I picked Napier, on the East coast, in between sits as had been told the weather’s much better there and has some very interesting architecture in the Art Deco style. It’s also in Hawke’s Bay, one of the famous wine regions of NZ. I’d booked 5 nights in an Airbnb. ‘Lonely Planet’ describes Napier as ‘a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort’.
The bus journey from Tauranga took 6 hours, including 2 stops, the lunch stop being at Taupo where I’ll be coming to later. Each time I got off I’d lost my seat, my last seat was next to a man called David, a retired English anaesthetist who settled in Rotorua 22 years ago. He told me a lot about his private life along the way, which rather surprised me so I reciprocated by telling him a bit about me! Well, we were never going to see each other again.
On arrival at Napier I was picked up by Beth, the lady of the house, married to Peter. The ad for their home stated they had one double room with shared bathroom, which led onto a sunroom and could additionally be rented out if more than 2 people, I presumed if a family was booking. So I was quite surprised to find that the sunroom had an occupant (Beth said an Indian girl, but with her NZ accent I thought she said “Andy and Gill” which was amusing) as there was a connecting door from my room with no lock. I discovered also that they never lock the back door which concerned me rather, so I didn’t need a key. I made a bit of a fuss about this but let it go as they said they had never had a problem before. I walked into town along the sea front, Marine Parade, and was quite disappointed with the beach which I’d expected to be white sand but was black, stony and pretty mucky. The sea however looked beautiful and there was an amazing sky:
After wandering around checking out the restaurants I selected ‘Indigo’ for an Indian meal. When I got back to the house, I joined Beth and Peter, who were watching television, and went to bed wondering how I could approach Peter about the extra booking of the sun room which I hadn’t been told about. In addition to the Indian girl, who I never actually saw, I was told there was an Indian man in the room also! Peter and Beth are such a lovely couple and I didn’t want to upset them by being my usual undiplomatic self and live up to our ‘whinging Pom’ character.
The next morning (Saturday 17th) I sat with Peter over breakfast. He’s quite chatty and we talked about all sorts while Beth was still in bed. I brought how surprises I was about the sunroom being let and he said he’d had to as her booking had come through (for my room but after I’d booked it) when his phone was off charge so he felt obliged to let her have the sunroom free. I understood that and let it go.
I decided to go to the Museum (MTG – museum, theatre, gallery) first of all as was interested in the history of the town which had been pretty much flattened by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on 3 February 1931 killing 256 people. Hawke’s Bay is one of the most seismically active regions of NZ and earthquakes can happen any time. People are reminded to check what to do to survive an earthquake and how to plan, prepare and recover. Upon rebuilding the town, most of the buildings in the centre were built in the Art Deco style, which is what Napier is famous for. There is an Art Deco Festival in the town every February which is very popular.
It’s a smart little museum incorporating a theatre/conference space and library. On the ground floor was a small Maori Gallery, the basement had a very good permanent exhibition of the 1931 earthquake with a film of ‘Survivor Stories’ none of whom can be alive now. On the top floor was a collection of silverware and a room about a Victorian family who’d immigrated to New Zealand. Bizarrely, in the silverware section, there was a young Japanese man playing classical music on the violin, no idea why.
I then took the very steep walk up to Bluff Hill lookout (most people sensibly drove up there) and was rewarded with good views above the port (a Customs port of entry since 1855) which every year coordinates the arrival of over 600 ships, more than 5 million tonnes of cargo and more than 70 cruise ships with 125,000 passengers. I was glad a cruise ship wasn’t arriving during my stay. Major exports include forestry products and refrigerated agricultural products such as meat, apples and squash; imports include fertiliser and oil products.
On the way up to the lookout I’d met an English woman called Suzanne and her daughter Gabby. Gabby had deferred her Uni course and been travelling around NZ since February and her mother had come out to join her for 5 weeks. We ended up walking together and arrived at the Urban Winery, where I’d planned to go, so they decided to join me. There was a pleasant Argentinian man in charge and we paid $10 to taste 4 different Tony Bish wines and bought some olives, nuts and hummus to go with them. I thought at the time it was good value and liked the place which was in an Art Deco building named The National Tobacco Company Ltd.
The National Tobacco Company was founded by a German immigrant, Gerard Husheer, in 1923. It prospered very quickly enabling Husheer to buy out the NZ Tobacco Company which he’d formed in 1913 but control of which had been wrested from him during World War I owing to his nationality. He became very wealthy but died in 1954. Shortly after, the firm was bought by Rothmans of Pall Mall then in 1999 merged with WD & HO Wills Ltd to form British American Tobacco Ltd.
