Napier, in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand’s North Island, is a wonderfully pleasant place to visit.
While Napier is now a mecca for anyone seeking a bit of the good life, a haunting past precedes the city we see today. Napier was completely demolished by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 1931. This earthquake left the city in rubbles, resulted in over 200 deaths, and caused the city to go up in flames.
In the aftermath of this deadly natural disaster, the country rallied its resources and Napier was promptly rebuilt in the prominent Art Deco style of the time. As a result, Napier is now known as the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand.
Today, Napier stands as a glittering remnant of a city that quite literally rose from the ashes. A stroll through the city center will inspire romantic notions reminiscient of The Great Gatsby: think pastel hues, geometric touches, and the charming luxury of an era marked by jazz and flapper glam.
Why visit Napier?
In addition to its beautiful architecture, Napier happens to be located in one of the most temperate regions of New Zealand. With a warm Mediterranean climate for much of the year, you can often soak up the sun in Napier even when other places nearby are rainy and cold. This lovely climate means that the countryside around Napier is jam-packed with vineyards, orchards, and artisanal food producers—and the Pacific Ocean to the east provides fresh seafood and a cooling sea breeze.
While most people travel to New Zealand to visit the country’s outdoor wonders, Napier offers something a little bit different. This isn’t to say that there isn’t natural beauty around the city, as there certainly is that, in spades. Rather than being an adventure destination though (like Taupo or Queenstown), Napier is the place to go if you want to enjoy pretty architecture, a dose of history, fresh farm-to-table food, and some of New Zealand’s best wines. Visit Napier if you feel like enjoying some of life’s little luxuries—even if you don’t have heaps of money to spend.
We’ve compiled a guide to some of our favourite things to do in Napier, including excellent places to dine, shop and walk in the city. Read on to discover all of the spots we love in New Zealand’s charming Art Deco city.
Things to Do in Napier
Walk along the Marine Parade (free)
Napier’s Marine Parade is an absolute delight. Stroll along this coastal walkway and take in all of the sights—including a pink sound shell, sunken gardens, historic statues, an aquarium, and expansive views of the Pacific. If you have kids in tow, there’s also an epic skate park and big playground along the parade.
We like to start our walk along the Marine Parade at the Tom Parker Fountain and walk down to the Spirit of Napier statue, then return back the same way. If you’re in Napier at night, make sure to check out the fountain light show near the Reef Garden. It is a magical display of LED lights that change colours along with fountains that pop up all around you.
Check out Napier’s Art Deco architecture (free)
A visit to Napier wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some of the city’s Art Deco sites. Some people may prefer to book a guided tour. We like to just wander around on our own to enjoy the buildings at our own pace. The entire city is filled with Art Deco buildings, most of which have modern shopfronts below and the old historical structures above. Some notable Art Deco sites include the Soundshell, Daily Telegraph Building, and National Tobacco Company (the latter is in the suburb of Ahuriri, about a 5 minute drive away from the city center).
Look out for the Pangeaseed Sea Walls (free)
These sea-focused murals dot the cityscape all around Napier. Using street art to bring awareness to environmental issues surrounding our oceans, the Sea Walls are both beautiful and thought-provoking. A free map is available which outlines where all the Pangeaseed Sea Walls can be found. Our absolute favourite murals are the ones out in Ahuriri by Carly Ealey (see number 39 on the map), which depict issues around global warming and rising sea levels.
Visit the MTG Museum (free)
Pop by the (free!) MTG Museum for a culture fix. There are changing exhibits along with a permanent exhibit around the 1931 earthquake, and another with beautiful Māori artifacts.
Relax at the Ocean Spa ($11 per adult; $8 per child)
This oceanfront pool complex is an absolute treat for all ages. There’s a lap pool and gym here, but we like to visit the Ocean Spa solely to relax in their hot pools, steam room and sauna. The best time to visit is early in the morning or later in the evening, when the outside temp is cool and there are no crowds. After a day of walking and eating your way around Napier, there’s no better way to relax!
Where to Shop in Napier
With a natural aesthetic and a focus on handcrafted goods from NZ and beyond, Blackbird is a visual feast for anyone interested in minimalist, beautiful homewares and clothing. Pick up a woven sun hat, a sweet-smelling local beeswax candle, or a super soft waffle towel to take to the beach.
This organic shop is an absolute treasure trove of beautiful local produce, bulk foods, and natural beauty products. We love their woven French grocery bags, which come in a variety of colours and are very packable, for the perfect little souvenir from Napier.
Where to Eat in Napier
Hapi Kitchen ($-$$)
This alternative cafe is a healthy, hip spot with options for just about everyone. They serve up fresh-pressed juices, veggie sandwiches on paleo bread and all kinds of other good-for-you meals and treats: the perfect food for fueling a wander around the city.
Albion Canteen ($-$$)
Head here if you want a quick, nourishing bite. They have a nice cabinet selection of baked goods, sandwiches and salads.
Milk & Honey ($$-$$$)
A gorgeous place for breakfast or lunch in Ahuriri, Milk & Honey has a bright open space with a chic natural vibe. The cauliflower rice with crunchy chicken is delicious.
Hunger Monger ($$-$$$)
This restaurant is super popular, and for good reason. Hunger Monger focuses on the freshest seafood, all from NZ (and mostly local). They also provide a charming atmosphere to enjoy along with your catch of the day. Cozy up on a sheepskin-covered chair with a glass of Hawkes Bay wine, and admire the hanging plants and cute printed tablecloths while you await your meal. We recently enjoyed a delicious risotto with shitake mushrooms and soft shell crab, and a fillet of firm white fish atop a miso-kumara mash. Their sashimi starter is also a must! Make sure to call ahead to book a table.
Thai Hutt ($$)
Our favorite Thai spot in all of New Zealand. Dine in their cozy little restaurant or grab takeaway to eat at the beach. They make craveable dishes here. We always go for their Tom Yum fried rice and sizzling duck, but you really can’t go wrong.
A fantastic Turkish cafe with a lovely outdoor patio. Choose from their extensive menu of meze, iskender, kebabs and salads. They also allow BYO wine here, so if you’re on a budget this is a great dinner option.
Whether you visit Napier in search of Art Deco, sunshine, or locavore offerings, we hope you’ve found this guide helpful. There is so much to see and do in Napier and the surrounding Hawkes Bay region. P.S. — keep your eyes peeled for more Hawkes Bay-centric guides from us down the line!
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