The New Zealand port city of Napier, in the vast Hawke's Bay region on the eastern seaboard of the North Island is like nowhere else on the planet. A big call perhaps, but when you consider that the entire city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and completely rebuilt in the dominant architectural style of the time, Art Deco, Napier is a design time capsule.
It seems around every corner you find yet another striking example of this distinctive building style. You'll see antique emporiums, 1930s vintage cars and enthusiasts pointing and chattering excitedly about architectural details or following guides around town in close formation.
Beyond the city limits is the world-renowned Hawke's Bay wine region where visitors can discover superb Bordeaux-style red wine, making this ornate city quite the tourism gem.
Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's second-largest wine-producing region -- behind Marlborough. Take a tour of nearby wineries, or get an education in wine appreciation in Napier's own New Zealand Wine Centre. Otherwise, choose to stroll along the Marine Parade promenade, perhaps with a stop at a seafood restaurant and a visit to the National Aquarium of New Zealand or the art gallery.
As a commercial port, cruise passengers are not allowed to walk off the ship and into town. Instead, a complimentary and efficient shuttle with greeters 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 a cruise passenger desires is within a 10-minute walk, including attractions, banks, ATMs, Internet access, shopping and dining.
Art Deco Walk: 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) at 10 a.m. daily 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 the visitor centre for times. Guides -- sometimes in period costume -- provide historical information 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 visitors about the Art Deco style, which is known for sunbursts and fountains, symbols of speed and flight, geometric shapes and ancient cultures. Art Deco bus and vintage car tours also are available. Charges apply for all tours.
Marine Parade: The waterfront Marine Parade is a great place for a stroll. Look for the bubbling Tom Parker Fountain (a popular meeting spot for residents) and the pretty Pania of the Reef statue.
National Aquarium of New Zealand: The National Aquarium of New Zealand explores the undersea world of American alligators, piranhas, turtles, eels, kiwi, tuatara and local fish. The building stretches out like a stingray along the shore at the end of Marine Parade -- you can't miss it. Allow at least one to 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 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. daily, last entry at 4:30 p.m.) Admission charges apply.
Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke's Bay: You'll find this right across the road from the visitor centre and bus stop; it contains a wide range of cool art and design displays, as well as a fascinating interpretive exhibition from the 1931 earthquake. Cruise passengers can visit either with a tour or on their own. (Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Sunday)
Hawke's Bay Wine Region: Explore the Hawke's Bay wine region without leaving Napier at the New Zealand Wine Centre. The venue's wine aroma awareness room uses "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; open from 10 a.m. daily; Wine Tasting Adventure starts on the hour and half-hour.) All tours and tasting are charged.
Napier Prison Tours: This provider offers informative guided tours at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as self-guided tours and the opportunity to be processed with a 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 and the graveyard -- as well as and the completely contrasting and colourful Redemption Hill Garden. Tour costs apply. (55 Coote Road)
On Foot: Napier's top 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 probably 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.
Thanks to a wide variety of restaurants right in the center of town -- and voluminous Hawke's Bay-centric wine lists -- lunching in Napier is a tasty part of the port experience. Ethnic cuisine and seafood are among highlights to expect during a leisurely lunch in the shadows of Art Deco wonders.
Kilim Cafe: 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; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday)
Cappadonna Cafe: The alfresco ambience of Cappadonna Cafe, 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; open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily)
Cafe Ujazi: 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; open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily)
Med Wine Bar & Bistro: Part of the 100-year-old Masonic Hotel, this might 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 Wi-Fi. (Corner of Emerson Street and Marine Parade; open at 11 a.m. for lunch only on cruise ship days, from 4:30 p.m. Daily for dinner)
Cruise ships dock at the Port of Napier, about 1.5 miles from the city center. It's a working industrial port, so walking from the ship is not possible.
Between the costumed guides leading tours, the classic cars on the streets and the 1930s Art Deco architecture everywhere you turn, you might think you've become a character in "The Great Gatsby." Don't worry -- it's still the 21st century. On a more practical note for U.S. visitors, when crossing the street, remember that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road.
Currency is the New Zealand dollar. For currency-conversion figures, visit xe.com or oanda.com. ATMs and banks are plentiful throughout town and are usually the cheapest way to get New Zealand dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted.
English, with a distinct Kiwi accent, is the predominant language in Napier and all of New Zealand.
Hawke's Bay wines make the best souvenirs, and specialties include Bordeaux-style reds, shiraz and chardonnay. You can purchase them at the New Zealand Wine Centre on Shakespeare Road or at several grocery stores throughout town. Also, consider a bottle (or three) to enjoy in your cabin (corkage fees may apply). (See airline restrictions on carrying liquids aboard.) For the teetotaller on your list, you can find the softest and warmest clothing and woollens at Opossum World, across the street from the Napier i-SITE Visitor Centre.