It’s a hefty trek from Gisborne down to the Capital and can be ticked off in one day (nine hours with no stops) but where’s the fun in no stops? The first three hours hug the easy-going East Coast down to Napier with some stunning beaches, and then it’s a dive into some serious countryside. Lots and lots of countryside! You’ll pass through two wine regions, Hawkes Bay and Martinborough, plus breweries, hot pools, burgers with a view, scenic parts and, depending on the season, rivers to do bombs in (or picnic next to). We’re suggesting a little dogleg back out to the coast off the main SH2 at Waipukurau, if you’ve got time, because hardly anyone does and then you get to take a selfie at the longest place name in the universe (that we know of but you can't trust aliens to be forthcoming with intel).
Any good road trip starts wtih caffeine (or smoothies or kombucha or something to kick start your engine) and Peel Street Cafe makes a consistently good brew. Run by a man called Adrian he’s dubbed as the best barista in town. The only downside is trying to get a park outside Peel’s so if there’s a few of you in the car drop off someone to get the coffee (don’t forget your keep cups good people) and drive east along Peel Street down to gaze at the Taruheru River while you wait.
In 1980 two surfing mates with a love of quality handcrafted beers started brewing their own beer to cope with Gisborne’s long hot summers. And they’re still doing it. Don’t start your road trip with a brew but pick up a mixed case for when your stop at the end of the day (or do stop here if you’re doing the trip from the other direction!)
There are hot AND cold springs at Morere set in hectares of rainforest full of mighty nikau palms. It’s worth taking a short stroll in the rainforest (you can choose from 10 minutes to three hours) then get your weary bones into a therapeutic spring and come out feeling bulletproof, or at the very least super clean. The hot spring is ancient, healing seawater piped into public or private pools. Be sure to plunge into a cold pool before you leave so you’re wide awake for the road ahead.
Napier is the self proclaimed ‘Art Deco Capital of the World’. It’s not the only Art Deco city in the world—there’s Durban in South Africa, Mumbai in India, Havana in Cuba, Casablanca in Morrocco, Shanghai in China and Tel Aviv in Israel—but as Napier is reasonably small it’s one of the easiest cities to get your Art Deco fill on foot. Back in 1931 a massive earthquake struck Napier reducing the city to rubble and the rebuild was in the style of the time: decadent Art Deco modernism that was translated across everything from buildings to fashion. Napier’s Art Deco is unique with Maori motifs and many buildings were designed by Louis Hay, a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. The best way to admire it is to park up near the (Art Deco) Sound Shell on Marine Parade and wander around as everything’s contained in a few blocks - boater hat optional! Be sure to meander down Tennyson Street to Napier Antiques, where you can channel your inner flapper or roaring twenties and find everything from beads to top hats to gloves to pinstriped suits. Napier hold a fully authentic and quite fabulous Art Deco festival every year in February.
And while you’re walking around admiring the buildings be sure to download the brochure of murals that adorn Napier’s walls. The Murals for Oceans project flew 20 artists from around the world and installed them in Napier for a week to create murals that raise questions about the plight of the earth’s oceans. The incredible works of art address overfishing, plastics, pollution and climate change. Be sure to hunt out the gigantic shark by Freeman White on Raffles/Bower Street NCC carpark.
Download the map here.
Sadly, you won’t find six sisters inside this café in matching headscarves but if you look from the outside you’ll see six quaint two storey Victorian buildings from the 1890s all standing in a row. Hence the name. They make good coffee and freshly baked goods, and going this way takes you along the tree-lined marine parade, which is just as nice to look at as the six sisters. Although the water may look tempting along this parade it’s very unpredictable and dangerous, which is why you never see anyone in the water. Ever. If you want to swim head back around to Westshore on the other side of Napier Hill.
Te Mata Peak is the most famous grassy mound in Hawkes Bay, where the views are mighty plus they have redwood trees, but we think Sugar Loaf is more of a local find. Sitting in Taradale its less crowded and you get to see this thing called ‘The Bay’ from a different angle at the summit from Napier to Cape Kidnappers with a 360-degree view across the Heretaunga Plains and out to the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges. The hill was once Pukekura Pa, then in the 1920s it was particularly popular for moonlight extravaganzas. In the 1930s motorbike races were held in Taradale including a hill climb up the steep slopes of Sugar Loaf. As you approach you’ll see why this hill got its name, as it’s shaped like a loaf but it’s hard to imagine blasting up on a bike!
The track to the summit is steep but short - there and back in 30 minutes. Take care when it’s wet and leave nothing there.
And while you’re in the area why not pop into New Zealand’s oldest winery. This historic building and vineyard was built in 1851 by French Marist missionaries who needed wine for communion (we’re thinking they had lots of communions!) Today, they still use some of the traditional wine making techniques gently mashed with modern and sustainable ones. The cellar door is in the restored seminary building and it’s the most visited winery in the country - so don’t expect an intimate wine tasting on a Saturday afternoon! The restaurant, perched on the Taradale hills, is open seven days and the views of Napier match the excellent food but you have to book, it’s not a pop in place.
If burgers make your toes curl and you would prefer something classier then make time for lunch at Black Barn. Set under a pergola of vines with sand underfoot you feel like you’re in the South of France, and during winter the bistro-style dining moves inside the black barn. The winery was set up by a couple who ditched the flash advertising world of Wellington for the warm grape-growing world of Havelock North and soon became renown for bringing the first growers’ market to the region, which they still hold on the vineyard during warmer months. Their chefs and on site shop are also focused on supporting local produce. Black Barn’s small, sustainable boutique winery produces 4000 cases a year and most are sold through their cellar door. While there, try the Sauvignon Blanc or the 2014 Reserve Chardonnay, or pick some up for later.
