Napier is well known for being the world’s Art Deco capital and for its winery tours but as a teenager found this sort of thing boring and instead got into skate parks, surf breaks, mountain bike trails and rivers. Napier is a small town with a population of about 60 000 people, it’s part of Hawkes Bay and could quite possibly be the coolest place you come across in New Zealand. I’d definitely recommend visiting in Summer, the weather is perfect, it’s not too hot like the tropics but still hot enough to make you want to go swimming and just seems to always be sunny. This is a quick guide to the places I’d go and things I’d do in Summer which might be a bit different to what you see advertised for tourists.
Surfing is pretty good in Napier, there’s a cape at each end of Hawkes Bay which both do a pretty good job of blocking the enormous swells from getting into Napier so no waves are overly challenging but it can still have a good choice of fun waves. My favorite place to surf is Te Awanga which is a right-hand point break about 20 minutes south of Napier. It breaks along a stony shore and can be really long and nicely shaped in the right conditions, it’s also really easy to paddle out and you can get a long wave and then just get out and walk back along the beach back to the start. Just down the road is Haumoana which is arguably the best wave around Napier. It’s a river mouth which has a right and a left hand wave which can both be really fast barrels. Right in the town of Napier at Port Ahuriri is the reef and Hardinge Road which are both really easy and pretty soft waves, perfect for beginners or if you just can’t be bothered driving anywhere. If you want to escape the crowds you can go for a 20 minute drive north of Napier to Tangoio Beach and then walk another 20 minutes up the coast on a narrow track to find yourself at Stingray Bay. It’s a right point break into a small bay which can be really good and is definitely worth a look at high tide on a north-east swell.
Skate Zone is the main skate park in Napier, you’ll find it on Marine Parade next to the ocean. People come from all over New Zealand to ride Skate Zone so it’s definitely one of the best parks in the country. It features a vert half pipe, two foam pits and a resi box. They charge $8 a day to get in if you aren’t local but it’s pretty worth it especially compared to the rates at other paid skate parks around the world. It will be open for a few more weeks but is about to be moved down the road into the old site of Marine Land where it will be controversially improved. It’s supposed to have a mini-mega ramp and some other cray features when it re-opens in 2018. If you don’t want to pay the $8 you can always drive over to Hastings or to Anderson Park where there are some pretty cool street plazas.
A 15 minute drive north of Napier up to Eskdale is the Pan Pac Eskdale MTB Park. It’s one of the best in the country and is highly regarded and internationally recognized. There are tracks for learners up to expert and it covers a huge area so you could ride new trails for days before you covered it all. With all this build up I never got into it too much myself, I just mucked around in the intermediate parts but I just thought I should include something about the mountain bike park because it’s pretty rad and definitely worth a look even if you’ve never mountain biked before in your life.
Around Hawkes Bay there are rivers everywhere, we spend most days of summer going swimming and jumping into different rivers. The best one would have to be Maraetotara Falls, it’s about a 40 minute drive out of Napier but we still did it most days. There’s a waterfall about 5 meters high to jump off and then there’s a sick rope swing as well which hangs about 5 meters above the water so you go flying when you let go. The water is pretty much freezing all year around but it’s perfect on a hot day and it’s so deep near the falls I don’t think anyone has ever seen the bottom so you’re pretty safe to dive off. Just down the road from here as you’re on your way out to Maraetotara you come to the intersection between Waimarama Road and Kahuranaki Road and instead of taking either of those you turn right down a gravel road that’s only about 100m long and at the end there’s a nice tree next to the river perfect for jumping out of. The only problem with this one is that sometimes it’s deep enough and some years it’s only waist deep so you have to check before jumping out of the tree. Another really cool spot is Puketapu River, it’s about a 25 minute drive inland from Napier. As you come across the Puketapu bridge if you look to your left you’ll see the spot where everyone jumps off. The river gets deep in this one particular spot which happens to be next to a big cliff, there are a few platforms down the bottom and if you’re feeling a bit crazy you can climb up the cliff for a pretty high place to jump off.
The town of Napier is also pretty cool, I’d definitely be impressed on my first visit there, there’s also a lot of backpackers all year around and they have a cool little community there. The free camping car parks you’ll find all along marine parade are usually pretty full and there’s even a non self contained one if you drive right down to the south end of marine parade. In Summer especially there is heaps of fruit picking work around Hawkes Bay so if you’re after a couple of months of work to save up for the next part of your trip Napier can be a pretty cool place to stay and do this. I’m not even just being biased because I lived there, Napier is definitely worth stopping for at least a few days to check out if you ever get the chance.