We have settled into our bach quite nicely. Although we have had some bad weather, it has mostly be super pleasant. Every time we get a rainy day, we both very grudgingly agree that we should knock off a few of our adulting chores. Sigh. But before you start to feel too sorry for us, we did manage to squeeze in some wine tasting at two of the wineries that are within walking distance of our place.
The key varietals that they grow in the region are Syrah and Chardonnay. They grow a number of others, but the climate is very much like the Rhone valley, so you see those types of wines. We asked about good producers of Italian varietals and I guess there are a few producers that we will go try out, but I don’t think the general Kiwi palate has adopted the likes of a good Montepulciano yet. We tasted at Elephant Hill and Te Awanga Estates. Both had some lovely wines and we bought a few. Susanne met a very nice Kiwi at Elephant Hill who, despite the occasional slobber, was lovely. His job was to greet everyone and he was excellent at it.
Our wine pourer at Te Awanga was very nice and chatted with us quite a lot. She (Sham? Shem? Cham?) was studying wine-making, grew up in the area and was of Māori descent. We discovered that we were not pronouncing either Māori nor Taupō correctly. We have some work to do.
It is a bit of a strange trip as compared to others we have taken here. It is both vacation and not. We have come to Hawkes Bay to assess whether or not it might be a place that we would want to consider residing full time. This involves just generally driving around and exploring, looking at real estate, and learning towns and neighborhoods, seeing what type of food shopping is available, biking paths, trails, open spaces, restaurants, and generally trying to visualize what it would be like to live there on a day-to-day basis. This is quite different from what you are thinking about on vacation.
So, first a few facts about the Hawkes Bay Region:
The total population of the area is around 160,000 people with the three biggest cities being Napier (66,300), Hastings (49,000) and Havelock North (14,900). These may seem small by US standards, but are reasonably sizeable in New Zealand.
Ethnicities in the 2018 census were 75.0% European/Pākehā, 27.0% Māori, 5.6% Pacific peoples, 5.0% Asian, and 1.7% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.The percentage of people born overseas was 15.9, compared with 27.1% nationally.
Hawke’s Bay has 17,886 ha (44,200 acres) of horticultural land, the third largest area in New Zealand behind Canterbury and Marlborough. The largest crops by land area are apples (4,750 ha), wine grapes (3,620 ha), squash (3,390 ha), and peas and beans (1,360 ha).
Already, even in the off-season, the amount and quality of beautiful organic fruits and vegetables is amazing. We both “ooooh” and “aaaaah” every time we go to the vegetable market.
Our first task was head down to Napier and just get a feel for that town. After a super stormy night and what looked like a nice day, we headed down to Napier to do a walk along the Marine Parade and then get a sense for the city. The city was leveled in a huge earthquake in 1931 and was rebuilt with a predominately art deco style.
We parked a couple miles south of the city and walked along the bike path that runs along the beach. The one thing we discovered right away is that the beach here has not much use as a beach. It is very steep, pebbly, and dangerous. It has a steep drop-off and a nasty undertow, and is not particularly walkable since the pebbles are large-ish. There are signs everywhere telling you how you will have made a very bad decision if you go swimming here. Bummer. The Marine Parade, which is a pretty major road, is between the first row of houses and the beach. Although those houses probably have great views, it wasn’t super appealing to be looking down on a busy road. Hmmm.
The downtown was nice with quite a few restaurants and shops, but it was weird mix of nice and dumpy. One block had fancy boutiques, and the next block had the dollar store and second-hand store. Not unappealing, but neither of us thought “wow! this is awesome! we have to live here.”
There is a big hill that includes two areas, called Hospital Hill and Bluff Hill. They frame downtown Napier and separate it from the major port on the north side. We finished our nice walk and decided to drive up Bluff Hill to a view point at the top. The road up was intensely narrow and steep. Both of us were wondering who would want to drive this every day.
The view at the top was nice, but mostly looked down on the port where there was a lot of noise and activity as they were loading timber and containers. Not the most exciting. We decided to drive back down and check out an area called Ahuriri that was supposed to be pretty high end and didn’t require a drive up some crazy narrow streets. It was ok but uninspiring from our perspective. I guess what summed up the area was Perfume Point which as one google reviewer pointed out was “It’s a bit of a play on words because there is a sewage outlet around there somewhere. But don’t worry the outfall has been treated.”
Between the lack of a viable beach, ridiculous roads to get to the nicer areas on Bluff/Hospital Hill, and a high-end neighborhood next to a busy port, both Susanne and I looked at each other and said “Ixnay on Napier.”
We decided to drive out through the valley and back to Havelock North, walk around a bit and get some lunch. After lunch we drove around some of the residential neighborhoods to get a sense for the houses. All of the neighborhoods were quite nice, quiet and with a lot of trees and greenery. We both decided again that we really liked the vibe of the town and committed to explore it more in the coming month.
Interestingly, there is no Havelock. Just Havelock North. Did it get swallowed by a sinkhole? Something to ponder over a nice Hawkes Bay Syrah.
We had one more sunny day before the rain was supposed to move back in, so we wanted to go do a hike up Te Mata peak. The peak towers above Havelock North and the land is managed by a trust that is trying to replant the native vegetation there. There are numerous hiking and biking trails and the views are stunning.
It is reminiscent of Fort Collins in that it is a geologic feature called a hogback. According to Tim Witticker:
“This formation, which is about three and a half million years old, is also found to underly other nearby coastal hills in the Hawkes Bay area. At that time the coastline was about 40 kilometres to the west, along the present edge of the central mountain ranges. Fossilised shells and shell fragments can be found throughout the Park embedded in the ground and rock faces. While in the Park, you may find some well preserved specimens such as scallop (pictured)as well as barnacles, oysters, and brachiopods (lamp shells). These sedimentary rocks, originally deposited in horizontal layers on the seabed, have been tilted and bowed upward by the geological forces of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.”
The day was gorgeous and luckily the trails had dried out from the rain earlier in the week. We did the “Giant Circuit” trail which was 5.4 km and about 1000 ft of climbing. The views from the top were stunning.
We headed back to Te Awanga, had some dinner, and started scouring the real estate in Havelock North. Not that we can buy anything yet, but we might as well be ready!