A quick change of plans and we decided to head straight to Napier from Coromandel and cut out the two day drive around the East Cape of the North Island. We felt that moving from place to place every two or three days was cramping our style and wasn’t allowing us to get the proper ‘feel’ for a place. So, our intention was to spend three days in Napier and then head to Wellington city ‘proper’ for two nights before spending the weekend with our Burning Man friends in the suburbs of Welly.
We made the seven hour drive with sporadic showers, through mountainous areas and then through the central part of the country, through Rotorua (nothing to speak about), through Lake Taupo (beautiful, except for the quick glance we got of a ‘golfing attraction’ whereby one stood on a shoreline platform and whacked golf balls to a targeted small floating ‘green’ about 50 years offshore; no one seemed to be hitting the target, instead the balls were going into the lake. Bad!), and then the 1 ½ hour drive out to the Eastern cape town of Napier.
Napier is located on the southern part of Hawkes Bay, defined by a very long black gravelly unusable beach, but with a lovely promenade that runs for miles. The bay was beautiful, especially when viewing it from Napier Hill: seagreen and blue hues and hills in the distance. The city is most known for its Art Deco buildings which were constructed after the city was ravaged by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 1931. Within two years, Napier was rebuilt, something the people were quite proud of considering most of the world was reeling from the Depression. Today the Art Deco Society gives walking tours through town although it’s just as easy to spend $4 for the self-guided tour pamphlet (which you get for free if staying at the backpackers – they have a few on hand to lend to guests).
Over 100,000 people live in Napier and its surrounding towns of Hastings and Havelock, making it one of the top ten populated areas of the country. Staying in downtown Napier felt much, much smaller; we enjoyed the laidback feel of it and instead of staying
for only three days, we ended up staying for five. No Wellington ‘proper’ trip for us. We managed to get the car tuned up (nothing wrong with the brakes); I got a haircut at a swank salon; and we generally chilled and leisurely explored the area.
We stayed at a very central backpackers called Archie’s Bunker which was run by new owners Doug and Julie. Located one block from the beach and one block from the main strip, this two-story accommodation was perfectly situated for exploring Napier. The upstairs was the ‘action’ floor (read: young kids); downstairs was much quieter.
Unfortunately, we were put upstairs and had a run in with a large travelling softball team who were staying in the dorms located to either side of our nice private double room. These young men thought it was fine to carry on at 4 am, having themselves a good chin wag and fits of giggles. I was not amused. After ten minutes of this nonsense, I decided to take charge and so I marched next door and pounded loudly on the door. Utter quiet and no response. Pound, pound pound. “Open this door” I said. Not a peep. Pound, pound, pound. “Open the door! You need to keep it down or move into the common room.” Done. They managed to shut up until around 7 am where they proceeded to carry on from where they left off. Doug, the owner, heard from another guest that a Canadian woman (moi) managed to shut them up and thanked me for doing so.
Despite that horrible night, we enjoyed staying here and would recommend others to do so. Just request a bottom floor room.
The inclement weather followed us down from Coromandel and we had bits of showers for a couple of days and just general cloudiness. Everyone, from the backpackers owner, to the salon stylist, to the café worker, commented as to how unusual this was as Napier is supposedly also known for it’s lovely sunny weather. We finally got to experience this on our last day; the sun burst out for a few hours as Bruce & I did a stairway walking tour on Napier Hill (very reminiscent of our San Francisco walking tours we love to do).
Food & People:
We did manage to spoil ourselves and go out for two dinners during our five night stay. Recommended by Lonely Planet, on our first night we went to Jo Miguel’s off the main drag (one of the only places actually open for dinner) and had a lovely meal of paella along with a couple of beers. $35 for two and well worth it.
Another night we were referred to Chaplans (as in Charlie) where we were the only patrons seated at the small formica-topped tables. We were told the Singaporean couple made excellent meat dishes and were not disappointed with our venison and lamb entrees.
