Hawke's Bay: New Zealand's hidden gemstone
January 1, 1970
Every traveller making their way through New Zealand knows better than to miss Auckland, Wellington or Queenstown. But not everyone knows of the wonder that is Hawke’s Bay, and so all too frequently this little gemstone is missed. Renowned for its warm, dry climate, and even better wine, Hawke’s Bay is commonly referred to as the fruit bowl of New Zealand. Hawke’s Bay is my homeland, and while some like to say that I’m a little bit biased, no one denies that I’m every bit blessed. Fortunately for you all, I’m willing to impart some of my lifetime’s collection of knowledge to enhance your stay in the glorious Hawke’s Bay.
Each day should begin with the downing of some delectable coffee. With two of the country’s greatest roasteries only a mile apart, you surely won’t be disappointed. Hawthorne Coffee and Bay Espresso; with the latter having expanded into a number of different cafes around the region (all with the same name, and most recently Adam and Eva), it has basically become a local institution. The past few years have seen Havelock North’s culinary culture evolve to become what can only be described as mouth-wateringly accomplished. Mamacita’s is a Mexican delight; the wait staff, food and atmosphere are all outstanding. I recommend eating tapas style; the food comes out so quick you will never be waiting too long. Hugo Chang’s excels in Asian Fusion, and across the road is Pipi’s; it became famous for its horrendous pink décor (that we have all grown to love), and has stayed famous by serving the best wood-fired pizza for miles. Pipi’s also has a cute food truck that does the rounds at local events, as well as providing some of its most famous recipes in a cook book for everyone to enjoy. Lastly, Maina serves up delicious meals all day long, and the décor can only be described as fresh, light and chic; a perfect way to start (or end) the day.
No visit to Hawke’s Bay would be complete without touring the vineyards. It is extremely common to hire bicycles and tour the wineries, however it is also nice to just pick out a few and perhaps indulge in some (more) food at the same time. Craggy Range is a Hawke’s Bay classic and should not be missed. Also worth your time are Elephant Hill (out by Cape Kidnappers – home to an extremely prestigious golf course as well as the gannet colonies), Blackbarn (which hosts a local market and an open-air cinema during the summer) and the Mission Estate.
Halfway between Napier and Hastings is the Te Mata Figgery. From chutneys to ice-cream and salamis to jam, this local favourite must supply one of the most extensive arrays of figs in the country. Another pit stop I would highly recommend is the Strawberry Patch. Once upon a time there were queues out onto the street, every weekend during October and April for a taste of their world famous (it’s not, but it should be) fresh fruit ice-cream, but now it has expanded and diversified so that any day of the week, every day of the year, it’s my one stop shop for the best value fruit and vegetables that the region has to offer. Throw in the delicious gourmet selection of products crafted by local artisans, and it’s certainly hard to walk away with your hands empty. Especially after you spot the “Pick your own berries” sign.
Another great place to forage fresh produce is at the Growers Market, held Saturday mornings at Black Barn. Alternatively (or additionally) is the Farmers Market held at the Hastings Showgrounds on Sunday mornings. Both markets offer locally grown fruit, vegetables and other produce, delicious coffee and live music. A special stop-off of mine is the Birdwood Gallery, 3 kilometres from Havelock. It is a cute wee art gallery, with an even cuter sweet shop attached; little glass jars filled with old-school candy lining the walls – it’s like something out of a movie.
If the thought of all this food is making you feel ill, don’t worry, there are also plenty of places and excursions you can make to burn some calories (or make room for more food!). Your first stop should always be Te Mata Peak. You can either drive up to the top or walk/bike the dozens of trails, but whatever your method you will certainly be rewarded with extensive, panoramic views of the region. It is worth venturing into the Redwoods; one of the most majestic places on earth, I swear. If it is summertime when you make your visit to the area, you won’t want to miss a trip to the beach. Pack a picnic, throw in your towel and off you go. About 30 minutes away resides two beaches, Waimarama and Ocean; both of which are epic, but Waimarama wins my heart. If you are feeling a little crisp from the salt, freshen up on your way home at Maraetotara Falls – a crisp, clean and clear waterhole, located about 15 minutes from town on your way to the beach.
Havelock North is full of designer boutique stores; head over to Napier if it is the chain stores that you are after. Napier doesn’t just provide shops however, this Art Deco capital is home to all sorts of activities for the kids. The Marine Parade stretches alongside the water; one of my favourite things to do in Napier is hire rollerblades and cruise the boardwalk. You will pass not just the best mini-golf that the city has to offer, but also the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Keep your eyes out for Inky; they say there is a stray octopus on the loose. Another great day for the kids is a visit to Splash Planet. Located in Hastings, it is a water theme park that undeniably provides a great deal of fun for the entire family.
See you there!
Hawke’s Bay itself is located on the east coast of the North Island; a 2 hour drive from Taupo, a 1 hour flight from both Auckland and Wellington, and the fact that it offers something for absolutely everyone, there really is no excuse to miss it.