Napier is a beautifully preserved example of 1930s Art Deco architecture, nestled in the lush countryside of the Hawke’s Bay region. Whether you are hoping to soak up the historical atmosphere of this stunning town, explore the local countryside, or sample some amazing New Zealand wines, Napier has it all. We’ve rounded up some of the best things to see, do and eat during a short stopover, so you can make the most of this unique place.
From stunning coastal vistas to the wonderful Art Deco streets, there’s so much to see in Napier
View Napier from Bluff Hill
If you want to get the very best views of the city, get on your walking shoes and head up to the top of Bluff Hill. There is a winding track up the hill that leads to a lookout point offering panoramic views over the bay below. During WWII, the lookout was manned by a coastal army regiment and there is a commemorative plaque to the battery that once stood there. The views are really breath-taking, reaching as far as the Mahia Peninsula on a clear day, and well worth the climb to the top.
Art Deco Architecture
In 1931, Napier experienced a devastating earthquake that razed the town centre to the ground. This led to an enormous portion of the town being rebuilt in a largely Art Deco and Spanish-mission architectural style. Today, the city retains its spectacular Art Deco style and is one of the biggest tourist attractions. Of particular note are the Masonic Lodge and the Criterion Hotel, which have some of the most spectacular designs in the city. Wander through the centre on foot, or take a wonderful vintage car tour if you want to absorb the 20th-century glamour of Napier.
Napier Marine Parade
Set in a stunning location beside the ocean, strolling along the seafront is an essential way of experiencing Napier. The Marine Parade is lined with Norfolk pines and has two beautiful gardens: Marine Parade Gardens and the Sunken Gardens. Look out for the monuments and art installations that have been placed along the promenade, particularly the famous Pania of the Reef statue. It depicts Pania, a mermaid-like character from Māori mythology, who was lured away from her lover by sea people and unable to return to land. Take a leisurely stroll along the front and see if you can spot her.
There is never a dull moment in wonderful Napier, and these are our three favourite things to do in the city.
Discover Marine Life at the National Aquarium
The National Aquarium of New Zealand can be found on Napier’s Marine Parade, where it gives you a glimpse at the country’s most diverse range of sea life. Visitors to the Oceanarium can see the different species of shark, stingray, and reef fish that call Hawke’s Bay home in their natural environment. Other fish, turtles, and octopi that live throughout the Pacific can also be seen at the aquarium, as well as the flightless kiwi, tuatara reptiles and blue penguins. The friendly penguins in the Penguin Enclosure can even be hand-fed, much to the delight of many visitors. If you want to learn a little more about Napier’s wildlife, this is the place to go.
Explore Otatara Pa
This fortified Māori village is one of New Zealand’s most important archaeological sites. The largest pa in the Hawke’s Bay region, it was home to the chief Turauwha, who ruled over the region. It is now a historical reserve that has been excellently preserved, allowing visitors to see the foundations of houses and the food pits around them, it’s a great place to learn a bit more about the history and culture of Māori tribes in New Zealand. Plus, the hill it sits on has stunning panoramic views of Napier and the surrounding areas.
Ghost Walk at Napier Prison
Napier Prison is the oldest in the country and once housed many of New Zealand’s most notorious inmates. Founded in 1862, the prison has picked up many terrifying ghost stories and its ghost walks are as popular as its historical tours. Those who wish to explore during the day are provided with a self-guided audio tour, which tells you a little more about the cells, quarry, hanging yard, and cemetery as you visit them. On an evening, you can take part in a guided ghost walk, which will leave even the most hardened members of your group scared to turn off the lights when you get home.
After a long day exploring Napier, you’ll have worked up quite an appetite and the city has got you covered with some wonderful dining venues.
Nestled in the heart of Napier’s dining district, Bistronomy’s stylish décor is second only to their beautiful food. With a menu that changes with the seasons and an ethos that aims to make food fun rather than fancy, there’s not much you won’t love. Combining fresh Hawke’s Bay produce and ideas inspired by cooking from all over the world, their unique dishes can’t fail to surprise and delight. Try the delicious Bluff oysters, which are topped with a zingy watermelon granite and spiked with a fiery kick of chilli sauce.
Something of an institution, Pacifica sits on Napier’s waterfront and offers Michelin-standard cooking in an unpretentious atmosphere. With a choice of five-course degustation menus, you can try a little bit of everything that this beautiful restaurant has to offer. The dishes are like tiny works of art that delight the eyes as well as the taste buds. Of particular outstanding quality is the shiitake tortellini, a masterclass in nuanced umami flavour.
Visiting a winery is a must while you’re in the Hawke’s Bay area and Craggy Range is one of the best. Along with beautiful views across the Te Mata Peak skyline and delicious wines, chef Andrew Saxon creates beautiful, soulful dishes that can’t be missed. Drawing on 17 years working in top restaurants, he expertly showcases the flavours of the area in his heartfelt cooking. Try the clams steaming in saffron and Riesling for an example of his perfectly balanced flavours and ability to translate passion into amazing food.
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