I am great lover of red wines. Once we discovered that the Hawke’s Bay region is New Zealand’s largest and oldest red wine producing center and it also offers 200 kilometers of cycling trails, we were sold on a visit.
Hawke’s Bay is located on the east coast of the North Island, about 5 hours south-east of Auckland. Coming from Auckland, stop for lunch along the way in Tirau and enjoy their quirky corrugated artwork. Get a flavor for what you can expect in the King of Corrugated Iron. If you aren’t interested in driving there, the Hawke’s Bay region is served by Air New Zealand out of Auckland as well as other points.
There are three main cities in the Hawke’s Bay region – Napier, Hastings and Havelock North.
Hawke’s Bay Wine Region
The climate in Hawke’s Bay is similar to Bordeaux, making it ideal for the production of fine red wines. There are 75 vineyards here producing Bordeaux Blends, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah as well as some Chardonnays. Mission Estate Winery, established in 1851, by pioneering French Missionaries is New Zealand’s oldest winery and the birthplace of the New Zealand wine industry. A vineyard was established to produce sacramental and table wines, and a church and school were built soon after. They have been selling wine since 1870. The Mission Estate Winery offers wine tastings, fine dining and has a concert venue. Many other wineries in the region also offer tours and wine tastings, with ample resources available on the internet to point you in the right direction.
The key piece of information to understand the Hawke’s Bay region is the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.
On February 3, 1931, the Hawke’s Bay region experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered 15 kilometers north of Napier which damaged the majority of the Napier and Hastings. To put some perspective on its significance, the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 which many of us witnessed through the global news media was a 6.3 magnitude quake.
The fires that followed the earthquake were the real culprit in destroying Napier. With the city water system damaged as a result of the quake, the city was ill-equipped to battle the blazes. The ensuing fires in Hastings were more quickly brought under control and consequently Hastings suffered less damage. By the time a semblance of order was achieved, 256 people died across the region. It still ranks as the largest loss of life from a natural disaster in New Zealand.
The Rebuilding of Napier and Hastings – The Silver Lining
Out of the rubble, the rebuilding of Napier and Hastings began. The Art Deco architectural style was the rage at the time and in the rebuilding of Napier and Hastings, this style as well as Spanish Mission style predominated. As a result, Napier has the most significant collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. As is often sadly the case, the value of this unique aspect of Napier’s architecture was not sufficiently protected. The demolition of the National Bank in 1983 caused the citizens of Napier to take note. The Art Deco Trust was formed in 1985 to preserve the architectural heritage of Napier.
Today, the Art Deco Trust as part of its mandate provides tours of the historic area. A self-guided walking tour brochure can be purchased at the Art Deco Trust store (or downloaded from their website.) They also offer an array of guided walks and tours including costumed hosts and tours in historic automobiles. If you are taking a guided tour, I would recommend that you purchase the self-guided walking tour brochure in any case. It provides some interesting background facts and great details about each of the buildings along the walk. At $7.95, it’s a small investment.
For information about the Art Deco Centre, visit Art Deco Napier. There are over 140 historic buildings to see. Here are a few to give you a flavor of what Napier has to offer.
The Art Deco Trust also offers a 20 minute film “The Day that Changed the Bay” from their location at 7 Tennyson Street that provides a good overview of the earthquake and its aftermath which helps provide a framework of the historical events in Napier.
Also visit MTG Hawke’s Bay at 1 Tennyson Street to view their ongoing exhibit about the earthquake. For details on hours and exhibits, visit MTG Hawke’s Bay.
A social highlight of the year in Napier is the Tremains Art Deco Festival, a 4 day festival, usually in February, of all things Art Deco. Chanel your inner-Flapper and dress in your best Art Deco period outfit. If you don’t have one, there are many shops in Napier that sell vintage clothing or new pieces in Art Deco style. There are over 250 events to take in from the Great Gatsby picnic, soap box derby, dinner dances and vintage car and airplane shows. (A smaller 3 day Winter Deco weekend runs in July.) Unfortunately, we visited Napier the week before the Art Deco Festival, but we did manage to see some advance publicity for the soap box derby.
It’s a huge event so it’s necessary to book accommodations early which as new visitors to New Zealand, we didn’t know. Something to add to the list to visit next year, perhaps.
Hawke’s Bay Cycling
To obtain a Hawke’s Bay Trail Cycling map, visit any of the i-SITE centers throughout the region. There are seven routes mapped and plenty of country roads that can be added to the routes for more ambitious riding. There are bike hires in the towns, if you don’t have your own bike and tour operators that will take you on a guided ride, if that suits you better. (You can also download a map at Hawke’s Bay Trails.) Pick up the free Heritage Trails booklets while you are at the i-SITE. They are self-guided tour booklets for each of the main cities in the region and provide good information about the historical sites along the routes.
We spent two days riding here, sampling bits and pieces of three of the seven rides.
Puketapu Napier Route
The Puketapu route runs out of Napier following the coast of Hawke’s Bay and then spends some time inland along the Ahuriri Estuary and the Tutaekuri River. Most of the riding is on paved roads or paths but some are crushed, packed limestone. We cycled on road bikes and found the limestone paths smooth enough and fine enough that it wasn’t necessary to have a mountain bike or a hybrid bike though if you rent one, this is what you will get.
A highlight is the National Tobacco Company building at the corner of Ossian and Bridge Streets in Port Ahuriri, perhaps 15 minutes from downtown Napier. Built in 1932, following the earthquake, it is considered one of New Zealand’s finest historical factory buildings. Designed by Louis Hays, who designed many of the buildings in Napier during the reconstruction, it is open for viewing on weekdays.
