Best things to do in Napier

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Napier is located on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is about a 5 hour drive from Auckland.

My first time in Napier was on Christmas Day. I had the good fortune to spend the holidays with Charlotte and Kurt, the hosts of Hillhaven, a lovely bed and breakfast. Charlotte invited me to hike Te Mata Peak. I was out of breath after the first hill, but the views were worth it. When we reached the top my jaw dropped. Beautiful landscapes surrounded me. Shells stuck in the bedrock indicated that the hills had once been underwater and the Craggy Range Vineyard lay below, beckoning to my senses.

After a weekend there I thought Napier was just a main street with art deco buildings, a beautiful mountain and a story of devastation by an earthquake in 1931. I returned to the city for house him in February, this time spending three weeks there (and surviving a huge earthquake). I have learned that there is a lot more to Napier than it looks. Here are some of the wonderful things to do on your next trip.

The author at Mission Estate Winery in Napier, New Zealand (Photo credit: Heather Markel)

Wine tasting

If you love wine, Napier is one of the best places to refuel. The city and its surroundings are full of vineyards where you can soak up at your leisure. I didn’t have a car, so I took an Uber from downtown Napier to Mission Estate Winery, the oldest winery in the area. Reservations are recommended for wine tastings. Then you might want to get a table at the restaurant. On a beautiful day it is a joy to sit outside and enjoy the view with wine and good food.

Other wineries in the area include Church Road Winery and the popular Craggy Range Winery. Refer to the Hawke’s Bay Vineyard Directory and take your pick!

Napier Prison

I came across this attraction by accident. I was walking down the road when I saw a jail sign and decided to check it out. It was strangely quiet. I knocked on the door. A panel opened, revealing the eyes of a man inside. He asked me if I wanted to come in. I did and was taken to the office, where I had to choose between two tours: a historical tour and a ghost tour. I chose the history. It wasn’t a pretty story, but it was an interesting story. The tour is self-guided and you will certainly have vivid images in your head as you walk. Don’t worry, they’ll let you out, but you shouldn’t leave until you have a photo taken.

Maori Compass in Napier, New Zealand.
Heather markel

Maori compass

Not sure how I missed the Maori Compass on my first trip to Napier, but I was delighted that I was able to stop here on my second visit. It is about 45 minutes by bike from the city center. You will travel along the beautiful promenade and upon arrival you will have a spiritual experience. Be sure to walk to the entrance to the compass to learn more about its importance. Then walk among the columns to see the legends come to life.

Northern gannet colony

I had no idea what a Northern Gannet was until I came to New Zealand. Now I got to see the colonies in Auckland and Napier. Napier’s is excellent. I used Gannet Beach Adventures mainly because it was the cheapest. You can book either at the information center in downtown Napier or directly on the website. If you don’t have a car to get to Cape Kidnappers, where the tour begins, you’ll need to pay extra to be picked up and dropped off in central Napier.

The tour consists of a ride along the beach in a giant tractor, with an explanation of the fascinating geology along the way. (The land was literally pushed from the sea by various earthquakes.) At the end of the beach, you will go up a beautiful sand dune to the gannets. I thought they would be far away on a rock, like in Auckland. Instead, the birds were so close that you could (but shouldn’t dare!) Touch them. They were separated from us by a simple chain, and some young people were very curious and walked very close to us.

Barge colony

If you are a bird lover, there is also a barge colony that stays in Napier part of the year. These amazing birds fly nearly 7,000 miles nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand. Their history is fascinating. They tend to return from New Zealand to Alaska in early March, stopping in Asia for food.

Car at the Art Deco Festival, Napier, New Zealand.
Heather markel

Art Deco Festival

Once a year, usually in February, there is a great art deco festival in Napier. This year it was canceled due to COVID. However, the locals always donned their best clothes of the day and went out with their old fancy cars, and the city was transported to the 1930s. I saw flapper dresses dancing and singing everywhere I went. was watching. Although some locals said the festival was disappointing compared to previous years, I loved the small crowd – I could easily take part in all the activities. I borrowed a friend’s dress, gloves and pearls and walked the streets to have a wonderful time.

If you can’t make it to the festival, there’s an Art Deco shop in the middle of town. You can browse the fun costumes, hats, and jewelry. You can also book a city architecture tour in an old car, although it is very expensive. A walking tour is a more affordable option.

Napier Gateway

One of the best parts of Napier is its footbridge, which runs through downtown and then for miles in each direction, completely along the sea. You can walk, jog, or cycle along the path. In summer, a morning yoga class is organized every Sunday by YinYoga Napier.

Hot pools

I was surprised to find that Napier has its own hot pools. I thought it was something that was only offered in Rotorua. Ocean Spa offers the possibility of taking a delicious bath in some hot swimming pools. It is also perfectly located next to the sea, so you will have fabulous views while enjoying a hot bath.

Bluff hill

On my second visit to Napier, I am staying on Bluff Hill. It turned out to be lucky not only for the view, but because there were three huge earthquakes while I was there. The house shook for several minutes. I was terrified, but learned that the house had survived the devastating earthquake of 1931. More importantly, when the tsunami warnings were issued, I learned that Bluff Hill is the highest point in Napier, so I was safe.

Earthquakes aside, there is a nice walk here that offers fabulous views of Napier Forest Harbor and the waterfront. Basically any view from the top of Bluff Hill is going to cut you off. breath.

Te Mata Peak, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.
Heather markel

Peak Te Mata

If you love hiking, don’t sleep on this beauty. You could drive all the way to the top, but you’d miss the gorgeous nooks and crannies along the way. You might find yourself surrounded by a canopy of trees or taking in some great 360-degree views. Te Mata Peak is also home to several mountain biking trails, if that’s your cup of tea.

Rental of electric bikes and large-tire scooters

Napier has several places where you can rent an electric bike. Having a bicycle is a great convenience for exploring the city and its long promenade. An electric bike will help you climb steep inclines and relieve the pressure when you are tired or lazy. However, the low-seat scooters with their huge fat wheels looked even more fun!

Napier Botanical Gardens in New Zealand.
D. Pimborough / Shutterstock.com

Napier Botanical Gardens

Up to one very steep hill (if you have mobility issues you will need transportation to get there) is a beautiful botanical garden. One of the ponds has ducks, and they’re not shy when it comes to asking for food. There are several walking trails and you might find yourself immersed in nature for part of your walk. If you get to the very top you will find Napier Cemetery. Some of the tombs are very old, and if you read the tombstones you will get a glimpse into Napier’s interesting past.

Another intriguing garden experience is the Sunken Garden. It is in the center of town, on the waterfront and below street level.

Arataki honey

Arataki Honey has a tasting room where you can taste all the flavors they have (and there are some really interesting ones). Most of New Zealand has manuka and similar varieties. Arataki Honey offers original blends that I have never seen elsewhere. They also have a lot of beauty and skin care products. It’s worth the detour!

Havelock North

This charming town is a short distance from Napier. I found it much more charming than Hastings which is about the same distance from Napier. Havelock North is exceptionally picturesque, with cafes, shops and a pleasant atmosphere all around.

Pro tip: If you like secondhand stores, the one in Havelock North is fantastic. Because it’s a better-off city, you’ll find that the rejections are pretty cool!

Napier is easy to visit with or without a car. There are many transportation options, including Uber. If you walk around the city center you will appreciate the randomly placed iron statues of people from the 1930s. And if you are lucky you will spot the only pedestrian walking signal that shows a woman standing with her dog on the red and walking with his dog on the green.

Pro tip: Book your room at Hillhaven through Airbnb.

To learn more about New Zealand, check out this page.



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