Hawke’s Bay: Wine, Wild Gannets and Art Deco



New Zealand’s North Island is a popular tourist destination thanks to the cities of Auckland and Wellington, but the lesser-known Hawke’s Bay possesses many charms of its own. Located on the island’s east coast, the bay is featured on postcards in many spectacular aerial photos. Its most prominent features are its steep white cliffs by the ocean, contrasting a backdrop of green mountainside.

Captain James Cook surveyed the area in the late 18th century, naming the bay for Sir Edward Hawke, a British admiral. The twin cities in the area are also named in a similar vein: Hastings is also a historic U.K. town, and Napier was a general of the British Empire. With the two urban centres a half-hour drive from each other, they form an urban area with a population of  almost 140,000 people. As well as attractions like the National Aquarium or the Marineland of New Zealand, the area features amazing natural scenery, great food and superb wine.


The wine country of the bay is famed for being NZ’s lead producer of red wines. In fact, more than 80 per cent of the country’s plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes are found here. A map of the region’s most celebrated wineries are available to plan your tasting trip, but remember to think ahead for transportation (have a designated driver).


The region also has a world-class wine trail. Stretching 380 km from Napier to Blenheim, the scenic drive is spectacular, running through Hawke’s Bay, noted for its red wine; Wairarapa, noted for Pinot Noir; and Marlborough with its famous Sauvignon Blanc. We recommend putting aside three to four days for the trip. Perhaps stay in one of the area’s luxury villas.

Cape Kidnappers

This rocky peninsula is just a half-hour drive from either Napier or Hastings. It was named for an incident during Captain Cook’s 1769 expedition: the Maori took  a Tahitian crewman working for Cook captive, who eventually escaped back to the ship after a firefight. Cape Kidnappers also boast one of New Zealand’s best golf courses. Located atop a series of lofty cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the par-71 course runs 6.5 km and was New-Zealand-Golf-1designed by Tom Doak, an American architect famed in the the golf world. Brent Narby, a travel writer who specializes in Oceania, compiled a list of New Zealand’s top 10 golf courses. Read  the article to learn more about the Cape and Kauri Cliff, its sister course further north.

The cape is also the traditional nesting site for Australian gannets. Home to more than 8,000 of the seabirds, the peninsula is designated as an important conservation site. A 10 km stretch of beach offers stunning scenery.


Photo: James Shook.

One of the two bay cities, Napier is known for its brilliant art deco architecture. Rebuilt during the 1930s after a devastating earthquake, the city came to life again during the height of the art deco movement. Its slightly surreal buildings are reminiscent of the great buildings of the era in New York City, including the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. One of the major architects of the art deco rebuilding was Louis Hay, a native of the town, whose legacy is preserved in the Halsbury Chamber, the National Tobacco Company Building, and dozens of other structures lining the streets of Napier. David Whitley of National Geographic offers a great insight on the uniqueness of the city’s design.

The waterfront of the city is also worth a visit. If you are looking for a day on the beach, check out Tangoio beach just a half-hour north, as well as a number of lagoons and lakes around the city. To appreciate Napier as a  seaport explore it at night, walking on the Marine Parade, a beautiful street facing the city’s coast. On the street is Napier’s most famous attraction: Pania on the Reef, an impressive bronze statue of the legendary Pania, a beautiful maiden of Maori mythology.


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