Almost exactly one year ago, Leslie and I came to Napier. It was our first trip in New Zealand. We returned in 2016 with Leslie’s mom, Lorraine.
On the drive to Napier, we stopped in the town of Pahiatua for lunch. We selected The Black Stump Café. That was the same place Leslie and I had eaten in the previous trip. At the door to the café we some dirty gumboots. It was a friendly local custom to take off one’s muddy footwear before entering the restaurant.
We also returned to our favorite Napier accommodation, The Pebble Beach Motor Inn. We got a room on the third floor with a view of Hawke’s Bay. That was a beautiful place for afternoon cocktails.
Directly across from the motel is the beach. Unfortunately, it is not a friendly beach; it is deadly. The rip currents are treacherous there. Many have met their end when trying to swim at that beach. Even though one cannot go into the water, it is still relaxing to stroll along or sit upon the shore.
About one block away from the motel is the National Aquarium of New Zealand. On the exterior of the building are several murals. I found the one with the octopus to be particularly mesmerizing. Maybe that is because of the octopus escape from that very aquarium in April 2016.
Adjacent to the National Aquarium is a water fountain. One of the three sections has three nozzles spraying water. During the night the spray is lit. Leslie and I walked over one evening and watched as the lights changed colors.
The following day, Lorraine was not feeling well. She stayed at the motel while Leslie and I drove about 20 minutes to Havelock North. A colleague at work told me about the town; but, most importantly, he told me about Te Mata Peak.
The summit of Te Mata Peak is 399 meters (1,309 feet). At that height, one has a commanding, 360-degree views. Running north to south at the summit are limestone cliffs. The limestone bed has been uplifted due to tectonic activity over the millennia. Looking over the cliff edge, one has a good view of the Tuki Tuki River Valley. The Craggy Range Vineyards is visible along the far bank of the river. Last, but certainly not least, along the cliff edge, one can see the “hang gliding launch ramp.” That is not for me!
Back at the motel, we were glad to find Lorraine feeling much better. That was a good thing. We planned to go out that evening to celebrate Leslie’s birthday.
For dinner, we chose The Boardwalk restaurant. The food was delicious, but having Claudia wait on us made the whole evening. At one point, she saw that I was taking some photos with my phone. She asked if we wanted a picture of the three of us. Of course, I said yes. She was kind enough to take a photograph. Then, when she was done, she quickly turned the camera on herself and took a selfie. She was outgoing.
As a starter, we shared the Baked Pull-Apart Loaf. That came with garlic butter, dukkha, basil pesto, and olive oil with balsamic vinegar. We also shared Paua Wontons. The wontons contained New Zealand paua (abalone) and came with lemon wedges and soy sauce.
The birthday girl selected Garlic and Maple Pork for her main. The menu description was pork loin marinated with maple, garlic, and sesame and served on a rustic chunky potato and cream cheese base with apple sauce. She did like it, but she said it was not quite what she was expecting.
For her main dish, Lorraine selected the Chicken Parmigiana. The menu description was crumbed chicken breast topped with cheese, bacon, and Pomodoro sauce. It also came with baby gourmet potatoes and a seasonal salad. She said it was delicious.
I selected the house specialty, Seafood Lasagna. The menu description was prawns, scallops, salmon, and mussels in a béchamel sauce, served with a tomato and feta green salad. That was one of the most delicious meals I have had in a long time. It was very rich, but very tasty. In the end, I believe Leslie wished she would have ordered the same.
Following our meal, I drove up to Bluff Hill Lookout. The lookout provides a commanding view of the Port of Napier. We happened to show up just as a large container ship was coming into port. From our vantage point, it seemed the required turns to get to the dock were very tight. Regardless, with assistance from two tugboats, the ship was soon securely moored. That was the first time I have ever seen a ship dock.
Also visible in the port were the thousands and thousands of logs awaiting export. One of New Zealand’s main exports is timber. From our distant vantage point, it is hard to get an idea of the size of the logs. However, when one is closer, it is interesting just how big the logs are. Most of the logs are about four meters (13 feet) in length and about one meter (three feet) in diameter. The stacks seem endless. Logs, wood, and wood articles are the third largest export from New Zealand, following the number one dairy products, and the number two meat products.
The next day we took an art deco tour of Napier. The town was rebuilt almost entirely as a result of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 1, 1931. That timing was smack in the middle of the architectural art deco movement. Because of that, most of the buildings in town date from the early 1930s. Having lived through a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ourselves, I can only imagine how destructive the quake was. The subsequent fire consumed those structures that were not destroyed by the earthquake. The fire lasted for a day and one-half.
