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13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Napier

Written by Jess Lee
Dec 23, 2019

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Funky little Napier, in the Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand, is said to be the Art Deco capital of the world. In 1931, a devastating earthquake shook the town to its core, and the mammoth rebuilding project that followed was completed in the then highly-fashionable Art Deco style.

Today, these well-preserved buildings are all nationally protected monuments and give the central town a distinct, colorful character that makes it a tourist attraction unique in New Zealand. Architecture and history fans will enjoy soaking up the 1930s flavor of the streets here, with fun things to do including taking walking tours of some of the best architectural examples or stopping for a meal at a great restaurant.

The Hawke's Bay region is the country's most important fruit growing region, and the surrounding rolling countryside is packed with orchards and vine-draped fields that sum up New Zealand's gently rural appeal. It's a great region for a road trip through sleepy backwater villages and hilly farmland, with the jutting peninsula of Cape Kidnappers and its superb gannet colony a definite highlight of a journey here.

For more details of these and other fun things to do in this lovely area, be sure to check out our list of the top tourist attractions in Napier.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Napier's Art Deco Architecture

Art Deco Architecture
Art Deco Architecture | Russell James Smith / photo modified

Napier's shattering earthquake of 1931 leveled the center of town, and rebuilding afterwards was largely focused on the Art Deco and Spanish-mission styles, which were then in fashion in the United States. The result is an incredible assemblage of Art Deco architecture-comparable only with the Art Deco District of Miami-that has resulted in Napier having been given the moniker "Art Deco capital of the world."

Much of the design was in fact the work of local architect Louis Hay, who infused Maori motifs into many of the building facades to give the architecture a distinctly New Zealand twist. Of particular note among the many Art Deco buildings in town are the Masonic Lodge and the Criterion Hotel.

Today, the city's architecture is its biggest tourist attraction, and a highlight of a stay here is taking one of its Art Deco Walks run by Napier's Art Deco Trust. The trust can also arrange bike tours and vintage car tours and, for those who want to explore independently, it sells a handy self-guided tour booklet.

Address: Art Deco Centre, 7 Tennyson Street, Napier

Official site: www.artdeconapier.com

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Napier

2. National Aquarium of New Zealand

National Aquarium of New Zealand
National Aquarium of New Zealand | Takver / photo modified

The National Aquarium of New Zealand is home to the country's most diverse range of sea life. In the National Aquarium of NZ's huge walk-through aquarium, the Oceanarium, visitors can view the shark species, stingray, and reef fish that call the waters off Hawke's Bay home, as well as plenty of tropical fish, turtles, and octopi that are found throughout the Pacific.

There are also three animal enclosures that allow you to see some of New Zealand's most famous endemic animals: the nocturnal and flightless kiwi, the tuatara reptile, and the little blue penguin.

Kids will enjoy the close-encounters experience in the Penguin Enclosure, which lets them hand-feed these charismatic creatures, and even participate in a fun "penguin of the month" ceremony.

Address: Marine Parade, Napier

Official site: www.nationalaquarium.co.nz

3. Marine Parade

Marine Parade
Marine Parade

Napier's seafront promenade, Marine Parade, is lined with tall Norfolk Pines and is home to the tranquil Marine Parade Gardens and the Sunken Gardens. There are plenty of monuments and art installations to spot along this stretch, the most famous of which is the bronze Pania of the Reef statue. Mermaid-like Pania is a figure from Maori mythology who was lured away from her lover by the sea people and was unable to return to dry land.

Other monuments worth a look include the Spirit of Napier monument, the Tom Parker fountain, and Marine Parade Arch with the ship's bell from HMS Veronica, the first source of help after the 1931 earthquake. It's also a great spot to look for suitable accommodations, as well as to stop for a meal or light bite at one of the restaurants close by.

Address: Marine Parade, Napier

4. Tremains Art Deco Weekend

Tremains Art Deco Weekend
Tremains Art Deco Weekend | geoff mckay / photo modified

If you're in New Zealand during the month of February, don't miss Napier's Tremains Art Deco Weekend, when the city celebrates its profusion of Art Deco architecture with a 1930s-themed festival. There are vintage car parades, fashion shows, outdoor music concerts, and Great-Gatsby-themed picnics and dances.

