I like to try to blend into a place as much as possible.
Short of mimicking the Kiwi accent, I think I did a pretty good job at blending into the Hawke’s Bay life while seeing as much of it as a “tourist” as possible.
During my four months living in Napier, I saw and did heaps. I’ve picked out the best of the best to give you an idea of what local living is like in the Hawke’s Bay.
Bike ride everywhere
There’s no better way to get to know an area geographically than by bicycle. The locals mostly drive their cars around the region but you can fool them into thinking you’re just a really active and healthy local!
Hidden beauty awaits up random pathways you would otherwise overlook from a car. You’ll see more than you can by foot and get to know the geography of the area quickly this way.
Jono’s Uncle loaned me his bike to get around Hawke’s Bay on my own. I took advantage of driving along the bike paths carved into Napier’s shingle beaches, through its parks, and on its back roads.
Do a wine tasting
More than 30 vineyards occupy the lands around Hastings and Napier in the Hawke’s Bay. Wine tasters hop from one to the other for free tastings.
I had the chance to attend a private tasting at Riverside Winery making the experience a bit unusual from the typical tourist experience.
Riverside Winery is mainly an export winery—selling around the world including the USA.
Go to the Sunday markets
Every Sunday, Hastings and Napier have specialty markets with food, groceries, and more.
Lots of fresh produce at reduced prices are available at the Napier markets.
Specialty items are for sale in booths at the Hastings market. There, you can taste and try everything: organic fruit, jarred honeys, fizzy ciders, aromatic cheeses, and more. Make it breakfast!
Wander Napier’s marine parade gardens
The gardens behind the beach in Napier were originally built up to prevent the ocean from flooding into the town.
Today, these gardens are beautifully manicured and maintained. Tons of colorful flowers bloom all year round and plenty of little discoveries are waiting to be found.
For example, check out the wall with the rock slabs inserted from different areas of New Zealand—schist from Queenstown, basaltic scoria from Pakuranga, and slate from Denmore.
Learn the myth, “Pania of the Reef.” A statue describes this Maori legend about a woman who swam out to meet the sea people and upon swimming back her body formed the reef beyond Napier’s breakwater.
There’s so much to see here! And if you’re craving more, there’s always the Botannical and Centennial gardens, too.
Hike Te Mata peak
Get a view of Hawke’s Bay from 399m up at the top of Te Mata peak south of Hastings.
Look out over the Heretaunga Plains to glimpse Napier, spot the suburb of Havelock North built into Te Mata’s slopes, and see as far as Mount Ruapehu to the West on a clear day.
If you get there at sunrise, you can boast being among the first in the world to see the dawn of a new day as you gaze out over the Pacific Ocean to the East.
Watch the sunset at Bluff Hill
Before an earthquake in 1931, Scinde Island was surrounded by water. The quake raised the land transforming the island into a limestone outcrop now known as Bluff hill.
The hill overlooks the Port of Napier.
Day or night, it’s a great spot to watch ships and view distant mountains.
Attend a home show
There is nothing so utterly kiwi as attending a home show.
The better home and living show comes around to just three regions of the North Island once a year. A ticket for around $10 will grant you access to a maze of kiwi-owned companies advertising their goods and services to complete or enhance New Zealand homes, gardens, farms, and more.
Don’t have a home in New Zealand? That’s ok. You can still enter into all of the contests and freebies they have.
Use a junk email and your SIM card phone number to sign up for trips to Doubtful Sound and other domestic travel luxuries.
Jono and I didn’t win anything, but who knows—you might get lucky! If not, it’s a fun way to blend in with the locals and check out on what kiwis love to spend their money!
Bee educated at Arataki Honey
Get to know New Zealand through its harvested nectar at Arataki Honey’s visitor center located in Havelock North.
This is the educational site, store, and tasting location for the top beekeeping business in the entire southern hemisphere encompassing over 20,000 hives.
You can learn about bees, taste a variety of honey, and see live bees—all for free! Be sure to try the Mānuka honey as it’s primarily produced in New Zealand.
Mānuka honey is so sought after worldwide it’s actually sold in counterfeit forms elsewhere. So get the real thing here!
Visit fruit and veggie stands
One of the major industries in Hawke’s Bay, next to wine, is fruit production. Feijoa trees, kiwi fruit, and apple orchards line the sides of the highway and stretch across the fields on back drives.