Since there is so much art deco history in Napier, the city has held an annual art deco festival for many years. It occurs each year in February. Because of that, many of the local stores sell clothing and accessories that look like they came directly out of the 1920s and 1930s. Leslie and I even found one store that sold authentic period clothing, not remakes.
Our driver and tour guide was Phil. He works for the tour service, Hooters. The vehicle he brought for our tour was a turquoise 1924 Hupmobile. I was shocked when he told us the vehicle parts were manufactured in Detroit. I have never heard of that make of automobile. Phil said the parts were shipped to Australia for assembly.
As with tours of this nature, one always finds out interesting tidbits. One of the things we stopped to view is the millennium disc. It is a sculpture that was made to line up with the position of the sun as it rose on January 1, 2000. New Zealand was the first country to see the sun of the new millennium.
We also stopped at the fountain known as the Spirit of Napier. It is intended to commemorate the rising of Napier from the ashes after the earthquake.
The Six Sisters are a row of six Victorian double-story villas. They somehow survived the earthquake and the fire. They were built by a man who wanted to provide a house to each of his six daughters. They are in various states of repair, but they are nice to see.
One other very attractive building is the National Tobacco Company building. Apart from its art deco design, I was surprised by the adornment. On either side of the door are horizontal green lines. Phil asked us to guess what was the green material. We all thought it was a green tile. He said nope. It is greenstone! Greenstone is a type of jade found in New Zealand. I was stunned that some enterprising criminal had not chipped them out by now. Hopefully, that will never happen.
Phil pointed out one home to us that had what looked like a boat in the front yard. It is a deck. The owner had asked the council for permission to build a deck in his front yard. That was denied. Council said decks are not allowed. The owner did some research and found that decorative structures are permitted. So, he built a “boat” that functions as a deck. While we were there, he had it decorated for Christmas.
A few blocks from that home is the first house that was built in Napier. It is definitely a tiny house.
After our tour, while we were still in the central business district, we went to the MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum. There was a fascinating exhibit about the 1931 earthquake. However, the most notable thing was running into Lorraine’s “twin.” The two ladies happened to notice each other in the lobby of the museum. They were both wearing the same top! What are the odds that two women would buy the same top in the United States and then meet in New Zealand? We should have used that luck and bought a lottery ticket instead!
Following the museum visit, we were hungry. We stopped at The Rose Irish Pub. While we were sitting waiting for our lunch, I noticed an antique pitcher on a shelf near our table. The pitcher was an uncanny likeness to our 45th President…
In the central business district, there are some large specimens of the pohutukawa tree. The trees are found throughout New Zealand. They flower with distinctive red blossoms around Christmas time. That is why they are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.
On our return trip to Wellington, we stopped at the Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka. Since I was driving, we did not take a tour of the brewery. Instead, we visited the gift shop, bought some Tui memorabilia, and then got back on the road.
A little more than two hours late,r we were back home.
I woke up first the next morning; not unusual. I heated some water and placed it in a French press. I took the French press and my coffee cup out onto the terrace of our motel room. From the desk in our room, I also picked up a tourist brochure to look at while enjoying my coffee.
It was a beautiful morning. The view was breathtaking. The brochure I selected was for Gannet Safaris. I was not keen on booking a tour; instead, I wanted to drive to the nesting colony and look around on our own. In the brochure, I saw a photograph of a Range Rover parked very near the Gannet colony. I thought that bode well for our adventure.
Leslie joined me on the terrace for coffee. We discussed what we wanted to do and settled on a trip to see the Gannets.
In the car, I set TomTom to take us to the small town of Clifton. We arrived in Clifton in about 25 minutes. We found my description of Clifton as a “town” was a little bit of an exaggeration. The paved road stopped at a small parking area right at the edge of the ocean. To our left was a small trailer park. To the right, along a single lane path was a camping area. Directly behind us was the Clifton Café. That was it.
In the parking area (about five parking spaces), I saw a sign. I got out of the car to look at the sign. What I saw was a little disappointing. There are only two ways to get to the Gannet nesting colony; hike to it on the beach or access it by a private road. According to the sign, the hike was about 18 kilometers (about 11 miles) roundtrip. The sign estimated the walking time to be about five hours. The poster also warned that the trip required caution, meaning an understanding of when low tides and high tides occur lest one be stranded during the hike. We were not prepared mentally, physically, nor with proper equipment to consider such a trek.
