Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Napier & Hawkes Bay

After spending a week as an observer at work and another easy week giving anesthetics, we were ready to get back on the road again. I had initially envisioned going to Tongariro National Park to visit the trio of active volcanoes in the middle of the North Island, but as the week progressed, there was the promise of an entirely wet weekend on everything but the east coast of the North Island.

I wasn't over the moon to visit the Napier-Hastings area, but it seemed to be the only way to avoid the rain, so on Friday, February 4th, we headed off to Hawkes Bay for the weekend. It would prove to be one of the most enjoyable weekends we had spent in New Zealand.

Manawatu Gorge
We drove through the Manawatu Gorge and the gray drizzly weather gave away to a beautiful sunny Friday evening as we passed from the Manawatu region to the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island. The two regions are only about 30 minutes apart, but are separated by a chain of mountains, so often have very different weather patterns.

We drove about 2 hours to our hotel on Marine Parade overlooking the pebble beach fronting the Southern Pacific coast. As we ambled down the beach looking for a place to eat, we realized that we had stumbled upon New Zealand's 'South Beach'.

Isn't this where Superman worked?
In 1931, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed the twin cities of Hastings and Napier killing 256 people. Even considering the recent Christchurch earthquake, this remains as New Zealand's worst natural disaster. Many of the buildings were rebuilt in an art-deco style and Napier retains a flavor of the roaring 20s. It even hosts an art-deco weekend every year.

Frozen in cast bronze on Emerson St.

There were tons of rebuilt cars parked everywhere

We found a Lone Star to eat in. Not quite local cuisine as this chain restaurant tries to emulate an American tex-mex steak house, but the kids loved it and Trish and I appreciated the large Margaritas. After a lot of food, we took a walk along Marine Parade to burn off a little of our dinner. The kids put on an impromptu performance at the Napier Dome.

The Napier Dome

Then it was back along the beach to sing goodnight to the seals housed in the "Closed for Refurbishment" Napier Marineland. Back at our hotel, we tuned into the Wellington Rugby 7s tournament to cheer on the New Zealand team as they demolished the Argentinian team. This tournament looked like a blast - definitely something to attend if I'm ever in New Zealand in February again.

Nice try dude. Driver's side is on the right in NZ.

Napier and Hastings are located in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand. They call it "the fruit basket of New Zealand". If you're not amused by the art-deco scene in the town or haven't come to Napier to see Sting give a concert at the Mission Estate Winery, you could go for a drive along the Hawke's Bay classic wine trail or the Hawke's Bay food trail, a heritage trail or an art trail.

Hawkes Bay produces some of the best wines in New Zealand (our favorite by far) and has organized a "Food Trail" that hits vineyards, chocolatiers, cheese vendors, bakeries, a manuka honey factory, orchards ..... 37 stops in all.

We spent Saturday morning roaming around Napier to finally arrive at the tiny Napier farmer's market. We feasted on fresh strawberries and the kids obsessed over a really big dog.

Clive Square
The temperature soared to over 30 C by 11:00am, so we decided to head to:

Splash Planet!
By water park standards, this was strictly average, but what thrilled us (especially Mackenzie) was there was no height or age restrictions for any of the slides, so we could all go on! Harrison and Cassandra got a kick out of Mackenzie's squeals of excitement as she tried out real water slides for the first time.

Winery #1
Once we were splashed out, it was time for wine. Everything at Te Awa was delicious, but they were closing for a wedding 15 minutes after we arrived, so it was more of a wine gulping rather than a wine savoring.

Next, we were onto Salvare where Zoe, the golden lab (Do you think these kids want a dog?), kept the kids company while Mom & Dad chatted with owner Steve Nathan over a tasting sampler of their wines and some companion munchies. It was great to sit back and have the owner of the vineyard get to know us and tell us about his business and his wines. Go figure - his daughter married a Canadian!

With a delicious viognier in hand, we returned to our hotel to watch the sunset over the beach. What a great day!

Marine Parade and Napier Beach

Probably half a glass too many

The next morning, we headed off to the huge Hasting's Farmer's Market which takes place every Sunday morning. We ate breakfast at the market, not by sitting down at a table and ordering something, but by going from stall to stall and picking up fresh fruit, bread, coffee and juice. The kids found a waffle stall and Mackenzie spilled her strawberry smoothie all over her shirt. Trish thought it was hilarious ... Finally, we collapsed on the grass and watched some of the buskers singing and playing guitar.

There was still tons more to do in Napier, but it was another scorcher topping off at 34 C. We drove about 45 minutes south along the coast to reach Waimaramara Beach. Along the way, I found an alternate career.

So if I moved to New Zealand and worked at a vineyard, maybe this would be the one.

Craggy Range Winery
We didn't stop or taste the wine although it looked pretty swanky. This was the view from the front gates of the winery.

Again, I love my small Canon camera, but for scenes like this, it (and my photography skills) simply don't capture the majesty of the view. Breathtaking.

Farther down the road, we reached the beach. Once again - blown away. It was reasonably crowded, but no restaurants, no bars, no surf shops, no stores. I had to drive 10 minutes back into the three-house town to get some water.

Waimaramara Beach looking south

Waimaramara Beach looking north

 We stayed the rest of the day. Beautiful beach, beautiful day. Fantastic weekend.

I think most visitors of New Zealand would give Napier a miss. It's description is completely underwhelming in travel guides. I don't think I would have been in a rush to go there had it not been for crappy weather in the place I wanted to go.

So glad we visited and can't wait to go back.

Ho hum. More stunning scenery.

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