Hawkes Bay is one of two famous wine regions in New Zealand (the other being Marlborough in the South Island). Located on the east coast of the North Island, Hawkes Bay is a beautiful and convenient place to stop for a few days on an epic New Zealand road trip.
Foodies will rejoice here – Hawkes Bay is renowned for its produce. However, food and drink aside, there are plenty of options for younger travellers, as well as those who would like a bit more adventure!
How to Get To Hawkes Bay
By Air: The closest airport to Hawkes Bay is the Napier Airport, which is located just 10 km from the city centre. Regular flights are scheduled from several major cities in New Zealand. If you’re coming from an international location, you’ll likely need to fly into one of New Zealand’s major international airports (Auckland or Wellington in the North Island). From either of these cities, it’s a short flight to Napier.
By Car: If you’re already in New Zealand, you can drive to Hawkes Bay from several major cities such as Auckland, Wellington, and Rotorua. We recently made the trip from Wellington via Palmerston North. This drive will take approximately three to four hours, depending on the route and traffic. From Auckland, the drive takes approximately five hours.
The Best Time To Visit Hawkes Bay
We visited Hawkes Bay in the Summer (late December to be exact). We were lucky to have stunning weather each day – about 25 degrees Celsius and sunny. However, as anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in New Zealand will tell you – this is never guaranteed, even in the height of summer! In fact, just a couple of days before we arrived, a hailstorm rolled through.
March to May can be a great time, as the weather isn’t as warm but is usually still relatively mild.
I don’t personally recommend the Winter. I think if you happen to be here in winter, of course check it out. But if you’re in New Zealand in Winter, you’re likely taking the opportunity to ski rather than sit outside at wineries! That being said, there are some beautiful wineries and hotels that would be stunning in winter, such as Craggy Range (see below).
Where To Stay In Hawkes Bay
Below are some of our favourite accommodation options, according to the type of stay.
Ultimate Luxury: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is an absolute bucket list accommodation option. This lodge sits in the secluded Cape Kidnappers private land area, guaranteeing you complete privacy. There’s also a stunning restaurant, spa, and one of the world’s best and most exclusive golf courses. For something less costly but still incredible, Craggy Range Luxury Vineyard Retreat is a brilliant option. Craggy Range offers three accommodations: River Lodges, Garden Cottages, and Vineyard Cottages – some of which have two bedrooms. And, of course, you’re onsite to visit the cellar door and incredible restaurant.
Weekend getaways: I really love the romantic B&B vibes of Te Awanga Cottages in Te Awanga, Kalldeen Luxury Accommodation in Napier, and Tuki Vineyard Cottage in Havelock North. For something quite groovy and more hotel style, The Crown Hotel in Napier is a fantastic option.
Families and bigger groups: Kuku Villa in Te Awanga is an absolute beauty. This holiday home has four bedrooms and is a delightful seaside escape. Coastal Villa in Napier is one street away from the beach and features four bedrooms – it has a really homely vibe. Wine Country Motel in Havelock North is great for small families and we loved the communal pool, where we could mingle with other guests. Te Mata Views in Havelock North is stunning, and offers two-person rooms as well as apartments and houses from two to four bedrooms. Dewdrop Cottage in Hastings has four bedrooms and reminds me of Miss Honey from Matilda – the perfect country getaway.
Food and Drink
The Hawkes Bay region is a top wine-producing area, with numerous vineyards and wineries offering tastings and tours. Here are some of our favourite food and drink experiences in Hawkes Bay. Unfortunately this list is not exhaustive – we’ll need to come back!
Craggy Range Winery
This was one of our top experiences in the whole North Island, honestly. Going in, we knew it had a good reputation, and that it was also “fancy”… Which we love, but we were worried about coming with the kids! We really needn’t have given it a second thought – from the moment we arrived, everyone was so accommodating. We also loved enjoying dessert on the patio while the children explored the grounds. Make sure you get the haloumi starter – all dishes were great but this one blew my mind.
Clearview Estate is a rustic winery and lunch spot in Te Awanga. We booked lunch here after our Gannet Safari as it’s just down the road.
