Napier Day 1: Art Deco and the Sea

An exciting opportunity came up last month – Easter’s four-day weekend! With this unprecedented wealth of free time, we decided it would be daft to stay in Auckland and headed off to Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast. After a hectic few weeks at work (I’ve been at the office from 9 until after 6 most days), we didn’t have the time or energy to plan a detailed itinerary, so we decided to just wing it. We packed the car, set our sights on Napier, the largest city on Hawke’s Bay, and started driving!

You may recall there’s only one motorway out of Auckland to the south, so to vary things up from the Tongariro trip we decided to take the coast roads east and join the routes to the Taupo/Rotorua region. This route was longer and windier, but featured much better scenery than the taillights of the car ahead of us. Though the season had definitely changed to autumn, the weather was still stunning. We stopped at a small regional park on a whim and were rewarded with this view:

We think that's Waiheke Island.
We think that’s Waiheke Island.
The color of the grass and sea were so vibrant!
The color of the grass and sea were so vibrant!

Conscious of the distance we had to cover, we didn’t make too many other stops after that. Luckily, as it was a coast road, most of the sights could be enjoyed from the car! We did make a quick pit stop at the Miranda Shorebird Center hides (this time after approaching from the north), but sadly for us most of the birds have moved on for their northern hemisphere summer holidays, leaving only the year-round birds. In addition, we hadn’t paid any attention to the tides and it was low when we arrived, which meant the birds were out beyond the shellbanks, out of view of the hides. At least this kept our visit short!

The next location of interest after miles of rolling hills along SH27 was Matamata. We’d passed through here on our way to the Hobbiton tour and the town really knows why people come here:

Don't know what the stick was there for...
Don’t know what the stick was there for…

Because of the holiday weekend, the town was quite busy! At this point we needed lunch, so we miraculously found a parking spot on the main street and, with the help of the guidebook, found a nice restaurant called the Workman’s Cafe. The main area of the cafe was busy, so the manager seated us at the open window in the bar, allowing us to people-watch while we enjoyed some tasty food.

The Matamata iSite (visitor center).
The Matamata iSite (visitor center).

Continuing our trek south, the sights of civilization became fewer and farther between. After Taupo, a city about in the middle of the North Island, the signs warned us that there’d be no gas for the next 100+ kilometers along the road to the east coast. We headed into this wilderness, which seemed deserted except for logging activity. Things were a bit dull so when we came across a small sign for a scenic overlook, we eagerly turned off. Again we were well rewarded for exploring small unremarkable side roads, this time with a large waterfall:

Waipunga Falls, not that you would know that if you visited.
Waipunga Falls, not that you would know that if you visited.

M in particular isn’t used to spectacular natural features like this being so deserted (not to mention lacking ice cream vans!) but the quiet and lack of crowds let you really appreciate the sights and sounds of the falls. Besides, he had a much healthier snack of an orange anyway! Shortly after the food came out, so did this little guy:

Not a very remarkable bird, compared to other NZ species.
Not a very remarkable bird, compared to other NZ species.

It’s a dunnock, which is a bird commonly found in the south but not so much around Auckland. I was happy as it added another entry to my list: currently at 81 species seen in New Zealand!

Finally, we reached our destination: Napier. This is the regional capital of Hawke’s Bay and is famous as the Art Deco city. Most of the city was leveled in an earthquake in 1931 and was rebuilt in Art Deco style. The city planner of the time also took the opportunity to rename the roads after his favourite authors, most of which we drove down in the hunt for accommodation. We soon realized that finding a place to stay on a busy four-day weekend in a seaside town may be difficult, but our dedication to not planning in advance paid off. All the hostels were booked, so we ended up in a hotel with luxurious features: waterfront, central and with hot tub in room! As we were looking to relax this weekend, we ended up in the perfect place.

Large anchor and the Napier shoreline at sunset.
The Napier shoreline at sunset.

After settling in to the room, we went for a sunset wander. The main street of Napier, Marine Parade, is a long straight road along the shore, with Art Deco buildings on one side and a collection of public areas on the beach side.

Art Deco building in Napier.
A major Art Deco building in Napier.

These public areas include playgrounds, picnic tables, a wide path along the pebbly beach, a miniature road system (complete with working traffic lights) for kids to ride their bikes/scooters on, several formal gardens, a spa/public pools, and Sk8 Zone– a large skate park playing music and clearly popular with older kids and teens.

A bit out of place, maybe.
A bit out of place, maybe.
Very nice.
Ahh, much better!

Overall, this area has something for the entire family. M and I spent most of our time in the gardens, admiring the buildings, and looking at the sunset over the sea.

Sundials don't work well at sunset.
Sundials don’t work well at sunset.

It was at this point that our lack of planning backfired a bit: in search of dinner, we walked about 15 minutes from the downtown area to the grocery store, where we were met by closed doors. In NZ, Good Friday is a public holiday so all the supermarkets, which are normally 24 hours, were closed. After wandering for a bit looking for other options, we had to retreat back to the hotel and then drive out to the dock area of Napier. This area reportedly has great restaurants, especially for seafood, but we just grabbed some fish and chips (from a place with the flag of the Netherlands outside called The Frying Dutchman) and went back to the room. After dinner, we wanted to try out the hot tub of course, but M’s strategy of “turn the tap to hot and leave it for 20 minutes” resulted in a full bath, but one too hot to actually get in! It took another half an hour of adding increments of cold water to get it to the proper temperature. Finally, after a still-too-hot soak, we fell into bed, resting up for our next big day.


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