Napier is a small port city nestled in the sunny Hawke’s Bay region on the eastern shores of the North Island. Your Napier hire car is the key to exploring this rich agricultural area with its vast patchwork of over 70 vineyards. An earthquake in 1931 destroyed much of central Napier and its neighbour, Hastings. The cities were rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the day, and many of these unique buildings still stand. Delve deeper into Napier’s architectural past with a guided walk or vintage car tour, a short 1930s road-train trip, or by taking a self-guided tour, info available at the visitor centre.
High sunshine hours help produce the region’s fresh fruits and world-famous vineyards. Each winery is distinct and many offer tasting experiences, from some of the country’s oldest, such as historic Mission Estate Winery and boutique Church Road Winery, to exciting newbies Clearview Estate Winery and Sileni Estates. A popular way to explore the estates is by bicycle. Self-guided routes are on level roads and vary in length, ideal for scenery immersion. Vines and Views offers the same experience, but in an air-conditioned minibus.
The gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers, south-east of Napier, are a must (ideally Nov–Feb). Explore the rugged coastline and view the Black Reef colony from a tractor-driven cart or minibus. Alternatively, park your Napier rental car at Clifton, 20 minutes from Hastings, and allow up to five hours for a return walk, at low tide, along the beach.
Napier’s beachfront is long and sandy, perfect for basking in the sun. It can be dangerous, though, so head to Tangoio Beach (30 minutes north) or Clifton Beach for safer swimming. Surfers flock to Ocean Beach and Waimarama (30–45 minutes from Hastings). Enjoy full-on, action-packed water fun at Splash Planet – a theme park crammed with exciting slides and rides – or at Napier Aquatic Centre with lane swimming and a spray park for kids. For a more sedate soaking, Ocean Spa Napier has heated outdoor leisure pools.
Many local rivers provide safe swimming, fly casting, canoeing and white-water rafting. If you prefer a day at sea, boat charters are available for deep sea and big game fishing or sailing. Other activities include The National Aquarium, with its dazzling display of aquatic life; MTG Hawke’s Bay, a new cultural centre (open September 2013); the Silky Oak Chocolate Factory, for a sumptuous tour and treat; Waimarama Maori Tours, for local Maori culture; or a stroll along Marine Parade, a boulevard lined with trees, fountains and statues, including the famous ‘Pania of the Reef ’.
Local strolls take in a boardwalk track through the Ahuriri Estuary and hilltop views of the city from Bluff Hill. For far-reaching, panoramic views of the area, drive 30 minutes south of Napier up the 400m Te Mata Peak, where you can also enjoy mountain trekking and nature trails. Napier has ample retail outlets, ranging from art galleries to clothes boutiques. Pick up fresh treats at Napier’s Farmers’ Market (every Sat). Artisan growers also provide local restaurants with abundant fresh produce. Taste the difference at The Old Church Restaurant and Bar, Milk & Honey and Hawke’s Bay’s oldest pub, Westshore Beach Inn.
Napier has a vibrant nightlife, especially in buzzing seaside suburb Ahuriri, and many bars and restaurants showcase live bands. The huge range of accommodation includes budget-friendly backpackers’ hostels, comfy B&Bs, farmstays, holiday homes, motels and hotels. Navigate in Ahuriri offers rooms and apartments with sea views while downtown The County Hotel oozes old-world charm. Popular out-of-town excursions include Hastings (20km inland from Napier), brimming with cafés, restaurants and art. Its suburb village of Havelock North is considered a luxury boutique destination and central hub to many of the wineries.