Day 6: Napier and Art Deco Tour
We were on the bus shortly after sunrise today, and Wellington seemed to have been up and moving for quite some time. The drive out of the city was certainly a change of pace in that, until this point, we hadn’t really seen a freeway or even any notion of traffic for that matter.
New Zealand has a total population of just over 4 million, and more than two thirds of that number live on the North Island—1.4 million of which are located at the northern tip in and around Auckland. And as we made our way north toward the Hawke’s Bay region and the town of Napier, the views from the bus were noticeably more crowded with towns and farms and a great deal less wild than what we experienced on the South Island. Even so, the farms and little towns were great fun to look at, and we even ran across large fields full of the strangely round hills Lord of the Rings viewers will remember from Hobbiton. I couldn’t help but spend a moment or two imagining Peter Jackson and his crew scouting through the area for the perfect hobbit house.
A few hours later we found ourselves near the coast again and approaching one of New Zealand’s driest and warmest regions. Completely leveled in the 1931 earthquake that destroyed several of Hawke’s Bay’s communities, the town of Napier was rebuilt in the popular Art Deco style of the time, and today it’s become a vibrant beach destination not far from the famous Hawke’s Bay wine country.
Our first visit in Napier is to the Hawke’s Bay Museum, where we get a look at some of the region’s Maori treasures and artifacts and some delightful contemporary fashion and art exhibitions. The museum also features a comprehensive look back at the terrible earthquake and a powerful presentation of documentary-style interviews with living survivors of the disaster.
After our visit through the museum, we walked a couple of blocks down the street to join a guided tour of the town’s fabulous Art Deco architecture and design. The chance to stroll around the city with a fact-filled guide was really quite interesting, and having seen a number of before and after pictures of the earthquake, taking in the stunning pastels and neon facades of the Art Deco transformation first hand was a striking experience. Overall, Napier reminded me a little of some of the towns around the Mediterranean I’d visited in Europe, and even in autumn, it was hard not to get a sense of the summertime excitement visitors are sure to enjoy here.
Night 6: Scenic Circle Te Pania Hotel
Accommodations : Our hotel tonight was a comfortable little place with bright, modern rooms and wonderful beachfront views. I was a big fan our bathroom: bright, spacious and equipped with a great shower.
Dinner : Tonight we ate at the Church Road Winery, an impressive vineyard just outside of Napier. We enjoyed a simple, down to earth buffet full of all sorts of subtle but truly delicious dishes. I especially liked the Salmon and the chocolate cake we had for desert.
After the meal, Rachel led us in a performance of the traditional Maori greeting known as the Haka. For those of you who’ve seen the New Zealand national team play ruby, the Haka is performed by the players before each match. It’s an impressive combination of dance and chanting that has to be pretty intimidating for the other team. It was certainly intimidating to learn—most of which we did with Rachel on the bus. The chance to try it all out was great fun, however, and everyone enjoyed a great deal of laughter both during and after our performance of sorts. My buddy Craig was especially entertaining.