We really loved enjoying a tasting in the sunshine while the kids played on the playground – any winery with a playground always gets a thumbs up from me! The kids even made some friends.
My steak was basic but beautifully done, and the kids loved their kids meals. We also took home a bottle of wine for later.
Sai Thai Eatery
By our last day in Hawkes Bay we were absolutely craving Thai food (we eat a lot of Southeast Asian-inspired dishes at home). In fact, the kids were absolutely desperate for a noodle fix.
We stumbled upon Sai on Emerson Street, one of the main shopping and eating strips in Napier. And honestly, our meal was up there with one of the best on our whole trip (our other Thai experience in Auckland was great too). The Penang Beef Rib Curry was incredible.
The Arataki Honey visitor centre is located in Havelock North. We loved popping in to try all their honeys (yes, you can taste about 20 different honey varietals!)
Arataki has interactive exhibits as well that are great for the kids – for example, being able to see into each hive and trying to find the Queen.
The Filter Room Ale & Cider House
The Filter Room, in Meeanee (just outside of Napier) is a great place to relax for people who love craft beer. We loved kicking back and enjoying some beers we’d never tried before.
The Filter Room serves food and is also attached to a fish and chip shop. Fair warning, the ribs are absolutely HUGE here, so bring your appetite!
Also make sure you check the Filter Room website – you may be able to line up your visit with some great live music.
Things to do in Hawkes Bay
There are so many amazing things to do in Hawkes Bay, no matter where you’re staying (and everything is so accessible anyway). Here are a few of our favourite experiences.
Explore Art Deco Napier
Napier, Hawkes Bay’s biggest city, has undergone a remarkable transformation since its destruction by an earthquake in 1931. The city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, making it one of the best-preserved Art Deco cities in the world.
Exploring Napier’s Art Deco architecture is like taking a step back in time. The city’s distinctive buildings, with their geometric shapes, bold colors, and intricate details, transport you to the glamour and sophistication of the 1920s and 30s. Some of the highlights include the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, the ornate Daily Telegraph building, and the stunning National Tobacco Company building.
To fully appreciate Napier’s Art Deco architecture, it’s worth taking a guided tour. You’ll learn about the history of the city, as well as the design principles and motifs that make Art Deco such a distinctive style.
But even if you’re not an architecture buff, there’s plenty to enjoy in Napier. The city has a thriving arts scene, with galleries showcasing the work of local and international artists. There are also plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars, many of which are housed in Art Deco buildings.
Go on a Gannet Safari
Cape Kidnapper, on the southern end of Hawke’s Bay, is home to the world’s largest Gannet colony. Gannets are a spectacular bird of the booby family (i.e. related to the Blue-Footed Booby and Pelican).
Taking a three-hour tour with Gannet Safaris Overland allows you to take in breathtaking views and come face to face with thousands of gannets, including chicks. You’ll also learn a whole lot about Maori and Settler history in the Hawke’s Bay area, and the flora and fauna in the region.
There were several kids on board including ours, and the guides were excellent with them (and us!). So we definitely recommend the Gannet Safari as a good family activity.
Regular tours run twice a day between September and April (three times in peak holiday season), and they do special departures for sunrise and sunset.
Tickets cost approximately $90NZ per adult and $45NZD per child for a three-hour tour.
Hike Te Mata Peak
Hiking Te Mata Peak in Hawke’s Bay is an experience that should not be missed. This stunning natural landmark, located just a short drive from Havelock North or Hastings, offers breathtaking views and a challenging but rewarding climb.
The hike to the summit of Te Mata Peak takes around an hour, and the trail is well-maintained and easy to follow. As you climb, you’ll pass through native bush and grasslands, and enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.
At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Hawke’s Bay region, including the Pacific Ocean, the Tukituki River, and the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. It’s the perfect spot to take a break, snap some photos, and soak up the natural beauty of the area.
Te Mata Peak is not just a destination for hikers. It’s also a popular spot for paragliding and hang gliding, and you may see daredevils launching themselves off the peak and soaring through the sky.
So to wrap up, whether you’re interested in art, food, wine, or outdoor activities, Hawkes Bay has something for everyone. Plan your trip today and experience all that this beautiful region has to offer!
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