Skip to Content

Exploring New Zealand

Home > North Island > Hawke's Bay

Hawke's Bay Area Guide

Cape Kidnappers. Saddle Gannet colony
visible on plateau - ©
The verdant Hawke's Bay, 250 kilometres north of Wellington on the east coast of the North Island, attracts plenty of short-term visitors for its balmy climate and laid back lifestyle, and plenty of former residents scattered among New Zealand's larger cities talk of one day returning home to the enviable lifestyle enjoyed by citizens of the bay.

The main population settlements of Napier, Hastings and Havelock North are all within 25 kilometres of each other. On the coast, picturesque Napier attracts the most tourists, drawn by the headline attractions of Marineland, with its performing dolphins and seals, and the National Aquarium, as well as the town's amazing Art Deco heritage. The inland agricultural centre Hastings is the poor relation in terms of attracting visitors, but it has its own share of attractions including the huge (by New Zealand standards) water theme park Splash Planet, and the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, which hosts a fair number of interesting events through the year. Havelock North, five kilometres east of Hastings, has a village atmosphere and is a good base for exploring Te Mata Peak, which rises 399 metres above sea level. You can drive or walk to the top for spectacular views.

Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's oldest wine-growing region, with the first vines planted in 1851 by French Marist missionaries. Visit the beautifully elegant Mission Estate Winery in Napier to find out where it all began. You can guide yourself around the vineyards, which are scattered around Napier, Hastings and Havelock North, with the Winery Guide, which is available from local information offices. Or attend the food and wine celebration, Harvest Hawke's Bay, in early February when local producers show off their best wines. The weekend Farmers’ Markets are well worth a visit to sample some local produce - they are held in Tennyson Street, Napier, on Saturday mornings, at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds in Hastings on Sunday mornings, and at the Black Barn Vineyard in Havelock North on Saturday mornings in spring and summer.

Venture further afield to the southern coastal tip of the bay to visit the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve, the largest mainland colony of the birds in the world. These large birds, which weigh an average of two kilograms, are ungainly on land, but graceful in flight, and capable of diving from great heights into the sea to catch fish. Take a tractor and trailer or four-wheel-drive tour to see the birds, or walk to the colony along the beach at low tide (allow at least five hours return). The colony is closed in the breeding season from July to October, and the best time to visit is between November and February.

Travel further south to Porangahau in central Hawke's Bay to see the prominent hill which celebrates the achievements of a mythical Maori ancestor and carries the world's longest place name: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (the hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his flute to his beloved).

To make the most of Hawke's Bay stunning climate, you'll want to be by the beach at least some of the time. The two long golden sand beaches at Ocean Beach and Waimarama are a 20-30 minute drive from Hastings and are patrolled by lifeguards during summer.