Wineries, Art Deco and Gannets: On Site in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

HAWKES BAY, New Zealand - Travel Agent is currently on site in one of New Zealand's best kept secrets, Hawke's Bay, and in just one day is already convinced this is a destination agents should be looking to sell now.

From foodies to art enthusiasts to bird watchers, Hawke's Bay, located on the North Island's eastern coast, has something for just about every client.

Our first full day in Hawke's Bay kicked off with a little art history lesson in the small town of Napier, widely considered the Art Deco capital of the world. We took part in the Art Deco Vintage Car and Walking Tour, during which we learned all about both the devastation the earthquake of 1931 brought to the town and also how the 7.8-magnitude earthquake helped reshape the region's history, aesthetics and heritage. We were escorted by experienced tour guides, Tony Mairs and David Brock, in a 1939 Packard Six classic automobile.

According to Mairs, the earthquake of 1931 killed 261 people. Shorty after the quake, more than 6,000 tradesmen from all over New Zealand came to Napier to rebuild the town. Why rebuild it? Because of "the gift," Mairs says, referring to the two meters of land that was raised by the quake, equating to roughly 18,500 acres of additional land. Through the rebuild, the Art Deco style, which in its simplest form is basically a reinforced concrete box, was born. Throughout the years, however, architects from all over the world began putting their personal touches on these buildings, making this era an "architect's dream," says Mairs, because they basically had free reign to put their stamps on these otherwise plain buildings.

Twenty-two months later, a carnival was held to celebrate the new Napier, which was hailed as "the most modern town in the world," says Mairs. Most of the original Art Deco buildings were eventually lost and later rebuilt in 1986. The only factor keeping UNESCO from naming Napier a World Heritage Site is that not enough time has passed since 1986, Mairs said.

Our first stop was the Napier Port, which saw calls from 66 cruise ships this year, a leap from the 29 ships the port brought in just three years ago, Mairs says. Ships calling to Napier Port include most major lines from Cunard Line to Princess Cruises to Holland America Line. 

Other highlights of the tour included a stop at the iconic National Tobacco Company building, the Daily Telegraph building and the Napier Municipal Theatre, which was built in 1931 shortly after Napier was rebuilt from the earthquake. The building includes two of the first neon lights in all of New Zealand and is still an immensely popular place to see live shows. In fact, the theater put on 19 performances of Les Miserables in 1995 with all 19 shows selling out. Also, the Moscow Ballet is slated to perform here in roughy three weeks, Mairs says.

The town is really like taking a step back in time and the skyline is also very easy on the eyes as no utility wires obstruct the view. According to Mairs, when the town was rebuilt all of the wires were put under ground to preserve the beauty of the skyline. And it worked. Walking tours start at as little as $15 while car tours cost $150. Agents should note that car tours are for a maximum of four people, but cost $150 whether you have four clients or just one, so tell clients to car pool. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit


Mission Estate, New Zealand's oldest winery

Our next stop was to Mission Estate, New Zealand’s oldest winery. Beautifully restored, the award-winning restaurant in this historical seminary, which became a winery roughly 20 years ago, is located in the Taradale hills and offers lunch and dinner with sweeping views over vineyards, Napier city and the coast beyond. We had the privilege of eating lunch here and highly recommend the braised crackled pork belly with a glass of Mission Reserve Chardonnay 2010. Just about every wine we tasted here was excellent, but our favorites were the chardonnay and the Mission Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, which is very light and sweet and goes very well with lamb. Agents should note that all tastings here are free. Visit

Our next stop brought us to the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony, where we took a bus ride to see some incredible landscape, tons of sheep and cows and small colony of gannets. Cape Kidnappers is one of the largest and most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world. Clients can come and see these amazing birds nesting, preening, flying and performing the famous recognition ritual “dance of the gannets." Unfortunately for us, the wind kept them from doing anything but singing and making poor attempts to fly. But perhaps your clients will have better luck. Having said that, even without any bird drama, it was still a stunning excursion. While the birds were incredible, the views from some of the cliffs are absolutely mind-blowing and scream, "Facebook cover shot." The round trip takes three

Craggy Range

hours and the driver/guides have extensive knowledge of the gannets and the farm property. This is a totally unique experience that cannot be repeated anywhere in the world. Daily tours depart at 9:30 a.m and return by 12:30 p.m. with a second tour departing at 1:30 p.m and returning by 4:30 p.m. These tours run from September 1-April 30. Visit

We concluded our first day in Hawkes Bay with a dinner and wine match at Craggy Range Winery. Situated at the base of the Te Mata Peak escarpment Craggy Range offers spectacular scenery. Respecting the legend of The Fallen Giant, Craggy Range has named its home, The Giants Winery. In the heart of the Giants Winery complex is the Craggy Range Cellar Door, a perfect setting for tasting the Craggy Range single vineyard wines many of which are not available elsewhere. A popular wedding destination, Craggy Range also offers The Terróir Restaurant, open for lunch and dinner. The range also included two self- contained cottages with a third slated to come onboard later this year, says Tracey McInnes, hospitality manager. Three worsd of advice: get the clams. Visit

Travel Agent's ongoing coverage of Hawke's Bay is just a precursor to our upcoming coverage of TRENZ, New Zealand's biggest trade show of the year. Keep visiting for more updates from our coverage of Hawke's Bay and our coverage of TRENZ, which kicks off Monday.