All over New Zealand you’ll find fruit and veggie stands on the side of the highway or off a town side street. But Hawke’s Bay is known as the “fruit bowl” and boasts New Zealand's biggest produce growing region and has the largest range of fruits and vegetables.
Picking up some produce from a local stand is a must do when pretending to be a local.
Kiwi for a kiwi, anyone?
Snorkel Pourere beach
A local favorite place to visit for a beach day or weekend long trip with the family is Pourere beach.
If you really want to be a local, grab yourself a caravan or boat and pull it to the beach by tractor!
Alternatively, drive right onto the beach with your 4x4 and unload the gear for some fishing, free diving, swimming, or snorkeling.
I suited up in one of Jono’s spare wet suits (and felt like a frog in it!) to do a little snorkeling there. Lots of little hermit crabs and tons of fish occupy the reef.
This beach is great fun for kids, too. Jono’s friend brought his whole family. His children loved looking in all the low-tide pools for snails and other critters.
Scuba dive Mahanga beach in Mahia
You can sign up for a scuba dive or bring your own gear to Mahanga beach where a group will often be there diving directly from the beach.
Diving in most parts of New Zealand (except Northland area) is typically very cold and not great visibility. Locals and tourists like to dive for cray and paua in the Mahia area.
On this occasion, however, the water had such huge swells it was near impossible to dive down and stay in one place. I struggled quite a bit and eventually had to turn back to the beach due to a faulty BC and turbulent water.
Even Jono, who is much more skilled than I, said it was tough! He did eventually turn up with some cray and paua, but I’d wait for a calm day to check out this spot.
Take a boat ride
Get to know a local fisherman, diver, or boater and you may get the chance to spend a day on her/his boat.
I had the opportunity on several occasions to be boatman for some of Jono’s friends. This meant I steered the boat while they dove down deep to catch cray, mussels, or fish.
If you’re lucky you’ll get to reap the benefits of the bay—in my case, the guys caught heaps and heaps of mussels!
Fresh or fried, mussels are a great “taste of the bay” especially when caught by locals.
Fish from the beach
You may not be terribly successful fishing from the beach in Hawke’s Bay since many commercial fisherman tend to overfish the waters off the coast. This doesn’t knock trying, however.
Long-line fishing is a fairly popular sport in Hawke’s Bay. You can usually find one or two fisherman on a given day putting out a Kontiki.
Snapper are a highly sought after catch and they love octopus!
Before you fish in New Zealand, make sure you are up on the size and limit regulations. Find them on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.
Observe national holidays
New Zealand has several public holidays. While Christmas and New Year’s Day are familiar to tourists, Boxing Day, Waitangi Day, Queen’s Birthday, and Anzac Day are lesser known.
I was situated in the Hawke’s Bay for New Zealand’s Anzac celebration—New Zealand’s national day of remembrance. The day commemorates Australians and New Zealanders lost in past wars, conflicts and peace-keeping operations.
The name of the day comes from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I.
I woke at dawn with the rest of the community to make it to the first service beginning at sunrise. Everyone was heading to the square in the morning—and so was I.
During the week leading up to Anzac Day, you will see everyone from news anchors to store clerks wearing a red poppy flower—the official symbol of remembrance. “Poppy Day,” as it’s sometimes called, comes from a poem written about the Gallipoli battlefields where poppies bloomed. Their red color reflect the blood spilled there.
After the morning service, the whole crowd gathered at Civic Square walked down Emerson street to the beach to watch the morning sunrise.
Mini-golf at the beach
Hawke’s Bay is home to Cape Kidnappers—arguably the best golf course in New Zealand. It’s a delight for all those golfers out there who are serious about their game or who want some awesome sea views along cliffs with a valley landscape.
I, however, am not a golfer. I am a mini-golfer.
The Par 2 mini golf course in Napier offers two courses of extreme mini-golfing entertainment.
Positioned along the marine parade, the course offers views of the beach and bay. It’s great fun!
Hawke’s Bay is a great region in New Zealand to visit. Not only is the area filled with tons to do, it’s also one of the sunniest regions of New Zealand. Perhaps this is why many retired kiwis move there? It’s like the Florida of New Zealand!