We knew we could not drive on the private road because it was, well, private. Dejected by being so close yet so far, we decided to drive about half a mile back on the road to the Gannet Safaris location. Upon arrival, one of the safari drivers checked the availability of a tour. He happily noted there was space on the 09:30 tour. I asked him how much walking was involved in the tour. He thought there was only about 20 meters of walking, some 65 feet. We both thought that was more than reasonable, so we paid the NZ$75 fee each, about $97.
Since we were well over an hour early (imagine that, the Vice’s being early), the driver suggested we go back to the Clifton Café for a cup of coffee. Since we had just been there, I told him it was not open. We told him we were happy to sit at the site, under a tree and wait. He said our driver, Trevor, would arrive soon. Meanwhile, he and two other drivers left with three buses. Just before he left, he said they were driving to Napier to pick up cruise ship passengers for the safari.
Trevor arrived as advertised, as did several other passengers. Soon, the 21-seat bus was full, and we were off on our adventure. Trevor turned onto the paved road, toward Clifton. In just a quarter-mile, he turned off the way onto the private road. The trail is the private entry to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a very exclusive golf course and inn on over 6,000 acres. It is better known as Robertson Lodges. Julian Robertson, a U. S. billionaire, owns the development. He made his fortune managing hedge funds.
Had Leslie and I opted to stay at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers versus staying in Napier, it would have run about US$2,000 per night. On the other hand, we could have stayed in the Owner’s Cottage for about US$8,700 per night. We both could have added a round of golf for right at US$600 total. After learning that, we felt pretty thrifty with our US$130 per night room at Pebble Beach Motor Inn.
After driving through a portion of the golf course, near The Farm, the road changed from paved to dirt. At several points along the way, Trevor stopped so he could get out and open a livestock gate. After one or two of those, a passenger opted to get out, handling the opening and closing, making things a little easier on Trevor.
At one point, the bus emerged from some trees. We found ourselves on top of a bluff. Trevor stopped the bus and allowed us all off to take in the scenery. We were at the edge of a cliff. There was an ominous sign on a piece of wood stating, “DANGER, Unstable Cliff Edge Please stay behind the barrier.” The “barrier” was mainly a 4×4 post at the height of some ten inches. Standing close was a little unnerving.
Back onboard the bus, the journey continued. The narrow, dirt road wound around, up and down, sometimes very steeply. Just before we crested the final hilltop, the Pacific Ocean was visible out the right side of the bus. Trevor pointed out a large group of Gannets sitting on the ocean.
A few meters beyond where we had seen the Gannets sitting on the ocean, Trevor stopped the bus. Out the right side of the bus, we found ourselves face-to-face with the nesting Gannets. Instantly, we heard the noise of their calls and detected the rather wild aroma of their nests. The odor is due to their choice of nest-building material, kelp and their own feces.
After telling us a little about the birds, Trevor drove onto the flat bluff area and parked. We all exited the bus and stared in amazement at the colony of birds.
The Gannets, known as Australasian Gannets, are large birds. The adult wingspans are around six feet. The birds gather in colonies on Cape Kidnappers for mating and raising their young. They hunt for food in the ocean, diving into the water headfirst from great heights to catch fish.
The birds could not have cared less about us being there. Even though we were all standing mere feet away, the birds went about calling, taking off, caring for the young, and greeting each other after landing as though nothing was different about their surroundings. That is the main reason so many other New Zealand species of birds are now extinct. Before the arrival of the Maori people who inadvertently brought rats, there were no ground predators. The many extinct birds had no fear of the rats or the Maori. The European explorers compounded the problem with their arrival in the late 18th century.
When the Gannets came in to land, they passed by us tourists, often with only inches to spare, and went on to the colony. When they found their mate, they dropped out of the air from about three feet up or so, a rather ugly landing. Some of the birds that landed in the bachelor track had even worse landings, often skidding along on their bellies unceremoniously. The bachelor track is named after the younger males who pace back and forth, not quite sure yet how to woo a female Gannet.
About 100 feet below us was another colony. Trevor pointed out yet another colony on a small spit of land going out into the ocean. This additional group meant Gannets were everywhere in the air.
Trevor offered the best advice of the day. Stand in one place with your camera and let the Gannets come to you, no panning necessary. That turned out to be very helpful. I captured several good shots of the birds coming in to land.
During all of our gawking, Trevor set up a table at the rear of the bus and provided tea, coffee, water, and biscuits to those who wanted them.
We had the Gannets all to ourselves, all 22 of us, for about 30 minutes. That is when the other three tour buses from the cruise ship arrived on the bluff. Suddenly we were with 60-some of our new best friends. The sound of camera shutters was nearly deafening.
