There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors. But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.
Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769. By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.
In 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire. If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event. Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style. Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s. An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.
Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre. Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants. Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park. There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course. And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.
Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world. Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings. Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate. But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.
Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person). And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.
If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre. Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.
When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way). But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities. You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.
Tip #1: Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.” Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one). You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions. The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary. The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street. You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.
Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom. The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage. This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.