Lying on the east coast of New Zealand overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the small city of Napier on North Island is a very pretty and pleasant place to spend some time. Known as ‘the Art Deco capital of the world,’ it is full of fabulous buildings that exhibit the distinctive architectural style; over a hundred of them can be found in its CBD alone. Most of these were erected in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, which leveled much of the city in 1931.
Besides the elegant facades and historic buildings, Napier is home to the lovely Marine Parade that runs by the sea, and exploring its wealth of gardens, parks, and monuments are among the most fun things to do in Napier. In addition to this, there are some brilliant restaurants and museums for you to check out, while the city’s annual Art Deco Festival also attracts crowds of people to the city. With lots of beautiful beaches lying along the coast in and around Hawke’s Bay, and some of the best wineries in the country found nearby, Napier has something for everyone to enjoy.
10. Napier Prison
The oldest prison in the country, Napier Prison was opened in 1862 and only stopped taking in inmates in 1993. Nowadays, it acts as a historical attraction; visitors can take self-guided tours around the site and learn all about the prisoner’s lives and what incarceration in New Zealand used to be like.
While wandering around, you’ll see the bare cells where the prisoners slept, the quarry in which they worked, and most ominous of them all – the hanging yard. Although only four convicts met their grisly end here, the old facilities have long been rumored to be haunted. At weekends, you can take eerie ghost walks around Napier Prison after dark.
9. Sunken Gardens
Often described as a ‘hidden treasure,’ as they lie out of sight just below street level, the Sunken Gardens are one of the prettiest and most picturesque parts of Marine Parade. Set in a depression in the ground that was created by cafes and hotels that collapsed during the 1931 earthquake, the flower-filled gardens are now a serene spot to enjoy a picnic or immerse yourself in nature.
Opened to the public in 1969, the colorful flowerbeds have caringly been tended to ever since. Generations of locals and tourists have enjoyed strolling around the Sunken Gardens’ winding paths and small ponds.
8. Pania of the Reef
One of the most famous and photographed monuments in the whole of New Zealand, Pania of the Reef is a charming little bronze statue that tells the tragic tale of Pania – a figure from Maori mythology. Erected in 1954 along the Marine Parade, the statue is fittingly located just a stone’s throw away from the ocean, which is where the sea maiden retreated after being betrayed by her lover, never to be seen again.
Quite small, the Pania of the Reef statue has often been compared to that of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen due to the resemblance between the two figures and their similarly sad stories.
7. Waimarama Beach
Lying just half an hour’s drive to the south of Napier, Waimarama is one of the most popular beaches in the region and offers some fantastic sand, sea, and surf. While its golden shores are perfect for kicking back and relaxing, its inviting waters lend themselves perfectly to all kinds of watersports: fishing, swimming, and surfing are particularly popular.
The scenery, too, is charming, with low-lying hills backing the beach, and Bare Island – known as Moto-o-Kura in Maori – can be spotted offshore. If you want to spend the day at Waimarama Beach, it is effortless to do so, as the small town that borders it is home to a couple of shops, cafes, and restaurants.
6. Visit a Winery
Renowned for its fabulous wines, the Hawke’s Bay region is one of the best places to go if you want to sample some of New Zealand’s brilliant chardonnays, merlots, and sauvignon blancs. In the area surrounding Napier, you can find over 70 wineries. Among them are the famous Church Estate, Mission Estate, and Te Mata Estate – three of the oldest and most respectable winemaking estates in the country.
Blessed with fertile soil and a warm climate, the region’s rolling hills are covered in vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see. All in all, it paints a very pretty picture. Visiting one of the Hawke’s Bay region’s estates or taking a tour of some of its wineries makes for a lovely day out. The wines you sample are usually paired with some of the delicious local cheeses that are also produced here.
5. MTG Hawke’s Bay
As it is both a museum and an art gallery as well as a theater, it is safe to say that MTG Hawke’s Bay lies at the heart of Napier’s cultural scene. Alongside permanent exhibitions on the 1931 earthquake, the history of Napier, and Maori culture and heritage, visitors can also enjoy pop-up art installations, film screenings, and live performances. Its extensive collection of Maori artifacts is particularly impressive to peruse, as are the informative displays that paint such a harrowing picture of the earthquake that shaped the town’s history and identity.
Set just a short distance from the Pacific Ocean, the cultural institution is ideal for families looking for an educational yet fun day out. As there is always something new going on, it is just as popular with locals as with tourists.
4. National Aquarium of New Zealand
Home to a huge selection of marine mammals, fish, and reptiles, the National Aquarium of New Zealand is one of Napier’s main attractions. Located in a very modern complex on Marine Parade, the institution has lots of tanks and aquaria for you to wander past, with various sections looking at coral reefs and Asian paddy fields, and others on the Amazon and the Tropics.
While its penguins, sea turtles, and kiwi birds are all fascinating to see, the highlight is undoubtedly its 50-meter-long underwater tunnel, which takes you below swirling shoals of fish, sharks, and stingrays.
3. Art Deco Festival
Every February, Napier buzzes with excitement for five glorious days as thousands of revelers descend upon the city to partake in its fun and festive Art Deco Festival. The city’s spectacular streetscapes and a myriad of majestic Art Deco buildings make the perfect setting as the festival’s 250 or so events take you back in time to the 1920s and 30s.
Alongside fashion shows, vintage car displays, and music concerts, visitors can also dress up in clothes from the era and attend all kinds of glitzy and glamorous events. The main event of the year, visiting Napier during the Art Deco Festival really is a special experience.
2. Bluff Hill Lookout
Offering commanding views of the port down below and Hawke’s Bay’s gorgeous coastline, Bluff Hill Lookout certainly boasts the best view in town. Located in the north of the city, the hill’s lower slopes are dotted with homes, as well as the historic Napier Prison, while its grassy summit has been left as a viewpoint. Sitting on one of its benches and taking in the astounding panoramas is a delightful way to while away the time with the Pacific Ocean stretching endlessly towards the horizon before you.
1. Marine Parade
Hugging the city’s ocean coastline, this lovely seaside avenue is home to many of the city’s main sights and offers countless recreational opportunities. First developed in 1893, the iconic seafront now stretches over three kilometers in length, with its shady tree-lined avenue winding its way past idyllic parks and beautifully landscaped gardens. Besides basking in the picturesque nature on show, you can also lounge on its beach or head out along its viewing platform for breathtaking views over the ocean.
In addition to this, there are playgrounds for young ones to enjoy, as well as skate parks, bike tracks, and a mini-golf course. Interspersed among all of this are important institutions, such as the National Aquarium of New Zealand and monuments and statues like the Spirit of Napier and Pania of the Reef. With so much for you to see and do, the Marine Park really does have something for everyone; it is one of the most popular places in the city with tourists and locals alike.