5 August 2020

A Grape Escape in the Hawkes Bay | Napier Weekend Guide

Napier in the sunny Hawkes Bay, is a stunning coastal city with a lot to offer, including art deco, history, good food, beautiful nature and of course the many world-class wineries in the region.

With no international travel on the cards for the foreseeable future, for us Kiwis and residents of New Zealand, 2020 is the year of getting out and exploring more of our own backyard and supporting locally-owned businesses.

I hadn't been to Napier since I was a teenager so my husband and I recently enjoyed a long weekend winter getaway there. It was wonderful to explore new spots and discover the incredible wine scene.

This guide is aimed to give a little inspiration if you are looking at a Napier weekend or short getaway yourself, drawn from my own recent experience with honest reviews and costs included. There is of course so much more to do in Napier and the region as a whole, you could easily spend a whole week there.

What To Do In 48-hours

Grape Escape Winery Tour

We joined the Grape Escape Wine & Dine tour on Saturday which is a full-day tour exploring five different wineries in the Hawkes Bay region. It was $250 NZD for two people which included pick-up/drop-off, transportation, all wine tastings and a shared cheese board. It also included a lunch stop that was not included in the price.

Our friendly driver-guide picked us up just before 11 am and the tour was meant to finish at 5 but it was closer to 6 pm. We had a group of ten people and our first stop of the day was Craggy Range. I was very impressed by this winery and it was one of my top two favourites of the day. The lake with the backdrop of mountain scenery is absolutely gorgeous (see the header photo) and the cellar door is beautiful and modern.

I would love to visit it again one day and have lunch at their two hat restaurant. We purchased a bottle of their 2019 Riesling which was our favourite of the six or so tastings (and our favourite white of the day).

Our second stop was at a much smaller boutique winery Askrne. The gentleman running the tastings was amusing and fun but I found I preferred the wine tastings of Craggy Range to be slightly better. I did love their 2018 Dessert Cabernet however which I purchased. We tasted it with a piece of dark chocolate and the experience was a delicious black forest explosion in your mouth.

Our third stop was at Black Barn Vineyards which included lunch at their popular restaurant celebrating local food and produce. After sampling a few of their wonderful wines, we were well ready for lunch at 2 pm. (My favourite was their 2015 Concetta but at $85 a bottle I decided to leave it).

For lunch, we ordered the sourdough bread with salted whipped butter to start, and for mains we had the veal ragu handmade pasta and the pork belly. They were well presented, filling and delicious. We enjoyed a glass of their Pinot Noir with it which brought the bill to a total of $110 NZD for two people.

After a decent amount of wine already and a great meal we were feeling unsurprisedly a bit tired. I would recommend ordering a shot of espresso after lunch! We next drove to Ash Ridge which had cute sheep in their vineyards and it had a lovely outdoor area which would be perfect on a warm summers day.

The wine tastings were nice but I didn't think they were quite as good as some of the previous wineries and we didn't feel the need to take any home.

Our final winery was Sileni Estates, which was another of my top favourites of the day along with Craggy Range. We bought three wines from them, two of the 2015 Syrah (as there was a two for $50 deal) and their 2018 Grand Reserve Red Blend - which I think was my favourite red of the day.

We were still full from lunch but an impressive cheese platter was included here and two of them ended up being demolished by the ten of us.

It was a superb way to finish and with the sun now set, we headed back to our drop-off points in Napier. Overall we did enjoy the tour but having done a few winery tours around the world (this was our first New Zealand one), we did find it was a bit pricey for what it was and not have lunch included. It was an expensive day (even more so with our five treasures to take home) but that's just New Zealand for you I suppose. If you like good wine, then you won't be disappointed with this tour.

I thought it was a bit of a shame we didn't visit Mission Estate which, established in 1851, is the birthplace of New Zealand wine and is the country’s oldest winery. It's another excuse to visit Hawkes Bay again soon.

If you are wanting to do your own tour and you have a designated sober driver then it's very easy and much more affordable. At each place, the tastings were around $8 NZD for all of them and they were waived if you ended up buying a bottle. Do some research on the best order of wineries to go in and check that the cellar door is open, some of them have unfortunately closed due to COVID-19.

If you have another half or full day left in Napier, here are some more ideas of what to do:

Explore Marine Parade

Marine Parade is a stunning 3 km stretch along the waterfront dotted with gardens, an Ocean Spa complex, a skate park, playgrounds, Museum Theatre Gallery, Napier Conference Centre, National Aquarium of New Zealand and more, as well as an array of bars, cafes, restaurants and ice-cream parlours.

A seaside path runs the length of Marine Parade, popular with runners, walkers and cyclists alike for the sweeping Pacific Ocean views stretching from Mahia Peninsula in the north to Cape Kidnappers in the south. It's a must-do on any Napier itinerary.

Although it was a chilly, misty morning on the Sunday I explored Marine Parade and the beach, the views and scenery were very beautiful and it made for some great photographs.

Art Deco and Street Art 

Napier is known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand, thanks to the broad representation of the Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco styles within such a confined area.

