Napier has an incredible collection of Art Deco buildings, and attracts architecture and design enthusiasts from all over the world. Much of the city was rebuilt in the popular Art Deco style following the devastating earthquake of 1931. Each year the city celebrates its architectural heritage with an Art Deco festival.
Fabulous food and fine wine is another great reason to visit Napier, and there’s no shortage of exceptional restaurants, cafes and bars to check out. You’ll find fresh local produce and Hawke’s Bay wines on every menu and drinks list. If your wine preference is a deep red then you’re in the right place to taste the finest merlot, syrah and cabernets in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Here are eight great things to do in Napier. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
1. Do an Art Deco tour
Your first stop in the city should be the Art Deco Trust (ADT), which offers a range of tours and has a delightful shop full of Art Deco treasures. By booking a tour with the ADT you are actively helping to preserve Napier’s Art Deco Heritage. Tours range from self-guided options, to guided walking tours and even a vintage car experience. Whatever option you choose, you‘ll learn about the history of Napier and the rebuilding of this remarkable city.
2. Try some winning wines
No visit to Napier would be complete without visiting at least some of the many exceptional wineries around Hawke’s Bay for a tasting, tour or meal. The region’s winemaking history started way back in the mid-1800s, when vines were planted by the founders of the Mission Estate Winery. This is one of the best-known wineries in the region. Hawke’s Bay Wine offers useful information for planning your perfect wine experience. Whether you book a tour, hire a bike (e-bikes are available) and travel by pedal power, or self-drive between wineries, start at the Hawke’s Bay Wine website and pick up lots of ideas.
3. Escape from Napier Prison
Napier Prison is the oldest lock-up in New Zealand, and as such, it’s long been associated with tales of villains and victims and some good old fashioned ghost stories. Situated on Bluff Hill, just a few minutes’ walk from Napier town centre, it overlooks the ocean and gorgeous Centennial Gardens. There are several self-guided tour options available, including one designed for children. Each tour comes with an audio player and map, and includes fun for everyone with dress-ups, mugshots and fingerprinting for take-home mementoes. Those looking for a challenge and thrill will enjoy one of the escape room experiences (just make sure you book at least 24 hours beforehand). Those who have already been on a tour get a discount on the escape room experience.
4. See the gannets at Cape Kidnappers
Te Kauwae-a-Maui (‘the jawbone of Maui’) is the original name given to what we know today as Cape Kidnappers south of Napier. The region is rich in history and home to the world’s largest gannet colony. The best time to see the gannets is from September through to April with chicks arriving as early as November. To see the best of the Cape and the gannets, you should book a tour. There are many to choose from, but with over 50 years’ experience, Gannet Safaris comes highly recommended. They are the only tour that takes you within metres of the colony. It is possible to walk the 19-kilometre return route yourself to see the gannets, but care must be taken to avoid rockfalls and the challenging tides. The Department of Conservation is your best source of information regarding the walk.
5. Hit the weekend markets
With more than 60 stalls, the Napier Sunday Market is the largest in the Hawke’s Bay region. Held throughout the year, rain or shine, you‘ll find live music, coffee and food, local produce, arts and crafts, and much more. There is always something new to see. If a picnic is on your holiday agenda, the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market operates both days of the weekend at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds in Hastings, while the Napier Urban Farmers’ Market takes over Clive Square on Saturday mornings. Both markets offer an impressive range of local produce, freshly baked bread, meats, eggs, pickles and preserves.
6. Marvel at an array of marine life
While it first opened back in the 1950s, the magnificent National Aquarium of New Zealand underwent an $8 million redevelopment in 2002. This included the installation of a 1.5-million-litre Oceanarium that is home to a variety of marine species including sharks, stingrays and reef fish. You can explore the Oceanarium from inside an underwater viewing tunnel and see all the fish swimming and feeding above you. Other highlights include the penguin cove and the chance to see native icons such as the kiwi and tuatara. The aquarium is open daily (except Christmas day) and is an affordable activity for the whole family.
7. Explore the Ōtātara Pā Historic Reserve
This historic pā (Māori settlement) is one of the most complex in Aotearoa New Zealand and includes an upper pā (Hikurangi) and lower pā (Ōtātara). Now managed by the Department of Conservation, it has been given official status by the Historic Places Trust (which designates places of ‘outstanding historical or cultural significance or value’). The reserve walk takes about 45 minutes and includes various archaeological features and coastline views. It’s worth booking a small group half or full-day tour with Napier Māori Tours. Their knowledgeable guides share Māori legends and history, and you’ll try delicious seafood and traditional dishes. Tours include hands-on food gathering and tree planting to allow you to connect to the land in a deeper way.
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8. Take in the views from Te Mata Peak
A thirty-minute drive from Napier will bring you to magnificent Te Mata Park, which is rich in geological and human history. The summit, known as Te Mata Peak, attracts visitors with the promise of incredible 360-degree views. You can drive up to the summit or take one of the many trails that lead there. Popular with walkers and mountain bikers, the trails cover a diverse range of terrains and environments. If the weather is right, you might see a paraglider or two launching from the summit. It’s a hotspot for airborne thrill-seekers!
Need a place to stay?
Enjoy Art Deco-era accommodation by the beach at Comfort Inn Westshore Beach, which has two award-winning on-site restaurants. Quality Inn Napier is located in the heart of the city, within easy reach of popular sights and attractions, restaurants, cafes and bars. Galleries and boutique stores will keep the keen shopper or art lover busy for hours.
About the writer
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. In the past few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off over more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors – especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.