After nearly an hour on the bluff, we all got back on the bus for the 50-minute drive back to the Gannet Safaris headquarters.
When we got off the bus, we were both pleased with our decision to take the safari. We shall not forget that for a long, long time.
Leslie and I drove to Napier today. It was about a four-hour drive from our home, north on Highway 2. As we got closer to the mountains, the slopes got steeper. At times, it seemed as if we were driving on a cliff face. Regardless of the pitch, the hues of green were just amazing. It was like driving through the green-section of a box of 120 Crayola Crayons.
The road became very narrow, with numerous curves. The scenery seemed to get more and more beautiful. At a couple of the sharper curves, we encountered logging trucks traveling the opposite direction. It seemed mere inches separated our vehicles.
The road summit is at Rimutaka Hill. There was a turn-out there, so we stopped to look. The short trail to the overlook was dirt and gravel. It was also steep. Because of that, Leslie opted to wait in the car. Within 50 meters, I was at the top of the overlook. The view up and down the rugged valley was spectacular.
Signs at the turn-out told the story of infantry reinforcements crossing at Rimutaka Hill during World War I. The pass is at an elevation of 555 meters above sea level, about 1,800 feet. The weather there must be terrible in the winter. I make that assumption because of the drop-arm at the side of the road, near the bottom of the hill. On the downhill side of the pass, we mused that the mountain road reminded us of Independence Pass in Colorado. The road was very narrow, especially on some of the curves. I am not sure how two logging trucks could pass each other on such a route.
In the valley, we drove through the town of Carterton. As we drove along the main street, I saw a sign for Paua World. Even though it was a kilometer or so off the main road, I thought we should see Paua World for ourselves.
Paua (pronounced pah-wah) is a fist-sized shellfish with beautiful mother-of-pearl on the inside surface. In English, we know it as an abalone. Paua World is a “factory” that makes a multitude of tourist trinkets from the shells. We bought a couple of things and then hit the road again.
About two hours into our drive, we approached the town of Pahiatua. It was nearly noon, time for lunch. Along the main street, we spotted The Black Stump Café. We decided that was the place for lunch. Inside, the lone waiter immediately brought us water and menus. I spied beer-battered Terakihi, fries, and Harrow’s tartare sauce for $18.50 (about $12 U.S.). I decided I would try that, even though I am not a big fan of seafood. However, I am determined to do better since we live on a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Little did I know at the time, my selection was better described as fish and chips. I found them to be the absolute best fish and chips I have ever had anywhere on this planet.
Continuing our drive northeast, we turned onto Highway 50 shortly after the town of Norsewood. We understood Highway 50 had less traffic, and it was more scenic. The route was incredibly beautiful. It was a good thing there was not as much traffic because there were three one-lane bridges we had to cross. Luckily, one could see far enough ahead to determine whether one might meet another vehicle on the span.
Much of the trip wound through rural areas. We saw several hay fields in which there were the large round hay bales. The plastic shrink-wrapped hay bales look much different from those in the U.S. That makes sense, given the climate in New Zealand.
With the one-lane bridges behind us, we began driving through some rolling hills, which were thick with grasses. The wind had picked up speed. It was mesmerizing to watch the wind blowing the grasses. It made the hills look more like a green ocean.
For the last 30 kilometers (18 miles) or so, we drove through one vineyard after another. The Hawke’s Bay area is well known in New Zealand for its wine production. A local map touted the locations of 32 different vineyards near Napier. We were glad to know we would be contributing to the wine economy during our stay.
At about 15:00 we pulled into the parking lot of the Pebble Beach Motor Inn. It is located on Marine Parade, directly across from the ocean. We walked into our top floor room and immediately fell in love with the view from our terrace. It was stunning. If I had a stronger arm, I probably could have thrown a stone and hit the ocean. Just 400 feet down the road to our right sat the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
After checking in, we made a quick trip to the supermarket to get a few items to stock the kitchen of our room. When we returned to our space, we did not feel like going out. So we ordered pizza for dinner. It was brilliant, sitting in our room, eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching and listening to the Pacific Ocean’s lap at the beach along Hawke’s Bay.
Across the street from our room, in the park between us and the ocean, was a fountain. It was a beacon to all things children and all things seagull. If a group of children was not splashing around in the fountain, then a group of seagulls was there, trying to clean up and taking a drink.
Once we got things sorted in our room, we decided to walk to the beach. On the way, we saw a seabird of some sort sitting on a nest in the pebbles under a log. As we watched her, she watched us. She turned her head to keep a close eye on us even though we never approached too close. Unfortunately, the next morning, we noticed she was dead. We have no idea what may have happened overnight.
