13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Napier
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 unique tourist attraction 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 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 places to visit in this lovely area, be sure to check out our list of the top attractions in Napier.
- 1. Napier's Art Deco Architecture
- 2. Te Mata Peak
- 3. Marine Parade
- 4. National Aquarium of New Zealand
- 5. Bluff Hill
- 6. Cape Kidnappers
- 7. MTG Hawke's Bay
- 8. Napier Prison
- 9. Otatara Pa Historic Reserve
- 10. Napier Botanical Gardens
- 11. Waiapu Cathedral
- 12. Tremains Art Deco Weekend
- 13. Hastings
- Map of Tourist Attractions in Napier
1. Napier's Art Deco Architecture
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.
Tours run daily throughout the year and take 90 minutes, including a 20-minute video presentation about the Napier earthquake and its aftermath.
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
2. Te Mata Peak
Beside the town of Havelock North, 27 kilometers south of Napier, 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/
3. Marine Parade
Napier's seafront promenade, Marine Parade, is lined with tall Norfolk Pines.
Along its length, you'll find many of the town's major tourist attractions, including the National Aquarium of New Zealand, Napier Prison, and MTG Hawkes Bay, as well as the tranquil Marine Parade Gardens and Sunken Gardens.
Bluff Point, with its lookout, is at Marine Parade's northern point while the sweep of shingle-and-pebble Napier Beach runs parallel to the promenade.
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.
4. National Aquarium of New Zealand
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, which holds 1.5 million liters of water, 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.
As well as the Oceanarium, the penguin enclosure is home to little blue penguins, a species endemic to New Zealand, and a couple of enclosures are devoted to some of the country's most famous land-based animals: the nocturnal and flightless kiwi and the tuatara reptile.
Kids will enjoy the close-encounter experiences offered in both the Penguin Enclosure and the Terrapin Habitat, which let them hand-feed and learn about caring for these charismatic creatures.
Address: Marine Parade, Napier
Official site: www.nationalaquarium.co.nz
5. Bluff Hill
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 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
6. Cape Kidnappers
About 27 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 do while in the area include visiting the long sandy sweep of Ocean Beach on the peninsula's southern coast, while golfers can tee off at the Cape Kidnappers Golf Club (club rentals are available for visitors).
7. MTG Hawke's Bay
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. Napier Prison
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 specialized 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
9. Otatara Pa Historic Reserve
This 40-hectare pa (Maori fortified village), in Taradale, 10 kilometers southwest of Napier's seafront, is one of New Zealand's most important archaeological sites.
Set on a hill, 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.
The walking trails crossing the site offer up 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.
Address: Springfield Road, Taradale
10. 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
11. Waiapu Cathedral
Napier's main church is Waiapu Cathedral—or Waiapu Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, to give its full name.
This Anglican church 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
12. Tremains Art Deco Weekend
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 1920s- and 1930s-themed festival.
There are vintage car parades, fashion shows, outdoor music concerts including plenty of jazz performances, 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, usually in February.
Official site: https://artdecofestival.co.nz/
Surrounded by rolling countryside of orchards and farmland, the small town of Hastings, 20 kilometers south of Napier, is a quaint, easygoing place with a distinctly rural feel.
Chiefly important in New Zealand as a major farming zone, the town has capitalized 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.
Map of Tourist Attractions in Napier
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