There are two-hour guided walking tours available where you can delve into the history of Napier’s pre and post-earthquake buildings and see the Art Deco influence throughout the city’s architecture. For the ultimate Art Deco experience, you can book an Art Deco Vintage Car Tour – you’ll be driven around Napier in style, visiting iconic landmarks and learning about how the wider city was affected by the earthquake.

There's also a remarkable street art scene, particularly Napier’s Sea Walls – Artists for Oceans which are a collection of brilliant paintings splayed across buildings and obscure exteriors throughout the city.

There are 49 artworks to admire in total. The Sea Walls are a reflection of community-based educational efforts focusing on major environmental issues the oceans are currently facing.

You’ll find them in locations throughout the CBD and the wider suburbs – pick up a map at the local iSite Visitor Centre (located on Marine Parade) or download it here.

National Aquarium of New Zealand

For families or those interested in conservation and marine life, the National Aquarium of New Zealand is home to 100+ aquatic and land animals from New Zealand and around the world.

The 1.5 million litre Oceanarium showcases the varied aquatic species that exist in the Hawke Bay, including shark, stingray and other reef fish. You can journey through the Oceanarium inside the underwater viewing tunnel via a travelator as fish swim and feed above and around you.

You can also spot native wildlife including Kiwi and Tuatara in their sanctuaries, and visit the cute penguins at Penguin Cove. If you want to get even closer, you can book a ‘Close Encounter Experience’ when it's their feeding time.

Hawkes Bay Farmer's Market

The Hawkes Bay Farmers Market was recommended to us by our wine tour guide, it's a popular local must-do on the weekends.

On Saturdays, there is the smaller Urban Market located at Clive Square, Napier from 9 am - 1 pm. On Sundays is the larger Farmers Market at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, Kenilworth Rd, Hastings from 8.30 am - 12.30 pm​​​​​​​.

You'll find a wide range of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, bread and pastries, eggs and preserves, purchasing straight from the producer. There's also a variety of food stalls serving up coffee, fresh juice, bacon sandwiches, waffles, dumplings and more (perfect the day after a wine tour!).

Where To Stay

We booked a GrabOne two-night deal at The Nautilus Napier. It was $370 NZD for two nights with dinner included each night at their on-site Burton's Restaurant. The hotel reviews on TripAdvisor were good and as it was a last-minute booking, the price was very good (even without the dinners included).

Our room was located on the third floor and had a beautiful ocean-view and a balcony. The room was very spacious, with an ensuite, kitchenette, desk, TV, two couches, a large king bed and my favourite part - a feature spa bath in the room.

Balcony view

It's located in South Napier, directly in front of the Millenial Arch Sculpture and only a ten-minute walk to the centre of town. It was very pleasant to stroll along the beachfront Marine Parade to get there.

The hotel is a little dated but the service is friendly and overall I was impressed with the room. I liked hearing the crashing ocean-waves at night but that also meant you hear every car that goes past and being on a busy road, it was quite noisy. (I always travel with earplugs which soon fixed this problem).

The dinners we had at Burton's Restaurant each night were overall good. The restaurant is small but the service is fast and friendly. The food options are limited but I would recommend their Kai Moana (fresh fish of the day, salad and chips) and their steak dish. I wouldn't recommend their Laksa which was highly disappointing. There are a number of great nearby restaurants that we would have liked to try but being on a budget we thought we'd make the most of the deal and have the meals included. It was after all in a pretty convenient location.

Overall, I would recommend The Nautilus Napier if you got it for a special price as we did. There are many fabulous hotel options out there, so do research it yourself.

Foodie Recommendations

Although we didn't get the chance to explore the Napier food scene this time, there were a couple of Hawkes Bay locals on the wine tour who gave some great recommendations.

Mexicali – for delicious, fresh Mexican food.

Portofino – for authentic Italian cuisine.

Sai Thai Eatery – for a taste of Thailand.

Milk and Honey – for a perfect brunch on the waterfront.

Of course, you can't go wrong with checking out the top-rated restaurants on TripAdvisor for some inspiration.

Weekend Total Cost:

Hotel: $370 (with dinners included)
Winery Tour: $250
Food & Drink: $220
Petrol: $60 (5-hours driving time)

Total: $900 for two people

(Not including the five bottles of wine we purchased on the winery tour).

In all, it was an incredible "grape escape" in the Hawkes Bay, we tried an abundance of superb regional wines, stayed at a comfortable hotel (loved that spa bath) and we enjoyed strolling Marine Parade and checking out some cool art deco style buildings. We would have loved to have stayed for another night and to have checked out some of the top restaurants on offer but we will have to save that for next time.

Pin it! :)

Do you have any other Napier and Hawkes Bay recommendations to add? I'd love to read them in the comments below!

Check out my full winery tour reviews from Canberra and Lisbon.

Head to my other recent New Zealand posts on Bay of Islands and Rotorua and stay tuned for New Plymouth, Wellington and Mount Maunganui coming soon.

Feel free to follow my latest travel adventures on Instagram.

Happy Travels,

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