By Marco Stojanovik
The Hawke’s Bay region is situated on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It includes the hilly coastal land around the northern and central bay, the floodplains of the Wairoa River in the north, the wide fertile Heretaunga Plains in the south, a hilly interior stretching up into the Kaweka and Ruahine Ranges, the two cities of Napier and Hastings, as well as a number of delightful smaller towns. Each year tourists flock to the region particularly for a wine tour of its famous wineries home to world class Chardonnay, as well as a sightseeing tour to soak up the stunning beautifully restored art deco architecture in Napier.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Hawkes Bay as part of our small group tour of New Zealand’s North Island for mature and senior travellers. Odyssey specialises in offering small group tours limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers, partnering with local guides chosen for their local knowledge. In Hawke’s Bay, we enjoy the art deco streetscape of Napier with a guided walk as part of a private day tour, head to the world’s largest Gannet colony, and undertake a tasting at one of the region’s recognised wineries. This article explores Hawke’s Bay’s history and attractions to assist your tour.
Hawke’s Bay was originally settled by the Indigenous Maori people due to its rich soil and availability of seafood. The region was then later first sighted by Europeans in October 1769 when Captain Cook, sailing down the east coast of the North Island, landed in present day Napier.
Traders, whalers and missionaries in the early nineteenth century were the first European settlers to the region. And then from the early 1850’s the first permanent residency began as farmers and hotel keepers arrived.
It was around this time in 1855 that Napier, Hawke’s Bay’s oldest town, was officially founded. Following the Crown’s purchasing of a block of land from the Marois called Ahuriri, the town was established on a small semi-island between the sea and an inner harbour. An early account described it as a ‘hopeless spot for a town site’, an oblong mass of hills prone to flooding. However, it was an ideal location for a port and soon flourished becoming the leading town of the region and the centre of government, business, social and leisure activities.
Hastings was founded some time later in the late 1860’s. Pastoral runholder and Entrepreneur Thomas Tanner and his partners illegally leased land on the Heretaunga plan from the Maoris in 1864 before being granted an official lease in 1867. By 1870, Tanner and his group had purchased the entire block. In 1873 the town was laid out in a grid pattern and was soon booming with roads, bridges and a railway line.
Hastings quickly prospered as a service town to a growing agricultural and horticultural sector in the surrounding region with large pastoral stations, wool-scouring plants, orchards, market gardens and vineyards occupying the plains. For years it was known as New Zealand’s fruit bowl due to its stone and pip fruit production. Today, these sectors remain crucial to hasting’s prosperity albeit with land use diversifying, especially into viticulture.
1931 Earthquake & Art Deco Rebuild
On the morning of February 3, 1931, Hawke’s Bay was devastated by New Zealand’s worst ever natural disaster, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter magnitude scale. Lasting over three minutes it killed 258 people and destroyed the vast majority of the commercial centre of Napier. Subsequent fires ravaged what was left. As the tectonic plates moved, some areas of land were raised by as much as 2.5 metres and approximately 4,000 hectares of sea bed became dry land. Napier’s airport and its surrounding residential and industrial property are now built on this land.
The rebuilding of Napier began almost immediately with new buildings reflecting the architectural styles of the times –predominately Art Deco, but also Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission – with Maori motifs to give the city a unique New Zealand character.
Some of the Art Deco buildings were subsequently replaced with contemporary structures during the 1960s through to the 1980s, including the Art Gallery. However, most of the centre remained intact and is now recognized as architecturally unique with the buildings being protected and restored since the 1990s. Buildings such as the Daily Telegraph Building, the Municipal Theatre in Napier and the Hawke’s Bay Opera House in Hastings remain as fine examples of this era.
Blessed with a warm, temperate climate, long sunshine hours and fertile plains, Hawke’s Bay is ideal for growing fruit and vegetables including grapes. As a result, there are many excellent orchards and a significant agriculture community producing some of New Zealand’s finest lamb and beef. Most famously though, it is one of New Zealand’s finest region for wine and the second largest when it comes to production with countless wineries and vineyards dotting the region.
The first vineyard planted in the Hawke’s Bay were by French missionaries in the mid-19th century. Establishing the Mission Estate near the Ngaruroro River between Napier and Hastings, they were to begin the region’s fine wine tradition. By the 1920s, Te Mata Estate, Vidal Estate, McDonalds Winery and Glenvale Winery (now Esk Valley Winery) had followed to establish themselves. Today tiny family-owned boutique producers thrive alongside the multi-regional entities, all committed to great wine making, evident in the numerous world-class awards they have won over the years.
A relatively large and diverse region capable of producing a wide range of varieties to a very high standard, Hawke’s Bay is especially revered for its Boudreaux blend reds and Chardonnay but aromatic whites are consistently good and Syrah is incredibly impressive.
Hawke’s Bay is home to an outstanding wine tourism culture with guided tours a great way to discover the local gems. A number of the wineries have cellar doors and many boast superb winery restaurants that capitalise on the abundant fresh local produce. A number of regular food and wine festivals also take place throughout the year, most popularly the twice yearly Hawke’s Bay Food and Wine Classic set in stunning locations throughout the region.
Tour of Hawke’s Bay
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Hawkes Bay as part of our small group tour of New Zealand’s North Island for mature and senior travellers. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, our tour is for up to 12 people, typically mature and senior travellers joining as a couple or as solo traveller. Off the beaten track, our itinerary follows the east coast from Auckland to Wellington as we guide travellers through the history, Maori culture, and landscapes of the beautiful North Island of New Zealand.
For many visitors, the South Island gets all the attention, with the big tourist draws of Franz Josef Glacier, Milford Sound, Queenstown and historic Christchurch. But dig deeper and you’ll find that New Zealand’s North Island has as much to offer, including the beautiful Bay of Islands, Poor Knights Island, White Island, and Waiheke Island, the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi, the Art Deco of Hawke’s Bay, alpine Tongariro, and the glow worm caves in the Waitomo Caves complex.
Heading from Auckland we journey through the Coromandel Peninsula, then track south through the Bay of Plenty to Tairawhitu (The East Cape) rich in Maori culture and travel experiences. From Gisborne through Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa, grape vines dominate the landscape. We will enjoy several wine tasting experiences, focusing on the different regions of grape that we travel through. The area is also home to several beautiful national parks. Finally, our North Island road trip arrives in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Odyssey specialises in offering small group tours, partnering with local guides to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here.
Articles about New Zealand published by Odyssey Traveller:
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand’s North Island:
13 daysAug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Feb +1
Small group tour of New Zealand's North Island
Escorted 13 day small group tour of the East coast of New Zealand’s North island. Off the beaten track, for like minded people curious about history, culture, wine and landscapes. Your tour director and local guides share their knowledge with you the traveller on this New Zealand tour for senior travellers.
From A$10,450 AUDView Tour