Our new friends Anne & Scott had a friend in Napier who was running an organic café, Manna Soul Food Café. They told us we should drop by, see Mark, and have a meal. After several failed attempts (couldn’t find it, café was closed, we were busy), we finally managed to get there for breakfast on our last day. We introduced ourselves to Mark who was busy making coffees behind the counter while several young gals were bustling in the kitchen and working the register. Mark had been expecting us. He was a stout, late 40’s/early 50’s, weathered looking man. We did our requisite small talk for about ten minutes in between him making lattes and flat whites for customers and then Bruce & I sat down to have breakfast. Mark was too busy to join us so when we were done, in keeping with the Kiwi way, we asked if he’d like to go for a coffee or beer that evening, to which he nodded and said to meet him back at the café at six pm.
We arrived promptly at six as Mark and his partner Cory were closing up; the four of us headed out to the promenade for an evening stroll and then hit up a local pub for a few round of beers. Mark & Cory were really neat folks: Mark had worked for many years for Bio-Gro which was responsible for organic certifications of livestock. He was a wealth of knowledge on different areas of the country, especially areas that had good soil for growing. We told him about the Coromandel property and by our description, he thought it was overpriced. He advised us that whenever we go look at a property we should dig holes at the border and somewhere in between to get a feel for the soil (who knew?). Mark also worked in the States for a number of years working with one of the national organizations developing organic standards. He said of all the places in New Zealand, he thought the New Plymouth/Taranaki area was outstanding for its beauty and good soil. So now that’s on the list as another region to check out. Cory was originally from the Netherlands and had migrated to NZ 20+ years ago with her now ex-husband and four young children. She was very supportive and encouraging regarding our feelings as new migrants and shared a lot of stories about her early days here. We spent close to three hours talking about all sorts of things and really enjoyed our time with them.
The next morning we stopped by the café to say goodbye to Mark. He had been ‘trying out’ a new gal to make the coffees and was satisfied, so he was able to join us for a coffees and muffins (on the house) and we had another good half-hour chat with him. He’d been running the café for 2+ years, getting tired of it and had been thinking of selling it. Cory was planning to be in Christchurch for a workshop in September and so we encouraged Mark to come down with her so that the six of us (us 4 + Anne & Scott) could have a fun dinner party. Mark said he’d think about it. Seems like he thought very highly about our idea as when we emailed him a few days later, he wrote and said he’d already taken steps to sell the café!
We spent little time looking at real estate or picking up pamphlets, but at a quick glance, the average homes were selling in the mid-$200’s to mid-300’s range.
Memorable Moments & Fun Stuff:
We spent a lovely day driving around the region on a self-guided wine and cider tasting tour. There are at least 30 wineries in the area, akin to the Bay Area Napa/Sonoma regions. All grape varieties are grown here. We managed to hit up a handful before I needed to put a halt to our tastings as we all know it’s not good to drink and drive! Not knowing where to go, we hit up the first two, Mission Estate Winery and Church Road Winery, which were right on the main road. Tastings are free and you generally get to sample four or five. Unfortunately, I lack the skill that many of my clever SF friends and savvy brother-in-law (we needed you Stuart!) have to describe a wine, so all I can tell you is that they were generally good. We ended up with a Voignier (some kind of white grape blend) and a Savignon Blanc. We specifically head to the third, Park Estate Winery, because we’d read they made excellent fruit wines, and they had several to taste: kiwifruit, feijoa, & boysenberry. We ended up buying a bottle of the latter along with a really superb Gamay. Lastly, we went to a cider making place which was not on the wine tour pamphlet, but Bruce read about it somewhere and the I-Site person gave us the details of where to find it. We got to taste four varieties of cider and bought a whole pile of it. The most amusing one was the 2.5% GrannyPash – a very fruity, crisp tasting cider that the woman said was good for an afternoon barby. It’s made from a combination of Granny Smith Apples and Passion Fruit. Ridiculous name, good taste. They also made an 8% cider akin to the Scrumpy that those of you who were on the NZ trip last April will recall we all got quite the buzz off of. Apparently, ‘scrumping’ is a British term that described the act of climbing into someone’s orchard to steal apples, I think, for the purpose of making homemade cider.
We also did a stop at the Classic Sheepskins Store to look at their ‘seconds’ and Bruce came away with a little (baaaa) sheepskin rug to warm his little feetsies.
Things I’m Missing:
A hot bath
Gaming with friends.