The ride runs in a circle and returns to Napier along the Marine Parade, the walking / cycling shared path running along the ocean into downtown Napier. Even if you aren’t inclined to ride a bike, the Marine Parade is still a must-do in Napier. It is a pleasant walk, ocean-side, with parks, shops, playgrounds and the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
Kidnappers Coast Ride
On our second riding day, we sampled the Kidnappers Coast Ride and the Hasting iWay Loop.
The Kidnappers Coast Ride is a short 18 kilometer ride. Starting out of Napier adds a few extra kilometers along the Marine Parade before you hook up with the Kidnappers path. Everything is well marked at junction points. It is fairly difficult to get too lost here. Just keep following the ocean south. It will be on your left hand all the way to Cape Kidnappers.
At the turn-around point at the end of the Kidnappers ride, conveniently, there is a café for a snack and a chance to refill your water bottles. Beyond this point, it is possible to hike 18 kilometers round-trip, leaving around low tide, to view the limestone cliffs and the largest gannet colony in the world.
If this is too much of a challenge, there are several local tour operators offering gannet tours.
Cape Kidnappers is interestingly named after an incident involving Captain Cook and his ship, the Endeavour on October 15, 1769. Maori mistakenly assumed that a Tahitian crew member of Cook’s had been abducted and attempted to ‘rescue’ him. Cook named the point Cape Kidnappers as a result.
If golf, rather than cycling, is your raison d’etre, Cape Kidnappers Golf Course is where you want to be. It is ranked as the 16th best golf course in the world in 2016 by Golf Digest.
Hastings iWay Loop – Havelock North and Hastings
The Hatings iWay Loop joins up with the Kidnappers loop and is another 35 kilometers of riding through the cities of Havelock North and Hastings. Along raised limestone paths, you will pass by vineyards and the other main feature of the region, apple orchards. As fall approaches, the fields are ready for picking, with the apple boxes lining the fields waiting to be filled.
The main challenge in the area for the cyclist is Te Mata Peak, a 399-meter peak just on the outskirts of Havelock North. The land was granted in 1927 to the people of Hawke’s Bay by the sons of John Chambers who purchased a block of land in 1862 which included Te Mata. A cairn at the entrance to the park recognizes this gift. I managed to make it part way up, but bailed out at the first car park. Dennis, brave soul, did the whole route, another two kilometers beyond where I quit and was rewarded with this view. (There are four or five hiking trails in the park as well. Something to try another day.)
The reward for every up hill is a downhill. Enjoy the ride downhill into Havelock North, which is a suburb of Hastings.
Entering Havelock North, we struggled up hill, yet again, to Duart House and Gardens, built in 1882 as the manor house for Allan and Hannah McLean (nee Chambers, the daughter of the Chambers family of Te Mata.) It’s interesting to contemplate this house, out in the middle of nowhere in 1882 but now surrounded by Havelock North. Allan didn’t like formal gardens, preferring the sheep browsing right up to the house. The story has it that when he died, his wife immediately went out and planted gardens around the house.
Their only son born at Duart House, Nigel, was killed in World War 1 at Gallipoli which was a defining battle for the New Zealand and Australian armies. The street that borders Duart House was renamed Nigel Street in his honor with a poppy on the street sign. We noticed a number of street signs in Havelock North with poppies on them commemorating those who gave their lives in the wars. A lovely tribute. (See Poppy Places here for historical information about Nigel McLean)
After a challenging ride or hike at Te Mata Peak, the reward is a stop at the Birdwoods Gallery and Sweet Shop on Middle Road, just 3 kilometers outside Havelock North. It’s the kind of charming roadside stop that most women love and most men just endure. The owners relocated a church here which serves as the gift shop.
In the back garden is a shaded patio with cafe tables overlooking a sculpture garden. The food is terrific and the setting is lovely. If you aren’t on a bike, it is a still a worthwhile detour after touring some of the local wineries. An old fashion sweet shop, built from reclaimed material from the Napier Hospital, sits adjacent to the church. Find Birdwoods at www.birdwoodsgallery.co.nz
Continue onto Hastings after a relaxing break at Birdwoods. Hastings, like Napier suffered significant damage in the 1931 Earthquake and was subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco style.
We particularly admired the Art Deco styled light standards in Hastings. Very George Jetson! We also admired the 1935 Town Clock tour which replaced the one destroyed by the earthquake.
Finally, the Hawke’s Bay Opera House, built in 1915, now partially hidden behind a barrier, was damaged but not destroyed in 1931. Currently mired in civic debate, the opera house was closed in 2014, after engineering assessments deemed it unsafe.
Admire the Wesley Methodist Church, immediately across the street from the opera house, a post-earthquake Mission Style church. Beautiful.
Heading back to Napier through the countryside from Hasting completes the ride.
New Zealand continues to surprise us. Hawke’s Bay, though geographically a small region, has much to offer the tourist. There is something for the history lover, the cyclist, the golfer, the hiker, the foodie, the shopper and families. Having spent four days here, we feel we have hardly experienced a fraction of the things to see and do. We left many roads to be discovered; to be cycled another day. Golf and hiking at Cape Kidnappers as well as some more diligent attention to the many vineyards in the region are on our list for next time. I’m going to work on my Charleston step and round-out my Flapper wardrobe before visiting Tremains Art Deco Festival next season.
If I have tickled your curiosity and you are interested in more information, the Hawke’s Bay tourism site is your go-to source of information.