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           Home >  Regions  > Taupo  :

Getting To Know The North Island
Of New Zealand - Part Two

Lake Taupo To Hawke's Bay
On The East Coast

Written and Photographed by Kate Methven - 3/3/00

The road to Wellington...

Stage Two - Lake Taupo to Hawke's Bay
- distance 143km (89 miles)

If you haven't already done so, you may wish to read Part One of this series.

Getting there

 Waipunga Falls - half way between Taupo and Napier
Waipunga Falls - half way between Taupo and Napier
Click here for a larger version

Just a few kilometres south of Taupo City take Route 5 - the Thermal Explorer Highway heading east to the East Coast and the twin cities of Napier and Hastings which are only twenty minutes apart. The travelling time from Taupo is around one and a half hours - 143km (89 miles) - first passing through pine forests and then undulating countryside.

If you feel like stretching your legs half way, why not stop off at Waipunga Falls - well signposted on your left hand side and a popular scenic stop off spot for travellers.

Much to attract visitors
It's aptly called "The Fruitbowl of New Zealand", and orchards and vineyards abound in this region. Add the most concentrated collections of Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture in the Southern Hemisphere and there is plenty to attract visitors here.

It is arguably one of New Zealand's warmest regions with summer temperatures (November to April) ranging from 20 to 35ºC and mild winters (June to September) averaging 15ºC. On top of that you will find sparkling views over the Pacific Ocean, fresh produce served at wineries, restaurants and cafes and an abundance of outdoor adventures - so why are you waiting?

Local history

When the traders, whalers and missionaries began moving into the area in the early 1800ís there were many Maori people already settled there. In the 1850s farmers and hotel keepers arrived and shortly afterwards the locals named the settlement as Napier after Sir Charles Napier, the hero of the battle of Meeanee in the Indian province of Scinde. Many streets still carry names associated with the colonial era of the British Indian Empire, Others take their names from famous artists and literary people.

Earthquake kills 258
In the early days Napier consisted of an oblong mass of hills (Scinde Island) almost entirely surrounded by water. However in February 1931 a two and a half minute earthquake struck, almost totally levelling buildings and raising some areas as much as 2.5 metres (8 feet). More than 4,000 hectares of seabed became dry land and today this has been developed into residential and industrial property.

The site occupied by Hastings City was first settled in 1864 and achieved city status in 1956. The city has fine examples of Spanish architecture, particularly the Hastings Memorial Theatre which was built in 1915 and has since been renovated to become one of the finest performance theatres in the Southern Hemisphere.

If you have time take a drive up Te Mata Peak where you will get great views across the Ruahine, Maungaharuru and Keweka ranges with the volcano Ruapehu in the distance.

Local Maori Legend
According to Maori legend the hillscape is a sleeping giant with the hill being the body of a Maori chief, Te Mata O Rongokako, who wished to make war against the local tribe Heretaunga. The Heretaunga chief's daughter was very beautiful and when he saw her Rongokao decided to woo her rather than make war. She set him many tasks which he accomplished until she told him to eat his way through the hill. The giant began but soon choked on a large rock and dropped to the ground where he still lies today!

Hawke's Bay - The Wine Country
In 1851 French Catholic missionaries established New Zealand's oldest winery, Mission Estate. Since that time over thirty wineries have been established in the area, many of whom have won national and international acclaim. What is interesting is that Hawke's Bay produces exceptional wine across a broad range of styles from early ripening varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir to the later Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is a region that produces many of the best wines in the country.

Treading the Wine Trail is a delightful way to spend a day. You can drive yourself or join one of the local wine tours. Many vineyards, including Mission Estate, have restaurants and wine tasting. This is a great way to enjoy the countryside whilst tasting the local products. I definitely recommend it.

If you visit the area in February this is the month of the Harvest Hawke's Bay Festivalí - New Zealand's premier wine event with wine, food, fun and education topped off with the Vintners Charity Wine Auction. Maybe you'll get a bargain or two!!

Art Deco

Napier's main shopping area
Napier's main shopping area
Napier is world famous for unique architecture which all grew out of the ruins of the earthquake in 1931. Over the next two years the city was rebuilt in the styles currently fashionable - Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical and above all Art Deco, the major style of the early 20th century.

Nearby Hastings City, also damaged in the earthquake, has its own unique concentration of Spanish Mission and Art Deco buildings.

The local Information Centres have leaflets on self-guided walks around the areas or you can join a guided walk if you prefer.

Gannet Seabird Colony
For me the visit to Cape Kidnappers to see the gannet colony was the most memorable highlight of my trip. This is one of the largest accessible mainland gannet colonies in the world, not only for the fit who prefer to walk out over the rocks but also for the unfit (like me) who were driven there by tractor with trailer, which took about an hour - definitely much quicker than walking!

Rock formations along the beach to Cape Kidnappers
Rock formations along the beach to Cape Kidnappers
Click here for a larger version

The area is administered by the Department of Conservation and provides a special opportunity to see the gannet (takapu) in its natural environment really close up. The adult Australasian gannets have a wing span of up to two metres and are designed for graceful flying and diving from great heights into the sea to catch fish.

Isn't he beautiful?  The gannet poses for a snapshot at Cape Kidnappers
Isn't he beautiful? The gannet poses for a snapshot at Cape Kidnappers

The birds are migratory and the first trip for the new chicks is to Australia where they stay for two to three years before returning to New Zealand to live.

When to visit
The season at Cape Kidnappers runs between October and late April. The best time for viewing the gannets is between early November and late February. Usually the first chicks will hatch in the first week of November and the last chicks depart the colony during May for their migration to Australia.

Gannets nesting at Cape Kidnappers
Gannets nesting at Cape Kidnappers

Local attractions
Feel like swimming with the dolphins? Then head for Marineland on Napier's Marine Parade where you can also see otters, sea lions and penguins going through their paces. You can even dive with sharks at the Aquarium if you are a qualified diver.

And how about watching the hang gliders leap 399 metres (1309 feet) above sea level from Te Mata Peak - or try it for yourself if you dare!!

Garden visits, art and craft trails, horse treks, gliding or ballooning, river activities, cycling and walking - you name it the Hawke's Bay area has it all.

Two things I really enjoyed
Visiting the Pernel Fruitworld in Pakowhai Road, Hastings where you can taste the variety of local fruits, have a coffee in the cafe and take a look in their museum of old implements.

A visit to the sheep tanning factory, Classic Sheepskins, in Thames St, Napier, where you can see what is involved in the sheep tanning and manufacturing process. They have a good range of products for sale, all at factory prices.

Accommodation is plentiful whether you try hotels, motels, bed and breakfast or for something a little different a farmstay. There are a number to choose from, not too far out of Napier or Hastings. Certainly that is my choice to experience the real flavour of the area.

The local Information Centres offer a free service and will make bookings for you. Contact them on :


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