Hawke’s Bay is the fruit bowl of New Zealand & the oldest wine region in the country, responsible for producing premium Syrah, Bordeaux style blends and amazing Chardonnay. The areas sub-regions and diverse soil types make this a wine and food lover’s dream destination. We have selected the top 10 must see and do while you visit Napier or Hastings as a wine and food lover. The twin cities of Hastings and Napier work together in perfect synergy – Napier is the gateway and Hastings is the work horse.
Napier’s coastal location, airport and port is the perfect gateway for cruise ship passengers and is where the majority of visitors tend to stay. Hastings is in the heart of the Heretaunga plains, rich with alluvial soils, high sunshine hours and moderate rainfall which makes it obvious that this is a New Zealand powerhouse for agriculture and horticulture.
If it wasn’t for Hawke’s Bay’s isolation, the destination would no doubt be on the top of every tourist’s list of places to see when they visit New Zealand. However this isolation is half of what makes it special – you wont be elbowing other tourists out of the way to get your insta pic of a famous tree in this region!
For campervan and self drive visitors making their way down from Auckland the drive over the Kaweka ranges from Taupo is scenic and has a few great lookout points that are worth a stop. Take your time on this road as it is windy and does take longer than google maps will suggest! Once you do make it to Hawke’s Bay you will be greeted by the sunny east coast of the north island. The mountain ranges running up the spine of the central North Island create a rain shadow providing some of the best winter and summer temperatures in the country.
Peak season for visitors is from December to March and in the off season a lot of the winery cellar doors have reduced hours (particularly during the week) so be sure to plan for this – although wine tours run daily and the locals will know which wineries are open on which days! As wine lovers our first recommendation has to be a wine tour! But this tour will almost certainly be the highlight of your time in NZ.
THE BEST WINE TOURS AND WINE EXPERIENCES IN HAWKE’S BAY
Bay Tours and Charters – Scenic flight & wine tour
Hawke’s Bay’s oldest tour company was established in 1982, coincidentally about the same time the Gimblett Gravels in the outskirts of Hastings was beginning to be planted. They were the winner of the best Tourism product in Hawke’s in 2017 for their pioneering spirit and pursuit for the ultimate wine tourism experience – The experience responsible for this success is the Wineries & Wings over Hawke’s Bay tour.
Clear blue skies, beautiful landscapes and Hawke’s Bay’s fabulous climate make this a bucket list destination for scenic flights. The tour offers a unique birds eye view of the unique terroirs, rivers and iconic landmarks on a 30 minute flight recreating Chris Pask’s (of Pask winery) pioneering flights over the Gimblett Gravels. After the flight you will get access behind the cellar door with winemakers and owners of the famous estates of which you have just seen from the air. This is your chance to taste the best wines of Hawke’s Bay with some of the greatest winemaking minds. An unreal experience and a memory to treasure!
Black Rose Gastronomic Discovery – 3 course progressive dinner
A three course progressive dinner at 3 of Hawke’s Bay’s most prestigious winery restaurants and a sunset from Te Mata peak’s summit sound good? If you are a little short on time while visiting Hawke’s Bay and don’t want to miss out on any of the epic fine dining winery restaurants as well as the opportunity to taste up to 12 different wines throughout the night, this is a must do!
A typical tour will start at Elephant Hill winery restaurant to take in the coastal views of Te Awanga and enjoy a table side wine tasting while enjoying your entree. Next stop will be Craggy Range’s new restaurant terroir. With the spectacular backdrop of Te Mata peak, now is when you should be ordering the Beef short rib and enjoying it with a glass of Craggy Range Te Kahu as the sun sets over the bay. The final destination of the Gastronomic Discovery is at the Mission Estate. New Zealand’s oldest winery sits on a hill overlooking Napier and has some amazing photos of what the region looked like pre-earthquake so be sure to check them out! But of course the main reason you are here is because the Mission is famous for their desserts and what better way to end a night in Hawke’s Bay.
Gold Reserve Wine Tour
Fancy spending an afternoon visiting Hawke’s Bay’s very best cellar doors and tasting premium wines? The spread out nature of Hawke’s Bay’s wine regions makes for amazing sub region diversity. This is great for producing different wine styles but as someone who wants to get around a few wineries but has little time, it can be a real challenge getting from winery to winery.
Booking a tour not only means you do not have to worry about directions or drink driving but it means you will get excellent local knowledge while you are travelling between wineries. Be sure to ask all your questions and make the most of it!
Our tip is if you have time, make this a full day tour – You will get lunch at New Zealand’s oldest winery the Mission Estate and get to the top of Te Mata peak in the morning which is without a doubt the most iconic landmark of the region. Te Mata peak has incredible views of both Napier, Hastings and the surrounding vineyards and farmland. Tours run daily – book a spot here.
THE BEST ART DECO IN NAPIER
Hooters Vintage Car Hire
In 1931 Napier and the greater Hawke’s Bay was hit by New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster to date. A 7.8 earthquake struck on a Summer’s morning killing over 250 people and completely destroying the city centre thanks to both the buildings collapsing and the resulting fires spreading through the city.
After the Napier Earthquake the city was rebuilt in record time in one particular style… Art Deco. The pastel colours and geometric shapes are best explored in the sun, sitting in the back of a 1927 Buick Master Six convertible. The Hooters team all have amazing local knowledge and will happily tell you as many local stories and secrets on your way around exploring the Art Deco district.
Art Deco Festival
While we are talking about Napier’s Art Deco heritage it would be a travesty not to mention the annual Art Deco Festival. If you can plan your visit to Hawke’s Bay around this time it is highly recommended!
