Where? I may hear you ask but anyone who knows anything about Art Deco will immediately know all about Napier. Perhaps if I added that it was slap-bang in the middle of Hawkes Bay then a few more people who know their Clarets from their Bordeaux’s may nod in recognition.
Located in-between Auckland and Wellington, Napier is a gem that is often left off the tourist map. It’s not the easiest to get to by car, with the 300-odd mile drive taking up to six hours. However, it is just a 40 minute hop on the plane from Auckland and Wellington, with up to 15 flights a day so it would be rude not to pay the town a visit if you were on the North Island for a period of time.
As already mentioned, the town is famed for its Art Deco architecture which was the result of a devastating earthquake back in 1931 which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, killed over 250 people and led to the almost flattening of the town as it was. The local government granted a request to rebuild the town in an Art Deco style which today brings thousands of visitors, none more so than Art Deco week where the locals dress in period costume as they go about their daily business.
Napier isn’t a town with a lot of attractions based around doing, but rather seeing. The National Aquarium of New Zealand is a popular attraction, located on Marine Parade, whilst Napier Prison is a popular place to spend a couple of hours – once New Zealand’s oldest prison, it now offers guided day and night tours by appointment and self-guided audio tours all day. It is also the only building where it is possible to see the original path of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. The pedestrianized High Street also has some unusual shops and is worth a browse.
The black-sand beach, with the crashing Pacific Ocean waves is a great place just to sit and contemplate life. Backing onto the beach is the Soundshell, where concerts are held during the summer and the Pania of the Reef statue. The Pania statue on Marine Parade is regarded in Napier in much the same way that the Little Mermaid statue is regarded in Copenhagen.
The pie is king in these parts and there are few better places to pick up one in the morning than Angkor Wat Bakery on the corner of Dickens and Dalton – a huge range of sweet and savoury pies that sell out fast. If you fancy a more substantial breakfast then the Zigg Zigg Cafe on the corner of Emerson and Clive Square does a fantastic Kiwi twist on a full English.
Napier has a couple of outstanding restaurants, none more so than the tasting menu at the compact Bistronomy – it is worth booking ahead for this feast, whilst the Emporium around the corner on Marine Parade is not only a decent pub but also has a great menu of Asian fusion-inspired food. For something completely different, head to the corner of Clive Square and Dickens where Deli Roasts allows you to build your own roast dinner to take away. On most days they will have a choice of 4 different meats and enough vegetables to keep your Mum happy. At that end of the town centre you will also find the fast food chains and the cinema should you wish to take in a movie.
If you are feeling energetic then you could head to Ahruri, which is on the other side of the big hill. About a 45 minute walk or 5 minutes in a cab here you will find a number of converted old dockside buildings including the excellent Speights Ale House, Gintrap Restaurant and Bar and the Three Doors Up restaurant which is one of the best seafood restaurants in the area.
A ten minute walk down Munroe Street will eventually bring you to McLean Park, one of the venues used by the New Zealand cricket team for international games as well as rugby matches. Napier also has a football team who play in the New Zealand Premier League – Napier City Rovers. Their home ground is the Bluewater Stadium which is located Orutu Park, about 10 minutes away in a cab.
Apart from the Art Deco and the excellent food, most people head to the town to start their wine tasting tour. Hawkes Bay, derives from Hawke Bay which was named by Captain James Cook in honour of Admiral Edward Hawke who decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759, is home to over 70 wineries today – a few to many to see in just 24 hours but you could easily take in half a dozen on a well-planned tour. Some not to miss are Moana Park, Elephant Hill and Askerne Winery.
For those wanting a bed for the night then the best address is town is unsurprisingly the Art Deco Masonic hotel on the corner of Tennyson Street. A cheaper option is Quest on Dickens Street which offers rooms with kitchen facilities. On the other side of the hill, you can’t beat the East Pier Hotel for the views.