Known as one of New Zealand’s leading wine producers, Hawke’s Bay is the best destination to enjoy food and wine. But its unspoilt landscapes, warm climate and quirky architecture add to the experience. The number of things to do in Hawke’s Bay is endless. Planning a trip to New Zealand? You must add Hawke’s Bay to your itinerary. From award-winning food and wine to Art Deco buildings, bike trails and walks, stunning beaches and waterfalls, Hawke’s Bay has something for everyone! And all this in year-round sunshine, you won’t want to leave. A region too often overlooked on tourist itineraries, after living for 3 years in New Zealand and making multiple short trips down to Hawkes Bay, I’ve put together the best things to do in the region to help plan your perfect Hawke’s Bay adventure.
10 best things to do in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
1. Visit the many wineries around Napier and Hastings
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second-largest wine region, with over 30 cellar doors and more than 70 wineries. This had to be the first best thing to do in Hawke’s Bay that I recommend. So, you can’t visit the area without a day of wine tasting at the local wineries.
To make the most of your time, I recommend you go on a wine tour. Free hassle and no need to worry about driving (remember not to drink and drive). Most wine tour providers offer to pick you up at your accommodation if you are not too far away from the main towns.
Here are some of the wineries I visited (with an honest review) while in Hawke’s Bay:
- Element Wine – Small family-owned winery. They welcome you in their garden, next to their house. It’s intimate and you feel at home enjoying wine with friends. Only a small range of wines but absolutely delicious. Made with love and passion!
- Craggy Range Winery – One of the largest wine producers in the region. And located in the prettiest area with a view of Te Mata Peak. Their estate is beautiful and the view of the ranges at sunset is breathtaking. I liked some of their wine selection but found their prices a bit expensive. However, it is still worth going there to have a drink and enjoy the surroundings and the sunset. Their restaurant is also well-known in the area but unfortunately, it was full when I was there. So I didn’t get a chance to try.
- Church Road – One of the oldest wineries in the region. This historic winery has been operating for over 180 years and is best known for its blended red wines. You are welcomed into their unique cellar door surrounded by acres of greenery.
- Elephant Hill – Located near Cape Kidnappers, you will be amazed by the spectacular views. A perfect place to relax on a sunny day on their elegant terrace. I liked the fact they offer a wine tasting with food to match.
- Moana Park – If you’re looking for a REAL vegan wine, this winery is your choice. It’s rare that the wines are 100% vegan. In fact, animal-derived fining agents are used in wine production. However, this small family-owned winery grows its grapes on its small estate using organic and sustainable methods with minimal human intervention. They incorporate technology into their natural winemaking to eliminate fining and additives from their wines. I particularly liked their Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
2. Discover Art Deco Buildings and the iconic city of Napier
Take a stroll through Napier city to see some remarkable Art Deco architecture. Rebuilt in the 1930s in the Art-Deco style after a massive earthquake destroyed most of the city, Napier is now known as the Art-Deco capital. This unique architecture can be seen throughout the city. And if you visit this city in February, you can even take part in the world-famous Art Deco Festival, where everyone dresses up and vintage vehicles from the 30s drive around town.
Some iconic buildings to spot in the city:
- National Tobacco Co
- Daily Telegraph building
- Criterion Hotel
- Public Trust Office
- Masonic Hotel
To get the full experience, embark on an Art Deco tour. Various options are available:
3. Step back in time at Napier Prison
Avid of unique and strange places to discover? You can go back in time by visiting Napier Prison. Built in 1862, it is known as New Zealand’s oldest prison.
Closed in 1993, it reopened in 2002 as a historic tourist attraction. You can explore it on a self-guided audio tour and learn incredible stories as you walk through the corridors and cells. An escape room experience is also available if you want to add to the thrill.
Find out more: Napier Prison Self guided audio tour
4. Watch gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers
Cape Kidnappers, about 20 km south of Napier, is home to the largest (and most accessible) gannet colony in the world. You can see 20.000 gannets at the cape.
Birdwatching around these extraordinary sandstone cliffs is one of the best things to do in Hawke’s Bay. The best months to go are from November to February during the nesting season.
There are a number of options for viewing the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers
- By walk – this is a 19km return walk along the beach from Clifton. Please be aware this walk can be done at low tide only. Make sure to double-check the tide time.
- Guided tour 4×4 coach – Not keen on walking for 19km, hop on a coach-guided tour with Gannet Safaris Overland that will take you right to the birdwatching spots.
5. Hike Te mata Peak
Looking for a 360-degree panoramic view of Hawke’s Bay? Te Mata Peak, which rises almost 400 metres above sea level, is located behind Havelock North. From the summit, you can see Napier and the entire Hawke’s Bay area as far north and east as the Mahia Peninsula. Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park is even visible in the distance on a clear day.
