‘Waking up at first light you lifted the edge of the canvas wall and there you were, lying on the floor of the world with grass all around, the smell of it in your nostrils, and the first birds whispering somewhere above you.’ Hot October, Lauris Edmond
New Zealand poet Lauris Edmond’s reminiscences of her Hawke’s Bay childhood, of outdoors and fresh air, sunshine and long evenings, still hold true today. The countryside is never far away in this glorious region, and the Kiwi tradition of baches and campgrounds is still strong.
Hawke’s Bay isn’t on the way to anywhere – it takes a deliberate choice to discover its delights. Whether you come to Hawke’s Bay to explore our beaches and the bush, to indulge in the region’s food and wine pleasures or to cycle the ever-expanding network of easy-grade cycle trails, you won’t regret your decision to venture east of State Highway 1.
If arriving from the north, you’ll first start to relax when you see the sparkle of the wide-reaching ocean from the top of the Napier–Taupō highway.
The temperature climbs rapidly as you descend into the North Island’s fruit bowl, cruising through the orchards and vineyards.
Do stop at a roadside stall or two to stock up on the local produce. I mark the seasons in Hawke’s Bay through those changing orchards: spring blossoms and summer fruit, to autumn leaves and the bare branches of winter. Somehow it’s always a surprise to see the pink and white buds peeking through once again each September.
Eating and drinking is almost a national pastime in the bay and the range and quality of restaurants and cafés shows how much we appreciate our food. Always fresh and focusing on local ingredients – why wouldn’t you if the best is at your doorstep? – it’s not hard to find an award-winning restaurant or vineyard to visit. The Food and Wine Classic (FAWC), held each year in June and November, offers over 80 outstanding dining events. Locals consider it a highlight and a chance to try something new.
If you like a glass of the good stuff, Hawke’s Bay’s wineries are unmissable. The region’s Bordeaux-like climate and wide range of soil types have nurtured grapevines since the 1850s, making this New Zealand’s oldest wine region. The area is famous for its full-bodied reds and complex Chardonnays, and for good reason.
Most months there’s a festival or sports event on, including a growing number of marathon and multi-sport events. The Air New Zealand Hawke’s Bay Marathon led runners through the vines in May 2019 and is tentatively scheduled again for 2021.
The Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival each October offers world-class theatre to the region, and the well-established Art Deco festival each February in Napier brings locals and visitors alike out in force in their 1930s glad rags. Most locals have an Art Deco outfit or two in their wardrobes or at least a string of beads and a cloche hat to look the part.
You won’t regret joining the crowds admiring the vintage cars and marvelling at the acrobatic flying display from the Airforce’s World War One planes.
Hawke’s Bay is attracting an interesting crowd of creative types these days and the feeling in the cafés and galleries about town is upbeat. David Trubridge is perhaps the best known; check out the Hawke’s Bay Art Guide for lists of the many craftspeople dotted about the region who are well worth a visit.
Lastly, do give yourself enough time to explore the long, wild beaches and lush, green bushwalks; a trek or drive up Te Mata Peak in Havelock North is a great way to get your bearings. While you’re there, take a moment to enjoy some of the local bounty you collected from the fruit stalls when you first arrived and breathe in deeply that fresh Hawke’s Bay air.
Like Lauris, you’ll feel connected with the floor of the world.