Napier, New Zealand
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The New Zealand port city of Napier is just like a fine wine from its neighboring wine country -- every time you take a sip, you experience something different and interesting. Whether it's coming upon yet another Art Deco-style building in town or discovering a perfect Hawke's Bay Bordeaux-style red, Napier is pleasing to almost any visitor's palate.
Modern-day Napier was shaped by the deadly and costly 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake, which led to the rebuilding of the city in the popular architectural style of the time -- Art Deco. It seems around every corner there's yet another striking example of the style. You're likely to stumble upon fans pointing and jabbering excitedly about architectural details or following guides around town with doglike devotion.
The other main attraction there is wine -- specifically from the wineries in Hawke's Bay, now New Zealand's second-largest wine-producing region behind Marlborough. Take a tour out to some of the nearby wineries, or get an education in wine appreciation in Napier's own New Zealand Wine Centre. Otherwise, a stroll along the Marine Parade promenade, perhaps with a stop at a seafood restaurant, and a visit to the National Aquarium of New Zealand are choice ways to pass a pleasant day ashore.
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Hawke's Bay wines are the best local souvenirs, and specialties of the area include Bordeaux-style reds, syrah and chardonnay. You can purchase them at the New Zealand Wine Centre on Shakespeare Road or at any of several grocery stores located throughout town. Be sure to bring back a bottle (or three) to enjoy in your cabin (corkage fees may apply) or once back home. (See airline restrictions on carrying liquids aboard.) For the teetotaler on your list, you can find the softest and warmest clothing and woolens at Opossum World, across the street from the Napier i-SITE Visitor Centre.
English, with a distinct Kiwi accent, is the predominant language in Napier and all of New Zealand.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the New Zealand dollar. For current currency conversion figures, visit XE.com. ATM's and banks are plentiful throughout town and are usually the cheapest way to get New Zealand dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted most everywhere.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the Port of Napier, about 1.5 miles from the city center. It's a working industrial port.
Cruise passengers are not allowed to walk off the ship and into town. Instead, a complimentary shuttle transports passengers from the ship to the i-SITE Visitor Centre on Marine Parade in the center of town. Return shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes. Once in town, anything that a cruise passenger could desire is within a 10-minute walk, including varied attractions, banks, ATM's, Internet access, shopping and dining.
On Foot: All of Napier's attractions are close by. If you are looking for a relaxing walk and a view of the area, a walking trail to the Bluff Hill Lookout begins at Coote Road off Marine Parade.
By Bus: Public buses travel throughout the Hawke's Bay area, and timetables are available at the i-SITE Visitor Centre. If you want to tour the wineries, a shore excursion or organized tour is likely a better bet.
By Taxi: Taxis are available at specified taxi stands throughout the city or can be booked at the i-SITE Visitor Centre. Typical rates are approximately NZ $70 per hour.
Watch Out For
Between the costumed guides leading tours about town, the classic cars on the streets and the 1930's Art Deco architecture everywhere you turn, you may think you've become a character in "The Great Gatsby." Don't worry -- it's still the 21st century. On a more practical note, when crossing the street, don't forget that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road.
Explore Napier's architectural history with the original Art Deco Walk, sponsored by Napier's Art Deco Trust, departing from the i-SITE Visitor Centre (100 Marine Parade) daily at 10 a.m. for a one-hour guided walk (or 2 p.m. for a two-hour version). Extra one-hour tours are offered when ships are in port; check at the i-SITE Visitor Centre for times. Guides -- sometimes in period costume -- provide lots of history while showing off Napier's architectural wonders (like the National Tobacco Company Building, the Daily Telegraph Building, Napier Antique Centre, Hotel Central, the State Cinema and Gaiety Deluxe Cinema). They also educate tourgoers about the Art Deco style, which is known for sunbursts and fountains, symbols of speed and flight, geometric shapes and ancient cultures. For those who prefer not to walk, there are also Art Deco bus and vintage car tours.
Waterfront Marine Parade is a great place for a stroll. Look for the bubbling Tom Parker Fountain (a popular meeting spot for locals) and the pretty Pania of the Reef statue.
Further along Marine Parade, the National Aquarium of New Zealand explores the undersea world of alligators, piranhas, turtles, eels, kiwi, tuatara and lots of local fish. The building stretches out like a stingray along the shore at the end of Marine Parade -- you can't miss it. You'll want to allow at least one or two hours for an enjoyable visit. A free shuttle runs from the i-SITE Visitor Centre to the aquarium when ships are in port. (546 Marine Parade; open daily from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m., last entry at 4:30 p.m.)
