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A Road Trippers Guide to the Hawke’s Bay

If you love cars, like me then you will relish going on road trips because it allows your car to properly stretch its legs and it also gives you a chance to discover some new roads. There’s also the sightseeing bit as well. 

Right, so if you are not from New Zealand then you probably won’t know where the Hawke’s Bay is. Basically, it’s the region at the top half of the east coast of the North Island and I do apologize because I have done nothing to simplify the location for you. It’s also New Zealand’s wine country and it also produces stone fruits (nectarines, peaches etc). I live in Auckland and so the road journey to Napier is quite long, just over five hours in total. We took the shortest route that bypasses Hamilton and then rejoins at Taupo. From, Taupo there is only one route to and from Napier so you will eventually end up there. It is quite hard to get lost from that point.

Here’s a Tarmac Life top tip: Avoid stopping at Taupo because the traffic is crazy and the locals are not friendly drivers.

To add on to that, you will probably want to make this journey in the warmer months of the year as the road there can get icy during the winter months. I have not experienced this but the numerous road signs gave me an indication that this might be an issue for the winter. There is also the other issue of having no towns or restaurants in between Taupo and Napier, a 150km distance. Oh no, how will the Aucklanders survive for that long without coffee!

Good road + good car = big smiles

The Wineries

Napier is the wine capital of New Zealand and for good reason. The district just outside the city is full of them and two of the biggest wineries are actually on the same road as well. These are Church Road Winery and Mission Estate Winery.

We visited Mission Estate first. The entrance to their property is absolutely gorgeous and serves as a great backdrop if you feel like taking some pictures of your car (see below). They have a beautiful property and you are allowed to roam around most of it. It is a winery after all so how about the wine tasting? Well, I didn’t try it as I was driving but from what I hear, it was excellent. The basic package is $10 and you got to try four of their wines along with getting a souvenir glass goblet. Sweet! You can also buy some of their fine wines onsite or order them at the restaurant. 

For lunch that day, we planned to head over to Church Road Winery as the reviews said their food was better. However, when we got there. The unfriendly wait staff were turning away everyone who did not have a booking even though they did seemingly have empty spaces. They also did not have a scenic drive leading up to the main buildings. So we headed back to Mission Estate and enjoyed lunch there. Be warned, it is pricey but well worth it and the staff are very friendly not to mention their passion for the wines.

I contradict myself, you will need to stop here for pictures

The Sights

The Hawke’s Bay region is a gorgeous place and two of the main tourist destinations are Te Mata Peak and Maraetotara Falls. The drive up to the peak is a fun one and those tight bends are best tackled in a hot hatch. You can’t go too fast past a certain point as the road pretty much becomes single lane but then you get to enjoy the magnificent Hawke’s Bay views. The sights at the top are well worth the slightly long drive and there is plenty of parking as well. If you are feeling a bit brave then you can park your car at the bottom of peak and take on that 40 or so minute walk to the top, this seemed to be the more popular option.

The breathtaking view from the top

Next up, we get to Maraetotara falls. The drive to which is just spectacular. The road twists and turns beautifully but in a way that still allows you to keep doing the speed limit. That is the main motorway out of Havelock North but once you turn off onto the road that actually leads to the waterfall, that road is even more special. Classic hot hatch territory. Be warned that you can get carried away and completely miss the entrance to the falls. It is not well labelled and the only hint you get is through the small group of tourists disappearing into the bush. Parking is also a bit of an issue as there isn’t much of it. Once you have found the entrance and some suitable parking then you get to undertake the exhausting five minute walk to the waterfall. I am kidding by the way, that walk was anything but tiring. However, your breath will be taken away by the sight of that waterfall. The water is crystal clear and the sound of nature around you is surreal.

Yes, you can jump in and have a swim as well!

Lastly, Napier has a very long beach but you can’t go swimming in the water and the beach isn’t too appealing either. However, you will want to go for a walk on the excellent promenade. It starts at the National Aquarium and goes on forever, I think it is about 7 kilometres in total and includes everything from mini golf to a skate park.

The Food

No doubt, all this travelling would have made you hungry so what’s for lunch then? The food in Napier itself is quite good but ridiculously expensive and I mean $27 for a plate of pasta sort of expensive, it does add up when you are eating as a family! Remember that cruise ships dock here. My suggestion is to go on the very short drive to the nearby area of Ahuriri where the food is as good if not better along with being cheaper. However, the best place for food has to be Havelock North. If you’re from Auckland then your knowledge of the town will be limited to the dodgy water they had a while back but when you reach there, you will be taken aback by how prosperous that little town is. There are berry orchards around where you can have milkshakes and ice creams which are all made from freshly picked berries.

Down the road from the orchard, there is a restaurant called ‘Off the Track’. The name is a little contradictory as it is on quite a major road but we will leave that aside. This restaurant is quite frankly, one of the best that I have ever been to. The food is excellent and even though the mains are oh so filling, the desserts look all too good not to try. You may feel like you have overeaten but it is well worth it, the flavours are just fantastic. Sitting in the dining area means you get to enjoy a view of the nearby fruit orchards while sipping on Napier’s finest wines or finest milkshakes in my case.

I have eaten a lot of burgers but this was a standout

Now all that is excellent but a great restaurant like this wouldn’t be complete without brilliant wait staff. And let me tell you, they are exactly that. The staff are very friendly and feel free to ask them for suggestions on the food and wine because they really know their stuff. ‘Off the Track’ was so good in fact that we had lunch here twice out of the four days we were in Hawke’s Bay.

Are you itching to try their food yet?

In Summary

If you thought the article was too long then to summarise, here are a few things to know before you go on your Hawke’s Bay road trip. 

1- Pick a good car

2- Avoid Taupo

3- Book for at least 4 days

4- Forget Church Road, Mission Estate Winery is the one to check out

5- Eat at ‘Off the Track’ in Havelock North!

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy your trip.

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