It says much about Hawke’s Bay that, almost without fail, if you tell a Kiwi you’re off to this warm, dry, beautiful corner of the country, they’ll respond with a knowing smile and a “you lucky thing”. Hawke’s Bay – a region on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island – is becoming increasingly famous for its marvellous wine.
But beyond the vines there’s plenty for the arty and the sporty, for twitcher and surfer, for food lover and history buff.
Hastings is the largest town with a popularion of 60,000 but Napier – an art deco gem of a town – should be your base and gateway to the area.
I also recommend renting a car. The countryside is made for driving, with views of rolling, sun-stained hills, the perfect blue of the Pacific, vineyards and tall palm trees, and the pastelly pinks, yellows and oranges of Napier’s architecture.
Expect warm temperatures year round, with the climate – just like the light-coloured buildings and the regular passing cruise ships – feeling distinctly Mediterranean, with long, dry, dusty summers and mild winters when it seldom drops below 10 degrees.
3pm: Explore art deco Napier
The art deco movement lasted just 20 years, but – by unfortunate happenstance – Hawke’s Bay got its slice of the action after an earthquake crippled the city in February 1931. It measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and rumbled for approximately 150 seconds, 15 kilometres north of Napier, and remains – ahead of the Christchurch quake of 2011 – New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster.
The earthquake left 256 dead, thousands injured and fires burning owing to the heat of high summer and the Pacific breeze. The town was razed and many were left homeless. The reconstruction operation took two years, the day’s style was art deco, and the stunning results stand proudly to this day.
There are other art deco towns – Miami Beach, Santa Barbara, Bandung in Indonesia and Asmara in Eritrea (built by the Italians as the model colonial city) – but none can lay claim to the uniformity of Napier’s design.
The Art Deco Trust protects the town’s architecture and, on the first weekend of February hosts the Art Deco weekend, with dress-ups, vintage cars, planes and music luring 40,000 visitors.
The style adds a class to the town; while high-street chains are rife in the CBD, fast food is less visible, its sole representative a lonely branch of Subway with an art deco-inspired sign. So striking are the town’s buildings that even those without a passing interest in architecture won’t fail to be impressed.
It’s all curves, pastel colours and long horizontal lines, with touches of Maori embellishment too, like the motifs and carvings that can be seen if you pop your head into the building that now houses ASB Bank.
Head to the Art Deco Centre on Tennyson Street for a tour of the town’s best buildings, weaving in and out of shops and office space and other everyday-life spots to get a feel for the town’s history and architecture.
The best bits are found in the small CBD and around Marine Parade, which is a great place to watch the sun go down. The Soundshell is stunning and the statue of Pania of the Reef (a Maori mythological figure) – which has plenty of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid about it – is located amid colourful gardens, just yards from the south Pacific waves that gently batter the shoreline.
See more of Napier's art deco charm. Napier’s Art Deco Charm On Full Display In February
Take the Otago wine tour. Central Otago Wine Tour
7pm: Drinks and dinner at West Quay
Ahuriri is a dinky village on the water on the other side of the harbour, and is home to the run of bars and restaurants on the waterfront at West Quay. Shed 2 was the original down here and remains a local favourite (mains are about $25), while Mexi Mama does excellent Mexican fare, including delicious margaritas (mains are about $17).
Napier isn’t a wild party town. It benefits hugely from not being on the well-trodden backpacker route that takes in nearby Rotorua and Taupo, but that’s not to say there’s nowhere to enjoy a drink. The locals will be quenching their Friday thirst in the Gintrap or the Thirsty Whale.
9am: Breakfast, art and fish
Take in a leisurely breakfast at Mister D, a light, airy institution on Tennyson Street with a cute garden, open kitchen, excellent coffee and delicious food. Try the homemade baked beans and ham hock. When you’re full, turn left out up Tennyson and stop at MTG (Museum, Gallery, Theatre – adults $10, children free), which has interesting, oft-changing exhibitions on local culture and history, the earthquake and art deco.
From there, a pleasant wander along Marine Parade brings you to the National Aquarium of New Zealand and its impressive conservation projects, as well as sharks, penguins, turtles, kiwis and more. Perfect if you’ve got kids on board. The prices are: adults $20, children (three-14) $10, family of four $54.
1pm: Vineyard visits
The choice of vineyards and wineries – there are 72, most of which are family-owned – makes it simple to flit between them but more tricky to comprehensively cover. One way is to ditch the car (who wants to be wining and driving anyway?) and take to the area’s ample cycle paths to drift between a few, as many sit within the sort of distance that makes it more about vin than velo.
The wineries have cellar door tastings (it’s worth checking times; they are limited in the wintry months), with a cover charge of about $5 that typically gets you a few swigs of five or six wines and is waived if you buy yourself a bottle of the stuff.