Locals as well as visitors take the chance to dress in flapper-era glory for all the events, and the streets are filled with people sporting 1930s-style chic. More than 40,000 people attend the festival, which runs for four days every year.

5. Otatara Pa: A Maori Fortified Village

Otatara Pa: A Maori Fortified Village
Otatara Pa: A Maori Fortified Village | Noel O'Riley / photo modified

This 40-hectare pa (Maori fortified village) is one of New Zealand's most important archaeological sites. Otatara Pa was the largest such site in the Hawke's Bay region and was home to the chief, Turauwha, who dominated the region. Today, the pa is a historical reserve, and excavation and careful preservation here means that many of the foundations of terraced dwelling sites and food pits can still be seen.

One of the top things to do in Napier is to climb the hill the pa sits on for the excellent panoramas of the surrounding countryside down to Napier and across to Cape Kidnappers. On a clear day, the views stretch out to Mount Ruapehu in the distance.

Location: Taradale, 10 kilometers southwest of Napier

Official site: www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/hawkes-bay/places/napier-area/otatara-pa-historic-reserve/

6. Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers
Cape Kidnappers

About 23 kilometers south of Napier, the headland of Cape Kidnappers juts out into the sea and is a remarkably beautiful place of stark, windswept cliffs shooting up from narrow strips of beach. Cape Kidnappers was given its name by Captain Cook in 1769 when the local Maori here, trading with Cook's ship, Endeavour, kidnapped his Tahitian cabin-boy.

Today, this craggy peninsula lays claim to being home to the world's largest gannet colony with the birds easily seen nesting in huge numbers. Tours by tractor along the beach are easily arranged, or independent travelers can hike along the beach for eight kilometers from the town of Clifton.

Other fun things to include enjoying a round of golf at the Cape Kidnappers Golf Club (club rentals are available for visitors).

7. MTG Hawke's Bay

MTG Hawke's Bay
MTG Hawke's Bay | Kristina D.C. Hoeppner / photo modified

One of the town's top attractions-and one of the top things to do for free in Napier-MTG Hawke's Bay is a museum, art gallery, and theater all rolled into one that serves as a showcase of the Hawke's Bay region. It's also a must-do for history fans who want to find out more about the famous Napier earthquake of 1931.

The permanent collection includes a gallery devoted to the earthquake that explains the devastating effect on the area and the mammoth rebuilding project afterwards.

Other exhibitions include a well-curated Maori gallery displaying jewelry, carving, and clothing, and an art gallery with an emphasis on New Zealand's 20th-century artists. There is also an impressive natural history collection with moa (New Zealand's extinct giant bird) bones and materials.

Address: 1 Tennyson Street, Napier

Official site: www.mtghawkesbay.com

8. Bluff Hill

Bluff Hill
Bluff Hill | itravelNZ® - the best smartphone travel app for New Zealand :-) / photo modified

Walkers who want to get a good view across Napier and its dazzling blue bay should take a hike up Bluff Hill. Just to the north of Napier's town center, the Bluff Hill Domain area has a winding trail up to a lookout point, which was manned by an army coastal regiment during World War II.

Today, the lookout provides incredible panoramas that extend as far as the Mahia Peninsula in the northeast and, on a a clear day, all the way to Cape Kidnappers in the southeast. A plaque at the lookout commemorates the battery that once stood here.

Address: Lighthouse Road, Napier

9. Napier Cathedral

Napier Cathedral
Napier Cathedral

Napier's St John's Anglican Cathedral-or Waiapu Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, to give its full name-was first built in 1886, but the present building was constructed between 1946 and 1965 and is a thoroughly modernist-style piece of church architecture. It is noted for its stained-glass ambulatory windows that depict scenes from the life of Christ in an abstract design style.

Also worth viewing are the Stations of the Cross paintings by New Zealand artist Phyllis Simmonds and the cathedral's 48 wooden plaques carved with Christian symbols that adorn the ambulatory walls.

Napier Cathedral is open to visitors daily and provides a brochure detailing the church's architecture, so that visitors can take a self-guided tour around the building.

