We woke up on Saturday ready to hit the town! The weather was sunny and clear, and we were eager to see what other delights Napier had to offer.
One of the attractions along the waterfront is the National Aquarium, and as we could see it from our hotel window, we decided to go there in the morning.
Outside in the car park we spotted this antidumping graffiti art of an octopus and a dolphin. Though the aquarium does have an octopus, it is in fact illegal to keep dolphins in captivity in New Zealand. A pretty good rule, we think!
For a national aquarium, this one isn’t very big, but it had everything we could have wanted. The first area features a prehistoric history of NZ, complete with fossils that were (apparently) all collected by a single woman and her team in the 1980s. These fossils showed that, though NZ broke away from Pangaea very early on, there were still dinosaurs here. Most of NZ’s geology isn’t ideal for preserving bones, so very few fossils have been found and most of NZ’s prehistory is still educated guesses.
After the fossil section, we took a quick look at a set of homemade diving gear, then moved on to the fish! First up were some exhibits on certain habitats from around the world, featuring a pack of piranha and a pond full of Japanese koi. We learned that goldfish are like dogs; no matter how big or what their color, all of them belong to the same species. The aquarium also had aquatic reptiles, including a large tank of turtles and an American alligator. After the world tour, the rest of the aquarium focused on native marine animals. We saw a brief glimpse of the octopus, a tank with NZ eels (which swim all the way back to Tonga to breed), and a hawk-billed sea turtle called Terry. The only non-marine animals were a pair of kiwi in a dark room, happily rooting around their exhibit for bugs.
The highlight of the aquarium, for M at least, was the outdoor pool of little blue penguins. Just like during our visit to the Auckland Zoo, we found that the aquarium also had the same philosophy of letting the animals interact with visitors if they want. Of course, the aquarium had far fewer suitable specimens – fish generally don’t like being handled and visitors don’t like being handled by sharks! So largely this interaction was restricted to the penguin tank, which was set up you could reach your hand over the glass at the water level. Most of the penguins were relaxing on their dock, but one of them was having a blast, nibbling on any fingers that came into the water. Of course we both let him have a go at ours, how could you not? Little blue penguins are far too small to do any damage and now we can say we survived an attack from one of NZ’s apex predators!
All the penguins at the aquarium are rescues that couldn’t be released back into the wild for various reasons, ranging from missing flippers to them being rescued too young so they didn’t learn how to survive as penguins, to one poor guy who got hit on the head too hard and now couldn’t make it in the wild. All of them were too cute!
The finale for the aquarium was an underwater tunnel through the Pacific exhibit. It was again separated by a clear divide, with one side holding smaller fish and the other, larger side holding the sharks, rays and fish big enough not to be eaten. Sadly, the camera did not cooperate with shots through thick, curved plexiglass into water but I can assure you there were some very cool fish. We even saw a few that we’d previously only seen in deep-fried form!
After the excitement of the aquarium, we were ready for some lunch. We headed downtown and found a nice corner cafe. M had an alpaca burger, which tasted like a mix between beef and lamb. After lunch we decided to take it easy and joined the rest of the busy street and did a bit of shopping (well, mostly window shopping). I did end up getting a funky shirt with galaxies on it from a small shop, which we found out was run by an artist whose proper gallery was just next door. The rest of the afternoon was spend admiring the Art Deco buildings, including the impressive cathedral:
It seemed like every building within a few blocks of the waterfront had at least some Art Deco features. Napier is a small place, but a very beautiful one.
We also stopped by the gardens again and spotted a statue we’d missed the night before:
This lady is Pania of the Reef, and she’s basically the Maori “little mermaid”: she left the sea people to marry a Maori chief, but was drawn back to the sea where the lord of the sea, angry that she left, transformed her into the reef that is just off of Napier’s shore.
As the sun started to set, we headed back to the hotel, got the car, and drove up to an overlook.
We couldn’t see the town too well, but had a great view of the port and the coast to the north.
We enjoyed the sunset views, then headed back to the grocery store (we made sure it was open this time!) for dinner, which we cooked in our room. It was our last night there, so we wanted to enjoy it!
After dinner was hot tub round two, which I was put in charge of. This time it wasn’t scaldingly hot, and we drank some local wine and had some not-so-local Easter chocolate that M’s mum had sent.
A perfect end to a perfect day!