I’d been planning to walk back to the Airbnb but when we left the winery it was dark and pouring with rain so shared a taxi with Suzanne and Gabby. When I got back there was a new person in the sunroom, a 29 year old Belgian called Olivia. So much for the one-off booking!
The next day, Sunday, after chatting with Olivia over breakfast, I took Leo, Peter and Beth’s nearly 10 year old cross Staffy and bulldog who had taken to me instantly and me to him, for an hour’s walk along the seafront as he hadn’t had one yesterday. On the way back it started to hail! So much for the lovely weather in Napier but then the weather in NZ can turn on a sixpence.
I then went to the Aquarium, actually the National Aquarium of NZ, arriving in time for the penguin feeding, most of whom had been rescued for various reasons. It was very cute. The. There was shark feeding for which two divers entered the glass tunnel, however the sharks didn’t appear interested but instead they were hassled by a stingray. I was rather disappointed with the Aquarium especially given its ‘National’ status. I then walked into town, had a late lunch in a cafe and back ‘home’ for another TV dinner with Peter, Beth and Olivia.
Monday proved to be rather better weather and I’d suggested to Olivia that she might like to accompany me for a cycle ride as Peter had two bicycles he lends out. This was brave of me as Olivia had told me she’d cycled around parts of NZ for some months with all her luggage but had since sold the bike. I’d heard that people cycled from vineyard to vineyard for wine tastings and the area has some great cycle trails.
We sent off along Marine Parade cycling east planning a first stop at ‘The Filter room’ suggested by Peter as it does tastings of craft beer (which Olivia liked) also different ciders which would have suited me. However, when we got there we discovered it was only open Thursday – Sunday which was rather disappointing.
Next stop was Peter’s favourite vineyard: Brookfields. This was founded in 1937 and Hawke’s Bay’s ‘oldest boutique’ winery. A lot of the wines are exported to China and London.We were told by John who met us that we were in luck as 45 minutes later a large group was arriving. After sampling a few different white, rose and red wines (one of which would cost £145 in a London restaurant) and more generous portions than the Urban Winery we were told there was no charge.
Before coming to Napier I’d decided I’d cycle to Hastings (that’s the NZ Hastings obviously!) a distance of 20km, so we made that our lunch stop. What we saw wasn’t particularly appealing, probably because it’s the commercial hub of the region, and we didn’t have much time to explore as wanted to get to another couple of wineries before dark. Hastings also suffered in the 1931 earthquake and has some Art Deco and Spanish Mission buildings, built in the aftermath.
We had planned to go to two wineries that were next to each other but, in the end, only had time for one, Mission Estate, which I suggested as I’d drunk some of their wine. The building reminded me of a monastery in the Spanish style. The Estate was established in 1851 by the French Marist religious order and is NZ’s oldest winery with a well respected reputation at home and abroad. We paid just $6 for even more generous samples of about 7 wines and were given a glass in a box, which we both ended up giving to Peter to add to his collection as it wasn’t practical for us to carry them in our luggage.
Peter had been offering us lifts to wherever we’d like to go but we’d both refused, preferring to either walk or cycle. However, we accepted a lift to Te Mata Peak the next day. I hadn’t heard of it so was glad Peter had mentioned it. It was a lovely journey up the peak on a windy road with fantastic views all around at the top. Like so many places in NZ it’s steeped in Maori legend. There were some very fit cyclists cycling up, and the area has a lot of walking tracks which we didn’t have time for as were dropping Olivia off on the main road to hitchhike her way to her next destination.
I spent the afternoon walking around Napier taking pics of the Art Deco buildings before returning for my last TV dinner!
A selection of some of the Art Deco buildings in Napier:
I’d planned to take Leo for a long walk along the seafront on Wednesday 21st but rain stopped play, so I mooched about the house. It had just been Leo’s 10th birthday and he likes nothing more than to play with balloons, and pretty impressive too. I found it completely hilarious but unfortunately can’t post the video here as it won’t accept if with my free account, so posted it instead on Facebook and Twitter, the latter attracting 443 views at time of writing.
Peter gave me a lift to the Inter City bus stop in town for my 1.30pm bus to Palmerston North and my 4th NZ housesit. This Airbnb experience has indeed been wonderful and I couldn’t have met a nicer couple.