Address: 28 Browning Street, Napier

Official site: www.napiercathedral.org.nz

10. Te Mata Peak

Te Mata Peak
Te Mata Peak | itravelNZ® - the best smartphone travel app for New Zealand :-) / photo modified

Beside the town of Havelock North, Te Mata Peak rises 339 meters above the surrounding countryside, allowing sweeping views across the entirety of Hawke's Bay. Te Mata Peak is significant in Maori folklore and is the setting for the legend of Chief Te Mata O Rongokako, who, to win the hand of his lover, tried to eat his way through the cliffs here. The park area covers 99 hectares with native forest, as well as gum trees, eucalyptus, and redwood forest areas.

A large network of hiking and mountain biking trails traverse the area up to the summit and make a great place for an afternoon stroll with plenty of scenic viewpoints along the way. Those not so keen on a walk can also reach the summit by road, while the truly adventurous may want to look into a hang gliding experience.

Address: Te Mata Peak Road, Havelock North; 30 kilometers south of Napier

Official site: http://tematapark.co.nz/

11. Napier Prison

Napier Prison
Napier Prison | Julie / photo modified

Napier Prison is New Zealand's oldest place of incarceration, founded in 1862 and finally closing its doors in 1993. Once home to many of New Zealand's most notorious inmates, the prison buildings today feature a fair whack of ghost stories and are open for visitors to experience the facility's history, including visits to the cells, quarry, hanging yard, and cemetery.

For many travelers, it's the tales of hauntings and strange occurrences that are most fascinating, and specialised ghost walks take place in the evenings. For those that prefer exploring in the daylight, self-guided audio-tours are provided on entry. A fun escape room experience has also been added to the attraction.

Address: 55 Coote Road, Bluff Hill, Napier

Official site: www.napierprison.com

12. Napier Botanical Gardens

Napier Botanical Gardens
Napier Botanical Gardens

Established along with the town in the late 1800s, Napier Botanical Gardens is a delightful place to spend a few quiet hours. The site includes a duck pond, budgerigar aviary, a collection of 100-plus-year-old trees, a waterfall feature, and a fine terra-cotta fountain.

Also of interest is the old Military Track, a pleasant path for a stroll that passes the original cemetery along with a number of historic sites once occupied by local Maori. It also features a number of vantage points offering views over the gardens.

Address: 19 Spencer Road, Hospital Hill, Napier

13. Hastings

Hastings
Hastings

Surrounded by rolling countryside of orchards and farmland, the small town of Hastings is a quaint, easygoing place with a distinctly rural feel. Chiefly important in New Zealand as a major farming zone, the town has capitalised on this by becoming a foodie center, with the weekly Hastings Farmers Market on Sunday attracting large crowds from across the region for its fresh produce and plentiful boutique food stalls.

Hastings is also, like Napier, home to a clutch of Art Deco architecture, which is worth a stroll.

Location: Hawke's Bay, 20 kilometers south of Napier

Where to Stay in Napier for Sightseeing

If you're planning to spend time visiting Napier, New Zealand, be sure to review our list of the top hotels and places to stay in and around this beautiful Art Deco town.

  • Luxury Hotels: Affordable luxury is the order of the day at The Dome, a chic hotel featuring ocean views, a mix of studio and apartment accommodations (some with kitchens), plus a rooftop pool. The Crown Hotel Napier is a great boutique option for couples seeking an intimate getaway, offering whirlpool tubs, kitchenettes, balconies, and heated floors. Also worth checking out, the Art Deco Masonic Hotel features quirky yet classy rooms and suites, period furniture, and a popular restaurant.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Set in a lovely Art Deco building in the heart of Napier and close to most attractions, The County Hotel features quality rooms and suites (request a balcony) and pretty views, an on-site restaurant, and an optional breakfast. Another great choice, Navigate Seaside Hotel & Apartments offers a classy apartment-style experience with kitchenettes. Quest Napier should also be considered for its spacious suites and pleasant central setting.
  • Budget Hotels: Even the budget hotels in Napier offer a degree of class not normally seen at this end of the accommodation ladder. The Nautilus is no exception and comes with spacious suites with kitchenettes and balconies with views over the water. The budget-friendly expressotel is another option, this time with modern décor and amenities such as bike storage and parking. Finally, check availability at the Quality Inn Napier, popular for its family-friendly accommodations and short walk to the beach.

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