The beach was not one of sand, but rather one of gray to black pebbles. The sun heated those small pebbles. I think the largest ones we saw were maybe two inches across. They were all reasonably flat. One afternoon, we decided to lay on the beach. I cannot express here just how comfortable that was. As one wiggled, the pebbles formed to one’s shape. The stones were nice and warm, which made the lie-down all the more relaxing and comfortable. I would highly recommend that to any visitor to the beach.
On our first full day in Napier, we agreed we would go to the aquarium. Over coffee, we read up on the aquarium. We found that it opened at 09:00. We were at the door at 08:55. As soon as the aquarium opened, we made a beeline for the penguin exhibit. The literature noted that penguin feeding occurred at 09:30 every day.
We sat at the penguin exhibit, enjoying the antics of the penguins as they and we waited for feeding time. One penguin swam erratically in circles, appearing quite excited. Several others stood on the wooden pier, looking longingly at the door from which the feeders no doubt used to enter the exhibit. They too were quite animated.
Ultimately, a woman and a man entered the exhibit. The man, carrying a bucket, went to the far end of the enclosure, followed by a flock of penguins. There was also one lone seagull there. As the man fed the penguins, the woman spoke to those of us gathered about the penguins. All of the penguins there are Little Blue Penguins (the smallest penguin species), each of which was rescued from the wild. The rescues were necessary due to any number of maladies; for example, one penguin had lost an eye, another had lost a flipper. Even the seagull, a rescued bird, was missing a wing. The seagull received some fish too.
Because of our visit to the penguin exhibit, I realized I saw Little Blue Penguin on a rock in Wellington Harbour. As I rode the train into town alongside the harbor, I saw a lone penguin standing on a small rock, just off the shore. I was surprised to have seen only one that day as I thought they were more of a social animal.
When the penguin feeding finished, we walked to the Oceanarium area. This large aquarium includes a glass “tunnel.” The tunnel allows one to walk literally through the aquarium while many of the fish swim overhead. It was similar to the tunnel we encountered in the aquarium in Valencia, Spain, but for one detail. At this aquarium, in addition to a carpeted path through the tunnel, there was a moving sidewalk too. All one need do is stand still and watch the fish as the sidewalk moves through the tunnel.
We took a trip through the tunnel. Just as we exited, we saw a diver in the tank, right on time for the 10:00 feeding. The diver was adept at communicating to the audience via hand signals and pantomime. It was fascinating to watch the fish swarm the diver each time he pulled his hand from the feeding bucket.
We continued through the rest of the aquarium at our leisure. We finished up at the Fish Bowl Café with a cup of coffee. We sat on the terrace while we enjoyed our coffee. When finished, we took a quick stroll through the Treasure Chest Gift Shop, emerging with our requisite refrigerator magnet.
Our next stop was the Art Deco area of old Napier. A disaster is the reason there is so much Art Deco architecture here. In 1931, an earthquake destroyed much of the city. The townspeople vowed to rebuild. At the time, the fashionable architectural style was Art Deco. For that reason, the central portion of old Napier has an abundance of Art Deco buildings. It was like going back in time. The town celebrates that heritage each February with an Art Deco festival.
We stopped at a street-side café for a leisurely brunch. As we have done so often in the past, we enjoyed our meal as we watched the world.
Near the Art Deco center of the town, there was a bronze statue of a mermaid. It was ever so slightly more significant than the famous mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark; although it does not seem to be thronged quite as much as that statue. The figure is known as Pania of the Reef. A plaque at the base of the sculpture relates the following story. “An old Maori legend tells how Pania, lured by the siren voices of the sea people, swam out to meet them. When she endeavored to return to her lover, she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier breakwater. To perpetuate the legend the Thirty Thousand Club presented this statue to the City of Napier – 1954.”
We went for a swim near the Port of Napier. The water was anything but warm. Regardless, it was fun. When we left the beach, we drove back toward our hotel. I just happened to see a sign pointing up a road to Bluff Hill Overlook. I took a quick right turn and headed uphill. The closer we got, the more narrow the road became. I was delighted we did not meet another vehicle on the way up.
Once we parked on top of Bluff Hill and walked to the fence, we were astonished by the view. It was probably a 270-degree view of the area. We had a commanding view of the port. It was just amazing how many trees were on the dock, waiting for shipment out of New Zealand. One of our taxi drivers said the logs were destined primarily for either Japan or China. Quite frankly, with the environmental consciousness in New Zealand, I was surprised that so much timber is exported.