In late February thousands flock to the bay in faux furs, boaters and beads to celebrate Napier’s Art Deco heritage and the roaring twenties. The roads are once again dominated by vintage vehicles and the skies literally put on a show with military and vintage planes performing throughout the duration of the weekend. To really get amongst the spirit of Art Deco weekend, book in to stay at the Masonic Hotel or if you’re a touch late for a booking be sure to pop into the emporium Art Deco bar for a cocktail or two!
THE BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN HAWKE’S BAY
Gannet Beach adventures
On the top of the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers you will find the largest mainland Gannet colony in the world. 20,000 of the uniquely marked birds call this colony home and spend the summer months hunting for fish with acrobatic dive bombs and raising their chicks on the cliff edge.
To visit these amazing birds, the best way is to jump on the back of a tractor with Gannet Beach Adventures and make your way along the Clifton beach. The amazing geological evidence captured in the cliffs of a region affected by earthquakes and volcanoes over thousands of years is all part of the trip. The 1931 earthquake’s power is visible from the impact will be pointed out on your trip along the beach.
Farmers Market Hastings
If you’re around on a Sunday the Hastings farmers market is essential. Bring an empty stomach, be prepared to taste some boutique beer and wines and don’t forget your cash! This farmers market is the real deal! Live music and some of the best produce in the whole country all in one convenient sample friendly location.
Make sure you sample the Hawke’s Ridge wines, they specialise in some unique varieties including Tempranillo, Viognier and Pinot Noir. Nothing goes better with wine than cheese, so be sure to sample Origin Earth cheeses – locally produced and seriously good! For the non-kiwis visiting make sure you hunt down some Feijoas from Heather’s – a real summer treat by the spoonful!
The Market is only open Sundays 8.30am – 12.30pm so be sure to check it out!
THE BEST PLACES TO DRINK IN HAWKE’S BAY
The Urban Winery
Alright so first off, let’s start with the very best wine list in Hawke’s Bay. This selection is based solely on the wine list but they get extra points for being in the single most iconic building the whole region! The National Tobacco building is the pinnacle of Art Deco architecture and is now home to Tony Bish’s “Golden Egg” the Urban Winery.
If you are a Chardonnay lover, look no further because you have made it to heaven. Tony is one of the true kiwi superstars when it comes to this amazing grape and you’ll get the opportunity to sample his wines by the glass. The rest of the wine list is completed with a range of local gems and some international heavy hitters. Our recommendation is you get your hands on the Tony Bish Zen Chardonnay.
Westshore Beach Inn
The indisputable craft beer home in Hawke’s Bay is the Westshore Beach Inn, now it may not look like much on the outside but believe me, if you are wanting a taste of the best beers in the region the Westshore is the spot for you. They have their own microbrewery on site – The Napier Brewing Co, but the very best reason for a visit to the Westshore Beach Inn is that it is an independently owned pub that has total control over what beers it stocks. The result is the most diverse range of Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand craft beers east of the Kawekas.
Three Wise Birds Garden Bar
In a region famous for being the oldest wine producing region in New Zealand it is hard to imagine another crop would compete and have such an impact on the local economy. However, Hastings (the heart of Hawke’s Bay) is Apple country and the Crasborn’s have been a big player for generations.
The new generation of Crasborns are responsible for creating Three Wise Birds. Producers of “kiwi style” ciders made from the traditional Hawke’s Bay varieties rather than the english “cider apples” that are used in the UK. On a summer’s day there isn’t a better spot to enjoy music, a cold cider and some food between the apple trees. The Three Wise Birds Garden Bar is the spot! Check them out here.
THE BEST CASUAL DINING IN HAWKE’S BAY
Even though the fluro pink paint of the Pipi’s restaurant sticks out like a sore thumb in the well to do area of Havelock North, this Hawke’s Bay icon won’t be on many of your tourist guides. It will usually take a local to give you the tip off that a visit to Pipi’s is a must. So you’re welcome, because here is your tip, go there! relax and enjoy some of the best food in the country. Big call we know.
Pipi’s is a casual dining european style restaurant that is famous for their thin crust pizzas. The style is simple, great food, mismatched cutlery, self serve beer fridge and a handful of jaffas on the way out. But the food is so so good. I recommend trying the specials menu – this menu makes the most of the fresh produce available locally at the time. If you can’t make it out to Havelock North (you’ll be staying in Napier most likely) then the Pipi’s pizza truck will come to you! Every Thursday the truck sets up on the Marine Parade in Napier.
THE BEST FINE DINING IN HAWKE’S BAY
Simply art on a plate. James Beck is the undisputed plating master of Hawke’s Bay and his restaurant’s 6 course chef’s choice degustation is unmissable if you want to experience one of Hawke’s Bay’s true fine dining institutions.
Bistronomy is a modern restaurant which is one part local, one part global and takes a fun approach to shared plate fine dining. Bistronomy’s menu is seasonal and is influenced by the soil and the sea surrounding Hawke’s Bay. Bistronomy is super convenient to walk to and from if you are staying on the Marine Parade during your stay in Napier. This is an unmissable experience.
Living in the UK we are often asked what ‘kiwi cuisine’ is. The answer is everything that head chef Jeremy Rameka serves up in his bright blue weathered beach bungalow on the Marine Parade. This “fine dining” restaurant is all about casual kiwi hospitality that lets its food talk, showcasing the best cuisine of the Pacific. Trust us on this one, the food does some talking! Pacifica was voted the best restaurant in New Zealand for Cuisine’s food awards in 2017.
The menu is degustation style with 2 options Kai Moana (seafood) only or a mix of Seafood and local game meats such as Venison and Rabbit. Each of the courses can be expertly matched with local and international wines.