, educational displays on NZ’s possum plague. Bob picks up a gorgeous blanket, “Could come in handy in the South Island,” he jokes, packing it away in the boot.

We end the day at the Ocean Spa on Marine Parade in new open-air heated pools built on the site of Napier’s original Hot Sea Water Baths. There are various leisure pools as well as a 25-metre lap pool. Bob does a couple of laps and then breathlessly gives up and joins me in an elevated adult-only spa where we relax and watch the sunset cast a pinkish light on the white cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.