The area is responsible for 32 per cent of New Zealand’s chardonnay and more than 83 per cent of its sumptuous syrahs, while the varied soil (there are 25 separate soil classifications for those into that kind of thing) makes for very different tasting wines from Hawke’s Bay’s various regions.
One idea is to start at Takaro Trails (day bike hire: $40) in Ahuriri and to head out to Church Road and Mission Estate Wineries in Taradale. It’s a gentle, flat, winding ride that runs first alongside Ahuriri lagoon, home to various native species of bird, including poakas, white-faced herons, spoonbills and oystercatchers.
But we’re here for the wine.
Mission Estate, having opened in 1851, is the oldest winery in New Zealand and boasts a certain colonial splendour as well as a fascinating backstory.
Barely a minute back on the bike is Church Road, where a tour – which clearly maps out the wine-making process and gets deep into the bowels of the building – comes highly recommended, as does the syrah, although you’ll find yourself heaping praise on this particular grape with metronomic regularity in these parts.
Another option is to use On Yer Bike Winery Tours – try their wines (Ash Ridge), too – to take in the Gimblett Gravels and the Ngatarawa Triangle, two neighbouring but distinct wine regions. And pop up to Trinity Hill, where the wine is excellent and the hospitality a treat.
There’s a pristine lawn but the adjacent building is in keeping with the history of the Gimblett Gravels, which until recently was considered to be an arid, stony riverbed unsuitable for growing vines. The building is grey and industrial-looking and the wine has stony touches too, which is unsurprising when you’re given a look at the soil where the vines are grown – full of gravelly, sun-baked rocks.
Trinity, where the food platter is superb, should be a certain stop and the voignier and syrah are a treat. Tie it in with a trip to Te Awa and the beautiful vine-circled garden at Salvare, which are both just down the road in the Ngatarawa Triangle.
You’ll be astounded how such a short cycle can produce such different tasting wines.
7pm: Dinner at Emporium
For a place that could be gimmicky, Emporium (mains $25-35) strikes a fine balance, with the lighting, music and decoration – there are some earthquake-era gems – completely in keeping with the age it celebrates. There are also a couple of slyly positioned screens showing 1930s movies.
The food is excellent and includes local produce ranging from steak to strawberries. The atmosphere is lively but not raucous and, with tables of all shapes and sizes, it’s a decent place to sip a quiet cocktail and watch the world go by.
For a nightcap, pop round the corner to the trendiest and newest place in town – Monica Loves – up an alley and from the the same people who brought you Mister D, it’s funkily decked out. A fine way to end the day.
9am: Flat whites and big climbs
Havelock North is a cosy little village near Hastings and home to the area’s premier boutique shops and cute coffee stops. Try Adam and Eva’s for breakfast, then cruise up the winding path to Te Mata Peak to take in staggering, panoramic 360-degree views of the area – all rugged farmland and vines – and out over the ocean.
If you’re not all wined out from the day before, nestling at the foot of the hill is Craggy Range Winery, one of Hawke’s Bay’s grand affairs, which boasts a fine restaurant and accommodation if you’re looking to stay a little longer.
If you’re feeling particularly active, the crashing waves and white sands of beautiful Waimarama beach a few kilometres down the coast are enticing. Sure, it’s not Raglan, but the waves break right and left, providing varied surf which has the locals flocking there all year round.
11am: Golfing and games
Cape Kidnappers – just down the road from Havelock – is one of the area’s gems. It gets its name from an attempt by local Maori to abduct one of Captain Cook’s crew from HMS Endeavour in 1769.
The golf course that has stood atop the cliffs since 2004 is considered one of the world’s finest, a mighty challenge with arresting views – particularly from the 16th tee, 140 metres above sea level. The green fees, however, are outrageous: $475 in summer and $313 in winter.
Away from the course the best way to enjoy Cape Kidnappers’ other charms is on a tractor-pulled trailer with Gannet Beach Adventure Tours – adults $42, children $24 (lasts four hours). Up above on the cliffs is a well-organised conservation project, with a predator-proof fence and a selection of reintroduced native birds including a 3,000-strong gannet colony.
Masonic Art Deco Hotel (attached to the Emporium) provides a Woosterian splendour. Rooms are cosy but grand, it’s perfectly presented, from the artwork to the upholstery, and there’s a lavish staircase running up the middle. From $185 a night for a double room.
Crown Hotel in Ahuriri is a smart, light place with large rooms and wonderful ocean views. Its restaurant, Milk & Honey, is metres from the ocean and worth a visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner, while the adjoining Globe Theatrette is a handy spot to catch a movie. From $200 a night for a double room.
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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Will Macpherson from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.