Hawkes Bay, New Zealand – 6 Things Not to Miss!

Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier

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Mission Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winery, founded by French missionaries.Mother Nature practiced her own brand of “tough love” on Hawke’s Bay, but this fishhook-shaped stretch of land along the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island is all the better for it.

First, she changed the course of a river leaving gravel beds behind. But the stony surface proved beneficial for growing grapes, forcing the vines to send their roots deep into the earth to seek nutrients. That gave the wine produced from them extra character. Hawke’s Bay became New Zealand’s oldest wine region, now yielding 70 percent of the nation’s red wine.

Then in 1931 she sent a 7.8 magnitude earthquake unleashing death and destruction. But in the 40 seconds the quake shook, 8,500 acres of land rose from the bay and stayed above water, a fertile tract of new real estate locals call “The Gift.” The quake flattened the nearby city of Napier, but residents rallied to quickly rebuild in the style of the day. Napier now proclaims itself “The Art Deco Capital of the World.”

Don’t be mad at Mother Nature. She blesses Hawke’s Bay with a mild Mediterranean climate and ample sunshine, so you’ll find plenty to do in any season. Don’t miss:

Wine: The Hawke’s Bay region boasts 170 vineyards and more than 70 wineries, 40 of them with cellar doors for tastings. You won’t find many of these wines outside New Zealand, so your only chance to sip them might be right at the winery.

Mission Estate, New Zealand’s oldest winery, was established in 1851 by pioneering French missionaries in the Gimblett Gravels wine-growing district. It still employs winemaking techniques brought from Bordeaux. At Church Road Winery try for a hard-to-get taste of its famous Tom McDonald reds, named for the father of New Zealand’s red wines. Afterward, visit the Tom McDonald Cellar, the nation’s only wine museum. Twilight is the best time to visit Craggy Range winery because the view of rosy light on Te Mata Peak from a table on the patio is one you won’t soon forget. See Elephant Hill Winery in broad daylight when the light green contemporary building mirrors the Pacific Ocean across the road.

Art Deco: Art Deco is not unusual, but an entire town of Art Deco is unique. Napier has 140 original Art Deco buildings as well as many in the 1930s Spanish mission, stripped classical and jazz-age styles.

Make your way to the Art Deco Shop to buy a brochure for a self-guided tour or join one of the daily guided walks of one or two hours given by the Art Deco Trust, formed in the 1980s to preserve these buildings. The Trust also has hop-on, hop -off bus tours and vintage car tours if you want to tool around town in a Packard. Among the most notable buildings are the National Tobacco Co., a mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and the Dome with copper cupola and clock tower above a former insurance company building that’s been converted into four luxury apartments you can book for overnight stays.

On the third weekend in February, modern vehicles are banned on the main streets and nearly everyone dresses in 1930s attire for an Art Deco Weekend of parades, music and dancing.

Cape Kidnappers: When Captain Cook landed off the cape in 1769, the local Maori tribe thought his Tahitian cabin boy was one of their own and snatched him. The kidnapped lad escaped and made it back to the ship, but not before forever giving the cape its name.

A 6,000-acre sheep and cattle station operates on the cape on Hawke’s Bay, but its most famous animals are the 20,000 gannets who spend October to April gathered in 100-bird clusters of noisy nesting pairs. Not only is this the largest mainland colony of these rare birds, but the most accessible. Gannet Safaris takes you within a few feet of the white birds—related to the booby family—for a close-up view of their black eye markings and toasted marshmallow crowns.

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