Napier, a small city on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, is known for two things: Art Deco and fine wine. It's also known as Napier-Hastings, as the two separate cities that are 11 miles apart combine to form the Hawke's Bay's only urban area, along with the smaller connected town of Havelock North. Art and architecture lovers, as well as food and drink enthusiasts, will love the city, but it offers a range of attractions for everyone. Schedule two to three days into your North Island itinerary to explore this unique town. Here are eight of the best things to see and do in Napier.
Take an Art Deco Tour
Napier continues to be defined by a disaster that happened in 1931: on the morning of Feb. 3, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Hawke's Bay. It devastated the towns, killed more than 250 people (a significant number considering the towns of the Hawke's Bay had a combined population of around 30,000 at the time), and caused the coastline to recede permanently.
As the Art Deco artistic style was in vogue at the time, many buildings were rebuilt in this attractive fashion. A major attraction of visiting Napier is taking an Art Deco tour. For art and architecture lovers, Napier should be up there with Mumbai and Miami for its wealth of Art Deco buildings. While you can locate treasures like the Daily Telegraph Building on your own, most visitors will get more out of a walking tour or tour by vintage car.
If you happen to be in town during February or July, don't miss the annual Napier Art Deco Festival.
See Kiwis at the National Aquarium of New Zealand
Although you might expect to see just fish and sea creatures at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, there's a lot more here, including Kiwis. (Note that the small green fruit are always called 'kiwifruit' in New Zealand, and 'kiwi' refers either to the flightless bird or is an affectionate nickname for the New Zealand people). In a habitat that closely resembles their native one, kiwis thrive at a special enclosure at the aquarium. The birds are nocturnal and almost impossible to see in the wild, so make the most of your time in Napier and seek them out. You can also see penguins, sharks, reef fish, and other creatures that can be found in the Hawke's Bay and around New Zealand.
Learn About Local Culture and History at MTG Hawke's Bay
Napier's MTG Hawke's Bay is a great place to visit to learn more about the region's history and culture and should be a rainy day priority. The award-winning museum is comprised of three attractive buildings: one in Art Deco style, one modernist, and one more contemporary. There are permanent and rotating exhibits showcasing aspects of local art, culture, and social history. And, the icing on the cake? Entrance is free.
Sample Fine Hawke's Bay Wines
The Hawke's Bay is the largest wine-producing region in New Zealand's North Island, with around 90 wineries in and around Napier, Hastings, Havelock North, and further afield. Varieties produced here include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and merlot. Many of the top wineries are around Napier, so it's easy to make a day of touring wineries near the city or just popping into one for a sample or a meal as you pass.
Escape from New Zealand's Oldest Prison
Decommissioned Napier Prison operated as a jail from the 1860s to the 1990s, making it the oldest prison in New Zealand. Nowadays, visitors can take guided day or night-time tours, but perhaps the most fun activity is the Escape Room. Take a group of friends and try to escape from one of three themed rooms, which gives you an insight into the history of the place, as well as a few laughs.
Visit the Gannet Reserve at Cape Kidnappers
One of the best trips you can make outside Napier is to the Gannet Reserve at Cape Kidnappers, about a half-hour drive south of the city, along the coast. The dramatic cliffs provide a home for around 6500 pairs of nesting Australasian gannets. It's the largest mainland gannet colony in the world. The best time to go is between late November and late February, New Zealand's warmest months, but the dramatic landscape can be appreciated at any time of year.
It's best to join a guided tour to the colony, as the alternative is an approximate five-hour return hike along the beach, which can only be done at low tide. The reserve is on private land, although New Zealand's Department of Conservation manages the colonies, so stick to the paths.
Eat and Drink at West Quay
For a classy evening out in Napier, head to the West Quay area of the northern suburb of Ahuriri. The waterfront development has evolved in the last couple of decades as a stylish place to eat and drink with sea and port views. From local alehouses and wine bars to Indian and Laotian cuisine, there are food and drink options here to suit a range of palates and budgets.
Hike, Bike, or Drive up to Te Mata Peak Lookout
One of Hawke's Bay's most distinctive landmarks is just a 15-minute drive south of Havelock North. Te Mata Peak is a 1,309-foot mount that looks more like a jagged cliff than a traditional mountain. As it's the highest point in the area, there are great views over Napier and the Hawke's Bay. While it's possible to drive to the lookout point at the summit, if you have some energy to burn, follow a walking or biking path instead.