It’s always good to hit the road with an ice cream. This Hawkes Bay institution has been around since 1926. The first time Rush Munroe opened their doors they sold out by the end of the day. It was a total rush and has been popular ever since, even surviving the massive 1931 earthquake. Over the decades they’ve always stuck to their principles – to make natural ice cream with no additives, no preservatives, no funny stuff, just farm fresh cream and real flavours, including lots of local Hawkes Bay fruit. They also have sorbet for the dairy free peeps and their feijoa flavour is to die for delish!
Once you’ve left Hastings (or Taradale) then get some miles under your belt, as there’s nothing much on the way to Waipukurau. Te Paerahi’s off the main State Highway 2 out to the coast, 48 minutes from Waipukurau, but it is the best old school beach for a swim and lounge on some golden sand. There’s a pub that serves up country style home cooking and ten minutes south is the longest place name in the world. You can also freedom camp at Te Paerahi but please take all your rubbish and leave no trace!
A slight detour south of Te Paerahi/Porangahau township will take you to this tiny coastal community, famous for its hospitality (that’s what they say) and more famous for its name. You won’t be able to say it quickly but you will get a good snap by the sign. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. (Taumata for short).
The Waingawa River runs from one of the highest peaks in the Tararua Ranges, comes down through Masterton and flows into the Ruamahanga River. It’s cold on the hottest of days and Kaituna has been a local swimming favourite since the 50’s because of the gigantic swimming holes. Check the river safety report (for that annoying algae), and if you turn up around two in the afternoon you'll be sharing it with locals. If it’s too cold to swim it’s still a nice spot for a picnic and leg stretch.
Here’s another detour off the main route, but Castlepoint’s a place of raw beauty you will never forget, and only an hour from Masterton. It’s the kind of place where you imagine dark and mysterious films are made about a small town going mad, because of the completely crazy landscape, plus it has some awesome surfing. ‘Rugged’ doesn’t even cut it. It’s wild. When you first arrive you see a sweeping beach and mighty lighthouse on top of a cliff (162 m high). It’s not until you get to the point and see the side exposed to the ocean that you realise what we mean by wild. There are skull and cross bone signs along the limestone reef where fishermen have regularly disappeared from rogue waves that do a bit of their own fishing. The steep drop off is exhilarating along the reef and the climb up to the lighthouse is easy (30 minutes) but it takes your breath away all along the path and especially at the top. The lighthouse has been keeping passing ships safe since 1913 and check out its webcam before you go.
Then there’s the surfing. The Gap is a natural break in a rock wall near the lighthouse that lets the swell through and reflects it around the perfectly formed bay, cleaning it up and creating fun, mostly right-handers that peel in. It’s an iconic surf spot, but if you want a little more size, look further north and climb the hill to the south of The Gap.
Back down along SH2, Clareville Bakery in Carterton is an easy stop. Run by a couple of artisan bakers, it’s usually packed (a good sign) but they’re super fast at serving customers. They’ve won pie awards and it’s home to the Clareville Cracker (which is the fancy Lavash flatbread found at Moore Wilsons in Wellington) plus their stone baked sourdough and range of breads are OMG. Don’t be put off by the number of cars in the car park.
Would you like some cheese to go with that bread? Translated to ‘say cheese’, the cheeky pun-loving Greytown shop, C’est Cheese, is filled to the brim with specialty cheeses and a wide range of gourmet food, locally made in the Wairarapa region. Some of their most notable cheeses include the award winning Kingsmeade and Cwmglyn (pronounced coom-glin) cheeses. And if you’re suffering from option paralysis from too much choice they offer cheese tastings to help you along, which is the tastiest way we can think of shopping. C’est Cheese also have cured meats, chutneys and olive oil so you can pretty much purchse a platter full of deliciousness here.
You’re driving so close to Martinborough it would be a crime to not pop over and be wooed by its quaint charms. There are more than 20 vineyards but if you’ve only got time for one, head to Ata Rangi. Clive Paton was a rugby-playing farmer with a passion for red wine he couldn’t afford, so in typical kiwi style he figured out how to make it himself, along with sister Alison, and wife, Phyll. 27 years later, you won’t find a best Pinot Noir List anywhere without Ata Rangi on it. Honoured with the Tipuranga Teitei – ‘Grand Cru’ of New Zealand, Ata Rangi is enjoyed globally. Organic and ISO 14001 certified, they practice large-scale biodiversity and are pioneers in conservation and sustainable winegrowing. Occasionally Clive can be found in the cellar and he’ll tell you all about it himself.
If you’re looking for a spot to break out the bread and cheese (especially after that wine) then Stonehenge Aotearoa is suitably wonderfully weird. Unlike the 4000-year-old English version, there’s no mystery to the origins of this Stonehenge. A kiwi astronomer, Richard Hall, had the idea to create this vast structure then pulled in the Phoenix Astronomical Society and its 250 members to survey, plan and build it. 30 metres in diamater the purpose of this circular beauty is that of an astronomical clock - to track the seasons and southern skies. Open Wednesday to Sundays (until Dec 2018), you can visit yourself or take a tour where you’ll learn ‘tales from antiquity of the solstices and equinoxes and signs of the Zodiac and how stones, posts and shadows were used to unlock mysteries of the earth and sky.’ (We don’t know that means but it will certainly give you something to talk about later).
Banner Photo Credit: Flickr - Brandon Skilton