Talk about a rough couple of years for Hawke’s Bay tourism operators. They’ve been through Covid closures, a cyclone, and now tourists are staying away because they think the region is still storm-damaged.
However, on a recent visit, I found every reason to head to Hawke’s Bay. Yes, small pockets are still in recovery mode, but the tourism sector is firmly back on its feet, and the best way we can support them is by booking a trip. I went a little off the beaten path on my visit, to find a few extra reasons to go.
Since when did Hastings become cool? The town has never really been on the tourist radar – but that’s all changed. It’s undergone a dramatic transformation and is now a must-visit.
More than $100 million of public and private investment has regenerated the CBD with refurbished historical buildings, cute laneways and lots of impressive new eateries and shops, alongside a fresh sense of energy around the town.
Don’t miss the Tribune Building, which has a Melbourne-style vibe with new shops and restaurants in an impressive complex.
Another new addition to the town is the Waiaroha Water Discovery Centre, which was born out of the Havelock North water crisis back in 2016. In its aftermath, the council decided to make water a centrepiece of the town, and a significant new water discovery complex has just opened. Here, you can get a first-hand glimpse of where water comes from, and how it’s processed and distributed. There’s even a discovery centre where kids can play interactive games.
While in Hastings, an unmissable dining experience is FunBuns. It specialises in handmade bao – a light fluffy bun that is steamed to perfection and then filled with succulent fillings like gochujang pork belly or tandoori chicken. They are the best bao I’ve tried in New Zealand.
But, you must order beyond bao. Their dumplings are delicious and the burrata served with sweet vinegar and fried bao dippers is one of my new favourite dishes. The restaurant also has a cocktail master on-site, who will make you a drink to remember.
If I ask you to think of New Zealand’s most iconic retreats, what comes to mind? Places like Huka Lodge, Craggy Range and Cape Kidnappers? Well, you can now add another to the list.
Te Mānia is a breathtaking new escape in Hawke’s Bay, nestled in the valley below Te Mata Peak. It has two bedrooms underground – with just the front facade visible – a little like an extravagant Thunderbirds lair. You’ll find a hot tub, enormous walk-in wardrobes and showers with a dizzying array of jets. Every detail has been thought of.
The main living area – a short outdoor walk from the bedrooms – is wrapped in Corten steel, combined with enormous panels of glass, giving it a dramatic appearance. It has an enormous kitchen, cozy fire and incredible views.
When you book the place, you have it all to yourself.
The retreat has only just opened, and by early next year will include a second two-bedroom underground complex a short walk away.
The place is an architectural marvel – and you’ll want to experience it before the world discovers its brilliance, and it gets sold out.
Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market
If you’re in Hawke’s Bay on a Sunday, you can’t miss a visit to the region’s farmers market – one of the largest and oldest in the country.
A visit here is also one of the best ways to support local growers who may have been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, as some of them sell direct to market. You’ll find seasonal fruit and vegetables, alongside locally roasted coffee, lots of pastry options and delicacies like Sammies, which serve giant sandwiches on their signature home-made focaccia.
On Saturday, there’s also a Napier Urban Farmers’ market in Clive Square, which is well worth a visit.
Cape Kidnappers is world-renowned for its spectacular gannet colony, featuring thousands of these fascinating birds nesting, breeding, and feeding.
But few realise another large conservation projection is also part of the peninsula. Cape Sanctuary is the largest private wildlife sanctuary in the country, and has joined with Gannet Safaris Overland to offer a tour of the estate.
The three and a half hour tour – in a private vehicle – takes you to its nursery, which has planted almost a million native trees since the sanctuary launched. You’ll also see the Ocean Beach Wilderness Area, and enter a pest-free enclosure where you can spot many rare creatures including takahē, giant wētā, tuatara and vivid green kākāriki.
The sanctuary has almost 200 volunteers, and you’re sure to see them in action.
One of Hawke’s Bay’s most iconic eateries, Black Barn Bistro, was devastated by a fire in 2022. Now, it’s reopened, and it’s better than ever.
The kitchen is helmed by award-winning chef Regnar Christensen, who was most recently the head chef at Wellington’s Ortega Fish Shack.
The food is exceptional – don’t miss the ‘burnt carrots’ (out of this world!) roast shoulder of lamb or wapiti tartare with wagyu fat potatoes. The great thing about dining in a vineyard is that there is no shortage of fine wines to enjoy with your meal.
One of the region’s newer cafés is a must-visit. Brother sits just across the road from Black Barn, and offers a great coffee with excellent food.
The café is led by one of Hawke’s Bay’s kindest souls, Halle Evans, who makes guests feel like family. Don’t miss the ANZAC croffles (croissant waffles), kimchi waffles, the dirty bird bagels or duck hash. It’s the perfect place to overlook the vines with great food, a drink and people you love.
One of Havelock North’s hottest restaurants is Piku, which you’ll find brimming with diners each night. It’s won multiple awards, and it’s not hard to see why when your food arrives.
Expect authentic Japanese sushi and sashimi packed with flavour. A crowd favourite is the volcano roll, with tempura prawns, an avocado and tempura crunchy roll, lava sauce and “erupting” spicy tuna.
First published by Stuff. Click here to read the full article.