real life

72 hours in Hawkes Bay. Please sir, can I have some more?

By JAMILA RIZVI

It’s unusual for an Australian to get to my age and not have ventured across the narrow sea to visit our Kiwi neighbours in New Zealand. But never having been a particular lover of snow, adventure sports or rugby, the journey was one I simply hadn’t made.

And now, having just spent five days in what was nothing short of paradise, I’m wishing it hadn’t taken me so long. My lasting thought upon leaving New Zealand was a Charles Dickens-esque, “Please sir, can I have some more?”

Napier is a small town of around 58,000 residents, situated on the northern seaport region of Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. In 1931 the land on which the town was built suffered from a massive earthquake. That earthquake flattened what was a thriving, vibrant community; killing more than 250 people, destroying dozens of buildings and drastically changing the landscape forever (the earthquake sent 4000 hectares of land under water).

Napier
Art deco Napier.

Undeterred, the residents of the town were determined to rebuild and with the assistance of government grants and support from across the country, the town was almost wholly reconstructed in the short space of only 2 years.

The new buildings were designed in the distinct architectural style of the era: art deco. And construction since then has tried to remain in keeping with that style. The result? When we arrived fresh from our bumpy little flight from Auckland, it felt like we’d walked into a different place; a different time.

It was positively Gatsby-esque.

Our first two evenings in the Hawkes Bay region were spent at the picturesque Dome Apartments in Napier. The black and white furnishings and art deco design, complete with geometric patterns and lavish ornamentation made us feel like true inhabitants of the flapper era. I only wish I’d brought my cigarette holder and beaded headpiece.

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Our first full day in New Zealand brought with it two fantastic short tours. I’m not generally much of a tour-taker on holiday. I tend to get a map, randomly circle some stuff, start walking and promptly get lost. But my experience in Napier definitely changed that because the two tours we took were genuinely eye-opening and well-delivered; one was led by the Napier Art Deco Trust and the other by Waimarama Maori Tours.

Bike riding
Bike riding in New Zealand.

Taking the time to see the sights of Napier and learn the story of the town from a local who was intensely passionate about his home and its history was a privilege.

Driving around in a car that was of the era, only added to the fun and I was delighted by how friendly all the locals were and how forthcoming they were with stories about the place they live. The Napier Art Deco Trust do great work, which is definitely worth supporting by giving one of their walking or driving tours a go.

Being exposed to the Maori culture of the region was something else entirely. I’m quite anxious not to give the details of this particular tour away, so as not to spoil the experience of those who go there.

Suffice to say, you will not regret a cent of what you pay to see the magnificent scenery and hear the traditional stories of the Maori people in the Napier region.

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The story telling skills of our tour guide – whose grandfather was an original signatory to the historic treaty of Waitangi – were phenomenal. I could probably have sat there and listened to a re-telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by this bloke and still been transfixed (she SAT IN HIS CHAIR?!?!?).

The tales of his people, their history and their beliefs were captivating.

Napier also brought with it rather copious amounts of wine. I’m one of those people who loves wine, loves wineries, loves wine tasting but knows very little about it. I know what tastes good and that’s about the extent of my knowledge base.

But to all you wine expert types thinking of going to the northern island of New Zealand, I say: do it. The wineries in Hawkes Bay were picturesque and the wine itself was even better. The Kiwis are also friendly and attentive hosts, who took a lot of time to talk us through the production-process behind the delicious wine we drank and food we ate.

Napier and its immediate surrounding region is quite flat, which also makes it a really great place for renting a bike and working off some wine-related calorie intake. Takaro Trails has tour options for the super fit who want distance and physical exertion, for families looking for a fun day out with the kids and also for people like me – for whom the wine is the main game and the yellow jersey an optional extra.

A taste of the gorgeous wineries.
A taste of the gorgeous wineries.

I visited a bunch of wineries including Black Barn Vineyards and Elephant Hill Estate Winery. But want to give a special mention to Trinity Hill winery, which is run by Aussie born John Hancock who took several hours out of his busy day to show my boyfriend and I the estate and tell us the story behind his little New Zealand paradise.

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The wines were magnificent but so was the very modern and distinctive architecture of the cellar door, where I would definitely recommend stopping for a cheese plate and a glass or two of sav blanc.

On day three of our holiday, we headed around the curve of the coastline (leaving the even, flat bike riding territory where I was comfortable) and towards the evocatively named Cape Kidnappers. (I felt like I was in an Enid Blyton novel and was overcome by a desire to grab Timmy the dog, my jam sandwiches and macaroons before heading off on my upcoming adventure).

At Cape Kidnappers, we stayed at a place called ‘The Farm‘. And I do not think I can do justice to how beautiful this location was. I have never been anywhere like it in the world.

The view was spectacular, the individual lodges were equipped with everything you could think of (and everything you didn’t think of) and I spent the next 48 hours wishing I would never have to leave. It was like stepping into a postcard – except a postcard with very attentive staff who kept bringing you delicious food.

It would take me another several thousand words to adequately describe the many awesome things to do at the Farm. I would also use up ALL the adjectives (or at least those that I haven’t used already). So instead I will leave it to the pictures surrounding this post to give you an idea. You can also take a look at more images on their website here.

Cape Kidnappers
Cape Kidnappers
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Some things you should definitely try if you are lucky enough to make the trip to the Cape include: an awesome massage at their lavender scented parlour, the amazing degustation dinner menu (with matched wines), a swim in the infinity pool (even if its freezing), the world class golf course and a mountain bike ride along the cape (a warning though – it’s the opposite of Napier – hills EVERYWHERE).

I am, however, going to take one moment to elaborate about the wildlife sanctuary, which extends all over the Farm’s expansive land. It is the biggest ecological restoration project currently happening in New Zealand and covers more than 2400 hectares.

The site houses hundreds of native birds and mammals, including around one hundred Kiwis – the native animal of New Zealand – which is both endangered and extremely, extremely cute.

Each of the kiwis is fitted with a small electronic bracelet, so its carers can keep an eye on them as they grow. Once they hit 1kg and are fully grown adults who can defend themselves, they’re released into the wild.

Jamila and a kiwi.
Jamila and a kiwi.

We were able to track one of the kiwis (with a lot of expert help) and holding this little fella was probably the best moment of the trip.

When he pooped as my boyfriend, Jez was finishing up his cuddle and going to weigh him, was probably the second best.

Saying goodbye to New Zealand was like a painful break up with someone I felt I’d known my whole life.

It was quite strange feeling so at home somewhere other than Australia. There are so many similarities between the two countries, and yet the differences are beautiful and well worth the journey.

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Jamila traveled to New Zealand courtesy of Tourism New Zealand. Her transport was provided by Air New Zealand.

You can find out more information and see more beautiful pictures about the places and tours that she mentions in this post by following the links below.

Cape Kidnappers ‘The Farm‘ | The Dome Appartments | Takaro Trails | Waimarama Maori Tours | Napier Art Deco Trust | Trinity Hill

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