When disaster struck on 3 February 1931 in Napier and Hastings 258 people died, and the twin-cities were destroyed by the worst earthquake in New Zealand's (human) history, measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale, followed by devastating fires. (More about earthquakes and disasters on my introduction page to the North Island.)
But both cities rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Napier was redesigned in the Art Déco style with its simple and clean lines and has become the Art Déco capital of New Zealand. As local architect Louis Hay incorporated some Maori features in the buildings Napier got a unique style. The pastel colours give the city a joyful atmosphere. Coincidentally this jazzy style had been at its height in the 1930s.
The Art Déco Trust has a Visitor Centre from where guided walks start twice daily (10am and 2pm). You can also get a booklet ($4) for self-guided tours. Brochures also available at the Visitor Centre (Marine Parade) where the morning tours leave.
Address: The Art Deco Shop, 163 Tennyson St (next to Clive Square)
Tel. (06) 835 0022
Those walks are just a little part of the many Art Déco activities, there are also vintage deco car tours, deco bus tours, not to forget the art déco festival on the third weekend in February (Brebner Print Art Déco Weedend) when the cities is full of people in vintage clothes and cars.
Hastings has some Art Déco buildings but was mostly created in the Spanish Mission style with its arched windows and wrought columns. This style came from California, created by Spanish missionaries. Do not miss the Methodist Church, the Hawke's Bay Opera House, the Dominion Restaurant and the Westerman's building. There are guided walks each Saturday (11am) in summer, bookings must be made from the Hastings Visitor Centre:
Address: Cnr Russell & Heretaunga Sts, tel. (06) 873 5526, tollfree (0800) 429 537
After the only Royal Albatross mainland colony in the world at Taiaroa Head near Dunedin Cape Kidnappers adds another superlative referring to birdwatching in New Zealand: It is the largest and most accessible gannet colony in the world. Those big majestic birds with their distinctive black lines around the eyes and the beaks and the orangy yellow heads are so much used to human visitors that they just ignore you when you approach them while they are sitting on the rocks. The experience is more breathtaking than you can imagine.
The gannets belong to the Booby family, like the shags and pelicans. Adult birds have a wing-span of up to two metres and weigh 2kgs.
You can see gannets on dolphin tours off Auckland and whale watch tours off Kaikoura but you will not see them in such a huge number - more than 17,000 birds in four colonies - and that close. At Muriwai Beach, north of Auckland, they sit on a rock in the sea, and you can see them from the land quite well. But compared to Cape Kidnappers they are miles away.
The best time to go and watch those migratory birds is from early November (hatching time) to late February.
The reserve is closed during the breeding season from July to the Wednesday before Labour Day (in October).
We started the trip to the colony on foot along the beach from Te Awanga, leaving the car at Clifton Domain. You can do this safely at low tide only, so get the latest information at a Visitor Information Centre. The 8km walk takes about 2 hours. As we did not find it very intriguing to walk the whole way back we asked a tour operator if we could join his group, and he had space left on the trailer behind his tractor. Warm clothes are highly recommended as it can become chilly at dusk. Other tours are overland by 4WD.
Gannet Beach Adventures (tractor and traile/only from Oct-early May), departure at Clifton Reserve.
Tel. (06) 875 0898, (0800) 426 638
Costs: NZ$33, children $19. - Shuttles from Napier, Hastings and Havelock North possible.
Of course, the architecture is the main point of interest when you visit Napier and Hastings.
The second reason why people visit is the mainland gannet colony at nearby Cape Kidnappers.
But there are so many other things to see and do in the region - first of all because Hawkes Bay has a wonderful mild climate and is NZ's oldest wine growing region. So wine tours are high on the agenda. About 70 wineries offer their products, especially great chardonnay.
You can relax at the Ocean Spa, visit the National Aquarium of NZ, and, rather unique, Opossum World where you can learn about those pest animals.
I find the latter rather intriguing as you are so conditioned to hate those animals when you live in NZ that you nearly expect a monster staring at you. You forget that you fed them in Australia where they love and protect them, and that you found them rather cute.
After being introduced from Australia, the possums have really become a nightmare in NZ, as the estimated 70 million possums eat 21,000 tonnes of foliage each night, and endanger NZ plant and animal life in an incredible way. We also have a visiting possum in the garden sometimes, it steals tomatoes and other fruit and plants.
At Opossum World you can learn about the possums - and buy possum products which are really wonderful, like rugs, slippers and knitware made of a mix of possum and merino wool. What I do not understand is that those things are so incredibly expensive as it costs nothing to kill the animals, and we do not have to raise and feed them as - unfortunately - we have them in abundance in the wild.
The educational centre is opposite the Visitor Centre on Marine Parade.
A fun activity for kids in Hastings is Splash Planet, a water park with lots of slides, pools and motorised rides.
Websites which contain more links:
Update September 2008
Until recently Marineland was a major attraction of Napier. The dolphins were the stars but they also had seals, a kiwi house and tuatara. Now the last dolphin has died, having reached twice the age of dolphins in the wild, and they are not allowed to acquire new dolphins. So for now Marineland is closed. They say the dolphins were such a big drawcard and the visitors came mainly for them. The people of Napier will decide whether to keep and reopen Marineland. I will keep you posted whatever the outcome will be.
Update 26 April 2009
It looks as if Marineland would close down today forever. Although the people of Napier had voted to keep it, and it had been opened for some months, the mayor said the facility has lost its sparkle without the dolphins, and the facility is run down. It would need a major overhaul to be reopened again. Now they are thinking over it again. But really, it does not look good. The seals, sea lions, little blue penguins and the sulphur-crested parakeet would have to be relocated to other zoos.
If you are in Napier you will surely visit the twin city of Hastings, and 30 kms further south, near Havelock North, is a spectacular place that you should absolutely not miss: Drive up the slopes to Te Mata Peak which is 399m above sea level, and you will be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views over Hawkes Bay, including Cape Kidnappers to the east and Mahia Peninsula to the south. On a glorious day you can see as far west as Mt. Ruapehu.
On the AA's 101 must-do list for Kiwis Te Mata Peak ended up as number 68 with 7.5 hearts out of 10.
Te Mata Peak also is the story about the Sleeping Giant, as its silhouette gives the impression of a man sleeping on his back.
The Maori legend says that the giant chief Te Mata - full name: Te Mata O Rongokako - was a troublemaker and another chief named Heretaunga wanted to get rid of him. He used his beautiful daughter Hinerakau as a kind of bait, and the giant fell for her. But she fell in love with him, too. So the tribe asked her to set the giant some impossible tasks to prove his devotion before she could marry him. He accomplished them all but the last one which was eating his way through the mountain range. Being too impatient, Te Mata choked on a large rock and suffocated and fell to the ground. And there he lies. Overwhelmed by the giant's death the girl jumped off the cliff and died.
You can also jump - and survive if you use a paraglider. Te Mata Peak is an ideal place for that sport, and you will nearly always spot paragliders there who fly over the plains.
The limestone cliffs are visible from a distance, as you drive towards this long-stretched mountain which looks like a crater rim with many outcrops. On the way you will pass a lot of wineries as Hawkes Bay is New Zealand's oldest wine growing region.
BTW When we spent a week in the region some years ago we tested a lot of wines. After a lot of hard research we agreed that our favourite was Esk Valley, Chenin Blanc ;-)
SORRY - no digital photo. It can take a while until I scan one... ;-)