In our drive around New Zealand’s North Island, we chose to stop in Napier, located on Hawke’s Bay on the southeast coast, for two reasons: 1) We wanted a place to stop between Rotorua and Wellington (we’re hoping to keep our daily drives between four to five hours a day); and 2) We heard that downtown Napier has a collection of vintage Art Deco buildings that we wanted check out.
We left Rotorua about 10:30 in the morning yesterday, and had a lovely drive down to Napier, through rolling hills and lush farmland on a two-lane state highway. In the distance we could see mountains at times, some even with snow, but they eventually disappeared. We had also hoped to stop off and check out a couple of waterfalls along the way, but although we saw signs letting us know they were in the area, we never saw any other signs letting us know when to turn. Google Maps was no help at all either – it has not functioned well here in New Zealand. As we approached Napier though we came over a last set of hills and got our first look at Hawke’s Bay, chock full of sailboats out in its turquoise water, and loads of houses perched up on the bluffs above the town.
It took us a couple of tries to find our Airbnb up in the hills – the streets were narrow, some were one-way or dead ends, and once again Google Maps let us down – their directions told us to go up a one-way street, and they left off information that we would need the ‘North’ side of a street versus one labeled ‘South.’ But, we eventually found the house, and when we were shown to our room, the view alone made all of the frustration of getting there worthwhile. Our first thought as we looked out at the incredible view was to wonder why we hadn’t booked the room for more than one night!
After getting our stuff up to our room, we chatted with our delightful host for a while and played with their adorable little terrier, and then got directions for how to get down into town as well as some suggestions for where to eat dinner. We turned out to be closer to the Art Deco district than we thought, and decided to start over at the waterfront, then stroll through the town and end with dinner.
There was a strong wind at the waterfront and lots of choppy water – definitely not beach weather. The beach was shingled (small rocks) versus sandy and didn’t look very inviting either. There’s a long park lining the beachfront, so we walked through that to a main street (Tennyson) that headed back into town. We had glimpsed a few of the buildings on the way to the waterfront and thought Tennyson would be a good place to start.
Art Deco has been my favorite architectural style for forever, and walking through Napier was like going through a box of exquisite jewelry. Almost every building was vintage Art Deco, built in 1933 after most of the city was destroyed by a large earthquake in 1931. Many of the buildings now house modern shops on the ground floor, with the vintage upstairs offices, apartments or sometimes left empty. All were well-maintained though with no peeling paint, etc. We must have walked around for an hour or so – every time we looked up, there was another masterpiece of the style. Even the street signs and manhole covers were done Art Deco style so as to blend in.
We eventually made our way to a small Mexican restaurant, and managed to get the last available table (customers after us either had to sit at the bar or wait outside). We enjoyed some very tasty (and spicy) food and cool drinks, and then headed to our car and back up to our room to enjoy the view some more and relax. The bed during our stay in Rotorua was the most uncomfortable we’ve slept in during our travels (way too soft for us), but the one in Napier more than made up for it and we both slept soundly.
This morning we enjoyed coffee and breakfast out on the terrace with our host, enjoying the beautiful view for the last time before starting our journey to Wellington. It may have only been for one night, but we definitely found this Airbnb and the visit to the city one of the highlights of our Big Adventure!