There are numerous trails in the Te Mata Peak parkland for visitors to walk, run or mountain bike through the 99 hectares of breathtaking scenery. For more information on the tracks, visit www.tematapark.co.nz
It is also possible to drive to the summit. Watching the sunrise/sunset from the top of Te Mata Peak is a must-do in the Hawke’s Bay region.
6. Explore the region by bike
Hawke’s Bay is the place to be if you love to cycle. The Napier and Hastings area has over 200 km of scenic cycle routes. Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa also have their own cycle network making Hawke’s Bay the best destination to explore by bike. You can choose from a variety of ride tracks, such as the Landscape Ride, Winery Ride, and Water Ride.
7. Hunt for waterfalls
Hawke’s Bay has a diverse landscape with many lakes, rivers and waterfalls to explore. Below are some of the must-see waterfalls in the region:
- Shine Falls; located an hour and a half’s drive from Napier, at 58 metres high, is the most spectacular waterfall in Hawke’s Bay.
- Maraetotara Falls; located in Havelock North, is a popular swimming spot for locals. The base of the waterfall is only a 10-minute walk away.
- Centennial Garden Falls; in the heart of Napier, this man-made waterfall is located in the beautiful Centennial Garden. You can see the falls from the street, but the short walk to the falls is a must.
- Te Ana Falls; located in Hasting, this 20m waterfall can be reached in a 15-minute walk through Tangoio Forest. Be sure to check out Tangoio Falls
8. Relax on the Mahia Peninsula
The Mahia Peninsula is about a 2.5-hour drive from Napier and is too often overlooked on a trip to Hawke’s Bay. But let me tell you, if you don’t go, you’re missing out. This peninsula is absolutely stunning, with all sorts of incredible beaches and views to discover.
A mix of rocky and white sandy beaches, the Mahia Peninsula is perfect for fishing, diving, surfing, kayaking and of course swimming.
But if you are a hiking enthusiast, there are also many hiking trails to discover the beautiful scenery this peninsula has to offer
9. Enjoy the sun on the beaches
Hawke’s Bay is home to some gorgeous and peaceful beaches. With around 360km of coastline, you’ll be sure to find a beautiful beach on your way.
Some of my favourite beaches near the main town of Napier are Ocean Beach and Waimarama. Both are about a 30-minute drive south of Napier.
Remember not to swim on the beach in Napier Town. This beach is not safe for swimming due to the very strong current and drop-off.
10. World longest place name
Heading south? Stop at Taumata-whaka-tangihanga-koauau-o-Tamatea-turi-pukaka-pikimaunga-horonuku-pokai-whenua-kitana-tahu. Yes, it’s a place name in New Zealand and it’s the longest place name in the world with 85 letters. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Try to pronounce it and have a good laugh 😉
How to get there?
Hawke’s bay is a 6-hour drive from Auckland and only 4 hours from Wellington. It is therefore a perfect long weekend getaway near New Zealand’s major cities. I recommend driving there to enjoy the beautiful scenery on the road.
But if you prefer to fly, there are non-stop flights from the main cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) and one-stop flights on the domestic network.
Where to stay in Hawke’s Bay?
The largest town in Hawke’s Bay region is Napier, so I recommend staying in this area. Napier and Hastings are both excellent places to stay overnight.
Do you want to treat yourself to a unique stay or a boutique hotel?
Luxury: The Dome – this boutique hotel/apartment in an Art Deco building is considered one of the best locations in town. On the waterfront, it offers elegant rooms and is within walking distance of restaurants and shops.
Mid-range: all 3 options are located in Napier and within walking distance of the city centre.
- Greenmeadows on Gloucester 4* less than NZD $150/night
- Beachfront Motel Both 4* under NZD $150/night
- Swiss-Belboutique 5* around NZD $200 a night
Also, there are many Airbnb’s available in the area, so it’s worth checking it out!
For budget travellers, there are loads of hostels available around Napier. The main reason is the seasonal work opportunities in the wine industry. Some of the backpacker hostels are located by the sea and others in town – which is great for nightlife.
Some good hostels in Napier:
- Criterion Art Deco Backpackers
- Stables Lodge Backpackers
- Archies Bunker
- The Art House Backpackers – beachfront but still close to town
Travelling with your motorhome? The Hawke’s Bay area is motorhome friendly and there are some great free campsites with ocean views near Napier town centre. “Pump Track Freedom Camping” is a perfect option. Beach view, public toilets, water and just a short walk from Napier city centre.
Download the Wikicamp or Campermate apps to find the nearest free campsites. Make sure you are certified Self-Contained, as this is now a requirement for free camping in New Zealand.
Check out the area around Hawke’s Bay
Got some extra time to explore the regions near Hawke’s Bay?
- From the Mahia Peninsula, head east to Gisborne and the Eastern Cape Region
- From Napier, you can continue south to the Wairapapa area and explore the Martinborough wine region.
- Heading north, stop in Taupo and Rotorua to experience some of the world’s best geothermal activity.