Explore the Hawke's Bay wine region without leaving Napier at the New Zealand Wine Centre. The venue's wine aroma awareness room uses various "sniffing" techniques to teach participants about the aromas (both good and bad) associated with wine. During the acclaimed theatrical Wine Tasting Adventure, visitors sample six red or white wines while watching a 20-minute film that features insights from winemakers and a simulated flight in a vintage Tiger moth plane. A wine museum, a shop and a wine-tasting bar for additional tastes are also on site. (1 Shakespeare Road. It's open daily from 10 a.m., with the Wine Tasting Adventure starting on the hour and the half-hour.)
Been There, Done That
Napier Prison Tours offers informative guided tours at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as self-guided tours and the opportunity to get your own mug shot. Visitors can still see the impact of the 1931 earthquake on the cold and dark corridors of New Zealand's oldest prison, as well as the hanging yard and gallows, solitary confinement, the graveyard, and the completely contrasting and colorful Redemption Hill Garden. (55 Coote Road)
The Hawke's Bay Wine Country Duck Tour uses an amphibious vehicle that heads in and out of the water to take visitors on a colorful "Art Ducko" tour of the area's Art Deco highlights. (One-hour tours depart daily at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. from the i-SITE center.)
Thanks to a wide variety of restaurants right in the center of downtown -- and voluminous Hawke's Bay-centric wine lists -- lunching in Napier is a tasty part of the unique port experience. Ethnic cuisine and local seafood are among highlights to expect during a leisurely lunch in the shadows of Art Deco wonders.
Turkish cuisine is popular throughout New Zealand, and you can't go wrong with the Ottoman-inspired kebabs, falafel, hummus, dolmas and meze at Kilim Cafe. (193 Hastings Street. It's open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)
The alfresco ambience of Cappadona, set along a pedestrian-friendly street, makes this European-style cafe the place to see and be seen in Napier. It's a perfect spot to take a break from sightseeing and grab a sidewalk coffee, tasty sweet or light lunch. (189 Emerson Street. It's open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
For the breakfast-lover (any time of day), Cafe Ujazi drips with an alternative vibe and offers delicious coffee, friendly staff and substantial food, including the rewana -- a heaping breakfast special on traditional Maori-style bread. (28 Tennyson Street. It's open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Med Wine Bar & Bistro, part of the 100-year-old Masonic Hotel, may be the quintessential Napier dining venue, with a cool, sleek interior, alfresco dining overlooking the Marine Parade, lots of Hawke's Bay wines by the glass, a delicious Mediterranean-leaning menu (can't go wrong with the creative antipasto platter for two) and free wireless Internet. (Corner of Emerson Street & Marine Parade. It's open for lunch only on cruise ship days, starting at 11 a.m. Dinner is served daily from 4:30 p.m.)
Staying in Touch
Free wireless Internet is available throughout the city proper, including at the i-SITE Visitor Centre and cafes, restaurants, hotels and bars. If you need a computer terminal, head to Email Espresso (6 Hastings Street), three blocks from the i-SITE center. They not only have a dozen computers, but they offer coffee, copy services and faxing, as well.
Best for First-Timers: Half-day overview tours hit the highlights of Napier, with visits to the National Aquarium of New Zealand and Napier Prison. Tours typically offer an introduction to Napier's Art Deco architecture, too.
For the Oenophile: No visit to Napier would be complete without a taste of Hawke's Bay wines, and the half-day Wineries of Hawke's Bay shore excursion is a great way to experience the area's wine culture (without the concern of drinking and driving). The tour typically includes visits to several leading wineries like Mission Estate, Brookfields Vineyards and Alpha Domus. Tour participants can sample the wines and enjoy varied snacks, with an opportunity to purchase their favorites.
For the Animal-Lover: The half-day (snack included) Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari travels the coastline through farmland only accessible by private vehicle on its way to the stunning and remote coastal headland of Cape Kidnappers (named for a botched Maori attempt to kidnap one of Captain Cook's crew onboard Endeavour). The Cape area offers one of only two known mainland gannet colonies in the world, and the tour allows you to see this member of the booby family up close.
For More Information
Napier Tourism and Hawkes Bay Tourism
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--by Lynn and Cele Seldon, Cruise Critic contributors