Napier is not often considered one of the must-see destinations on a trip to New Zealand.
But Napier is actually a lovely coastal town with a unique style where you can relax for a while and take a breath between the long hikes and adrenaline-fueled adventures of the more popular destinations.
That’s not to say that you won’t see any tourists there, though; Napier is a regular stopping point for cruise ships. If a ship is docked at the port, expect to see lots of shuttle buses in town and signs outside cafes welcoming the new arrivals.
This means that, if you’re not visiting on a cruise, you have the unusual benefit of being in a town that is completely set up to cater for tourists, but is only busy on certain days.
We visited Napier for a few weeks over Christmas and New Year and loved it.
There are plenty of things to do for free in the area, and we even managed to land a house-sitting gig through Trusted Housesitters. This meant that we were able to stay in a lovely house for free in exchange for pet care for a gorgeous dog and cat.
Here are 10 free experiences to enjoy on your visit to Napier:
1: Take an Art Deco tour
In February 1931, a huge earthquake measuring a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale decimated the town of Napier.
The whole town was flattened, as well as some other areas of Hawke’s Bay.
Not only that, but a significant amount of land that had been below the sea was now above the surface.
After this huge event, Napier was reborn in the beautiful Art Deco style of the 1930s.
If you take a wander around the town today, you can’t fail to notice the architecture, statues and images which give Napier its title of “Art Deco Capital of the World”.
Dotted around the town centre, you will find a number of information boards, which tell of the earthquake and the Art Deco style.
If you’d like more information after you’ve read the free information boards, there is a self-guided tour with a booklet or an app for NZD$10, or a guided tour from NZD$24 – $26 with the Art Deco Trust.
And if you happen to be visiting in February, be sure to check out the Art Deco Festival!
2: Wander along Marine Parade
Marine Parade, as you may expect, is the stretch of land running parallel to the pebble beach.
On a sunny day, it’s lovely to take a stroll along here and just take in your surroundings.
A beautiful blue fountain overlooks the sea, alongside the pretty gardens leading to the Art Deco Soundshell stage and Veronica Sun Bay.
There are also outdoor heated swimming pools on Marine Parade, but entry will cost you NZD$10.70.
3: Get cultured at the MTG Museum
MTG Hawke’s Bay museum is located on the corner of Marine Parade and Tennyson Street.
It is a museum, theatre and gallery, which is free to enter and holds many treasures from the Hawke’s Bay region.
Learn about the history and culture of Napier and check out some of their amazing artefacts.
4: Climb Bluff Hill
Between Napier town centre and the area of Ahuriri is Bluff Hill, which overlooks the town’s port.
You can either drive to the top or walk up there yourself and admire the view, watching the ships being loaded or unloaded.
We were staying on the Ahuriri side of the hill, so we started walking from our accommodation; but you can also climb from the Napier side, too.
From Napier town centre, the route starts opposite the outdoor pools on Marine Parade with the Seaview Terrace steps.
From here, you will need to find your way through many different streets before coming out at the top. The Napier City Council website provides detailed instructions to prevent you from getting lost.
No matter which side of the hill you start the climb from, it is a pretty steep uphill walk, but it doesn’t take too long. And you can always drive if you don’t fancy the climb.
The view over Hawke’s Bay from the lookout is pretty spectacular!
5: Go for a bike ride
There are plenty of cycle routes in Napier and the neighbouring town of Hastings, as well as some off-road mountain biking opportunities in the surrounding areas.
You can get to Hastings and back, as well as around both towns and out to some wineries.
If you have a bike of your own then this activity is, of course, free!
But if you need to rent a bike, there are plenty of rental companies in both Napier and Hastings.
6: Walk to Ahuriri
As I mentioned earlier, Ahuriri is an area of Napier located on the other side of the port and Bluff Hill to the town centre.
If you continue north from Marine Parade, you’ll find yourself walking past the port, before coming out at a small beach and residential area.
Keep walking along the promenade on the seafront for some beautiful views of the other side of Hawke’s Bay.
There is a children’s playground and an adult gym area, which might make you feel like a kid again with its monkey bars and climbing wall!
There is also another beach here, which is much safer for swimming than the main beach at Marine Parade.
Head inland a little way and you’ll find some lovely coffee shops. Our hosts recommended one called Crazy Good, and I can confirm that the coffee there is excellent!
7: Browse the Urban Farmers’ Market
Napier’s Urban Farmers’ Market is located on Emerson Street in the town centre.
Its focus is on fresh produce from Hawke’s Bay and this is where the locals shop.
You can find the market open every Saturday morning from 9am.
And, if you want more, head over to Hastings for the full-size Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market every Sunday morning from 8.30am at the A & P Showgrounds.
8: Bring in the New Year with fireworks
As I mentioned earlier, we were in Napier for New Year, so we couldn’t miss out on the free fireworks display at midnight!
On New Year’s Eve, we walked from Ahuriri to Marine Parade with a couple of friends. We lay on the beach while the year changed and the sky exploded above us.
We then had a couple of drinks in a nearby bar (drinking on the beach is not allowed) before heading back to take care of the pets.
9: Hike Te Mata Peak
Te Mata Peak is a 30 minute drive south of Napier, but it has the best view in Hawke’s Bay. It’s well worth the trip!
The whole of Te Mata Park is a great place for hikers and bikers, with many different routes to accomplish.
We decided to hike the Giant Circuit Track to the summit, which you can read about here.
Again, if you’re not feeling up to the hike, you can drive to the summit. Just don’t miss out on that view!
10: Feel tiny in the Redwood Forest
We’re staying in Te Mata Park for this, because in the valley is a forest of giant Redwood trees.
Park in the lower car park for a map of all the tracks and trails, including the Big Redwoods Track.
The hike is 2.7km long and takes about an hour. You’ll go past a fantastic lookout over the Heretaunga Plains, and you’ll wander through the giant trees before heading back through lovely native bush.
To see the redwoods and climb to the summit of Te Mata Peak, take the Giant Circuit route. It includes both on its 5.4km loop.
Taking a break in Napier over the holiday season was definitely a great decision for us.
We knew so little about it before we visited, but we fell in love with its beautiful buildings and laid-back attitude.
It’s also a pretty good place to spend some time if you’re on a budget; you don’t need to spend much money to have a good time!
Do you think I missed anything in this list? Are you planning a trip to Napier? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- Te Mata Peak: a great way to see Hawke’s Bay
- Your guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Lake Taupō’s impressive Māori rock carving
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