Shake, rattle and stroll
It's a bumpy ride coming into Napier. In fact it's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride the whole flight down from Auckland. Thank goodness it's less than an hour in the air.
3pm: After picking up our rental car, it's a short drive round Napier's port before those iconic pine trees of Marine Parade pop into view. Within minutes we are outside our home for the next few days, Scenic Hotel Te Pania.
3.20pm: The hotel is perfect for showcasing the best of Napier: every room is light and bright, facing the beach, with magnificent views looking up and down the Hawke's Bay coast. And there is a big, wide-opening window [not often found in sixth-floor rooms] which means you can not only see, but also hear the ocean from the wonderfully comfy bed. Bliss.
4pm: Dumping the car, we go for a stroll through Napier. We're both first-timers to this part of the country, so it's a great chance to brush up on a bit of history. After seeing the Art Deco movement in the flesh, we stop off at the newly-opened MTG Hawke's Bay. This great addition to the town complex marries a freshly built art gallery with an existing theatre and beautifully restored Art Deco museum. We spend much longer than planned, marvelling at historic documents, beautiful modern art and a wonderful Napier earthquake exhibition.
6.30pm: In fact we spent so long there dinner is a quick bite of fish and chips which seems perfectly appropriate for our first night in the beach town.
Saturday, 9am: After a lie-in, our grumbling stomachs force us out of bed. We wander down the road to the Napier Urban Street Market for a pick at some fresh produce [the nashi pears are particularly delicious], a bacon sandwich and a much-needed coffee.
10.30am: Loaded with food and caffeine, we jump in the car and head towards Cape Kidnappers, about half an hour away. We decide not to attempt the 8km walk around the coastline -we mistimed the tides - so we settle for a short wander along what turns out to be a rather wind-torn patch of shingle and sand. But it's stunningly beautiful.
1pm: Back in town and I can't keep away from the shops. Unsurprisingly, Napier has some incredible antique stores, where I manage to lose a good couple of hours picking through jewellery, some beautiful china and the odd fur stole. Hamish even agrees to try out the Gatsby look, complete with boater hat and cane, but draws the line when I threaten to pull out the credit card.
3pm: Mid-afternoon and we realise it must be lunchtime, so we make ourselves at home at the slightly bohemian Cafe Ujazi. A calamari salad and a Mediterranean platter overflowing with homemade hummus and piping hot olives later and we are ready for a bit of a nap.
7pm: Napier has shaken us awake with a tiny earthquake, a sign it's time to get up. We haven't made reservations for dinner, but we try our luck at Mister D Dining. It's packed, so it's a nice surprise when they manage to squeeze us in. It's even nicer when we're quickly surrounded by plates of fried bread, rosemary and aioli; bone marrow ravioli and delicious venison sausage, before finishing with cognac tart and "drunkin' caramel" prunes - yes, it is as good as it sounds.
9pm: Not yet ready for bed, we test Napier's nightlife, and tucked away between tattoo parlours is Guffle Bar. It's still early, so we snag a cosy corner in the pseudo-dive bar, and are quickly welcomed by the friendly staff and easy-going regulars enjoying tonight's special - margarita on tap.
Sunday, 6am: Despite Guffle's best efforts, we wake up early enough to watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean from the comfort of bed. Not wanting to waste our last few hours, we drag ourselves outside for one last walk along Napier's main beach, making sure to stop off and literally smell the roses at the handful of beautifully maintained public gardens dotted along the waterfront promenade.
7.30am: Back to the hotel for a quick change and we duck across the road for a nice, long soak at Ocean Spa, which has to have the greatest view in the world. Located just behind the beach, overlooking the ocean, two massive spa pools join four other full-sized pools, plus a beauty spa and gym in this all-purpose complex.
9am: It's surprising, but we are dried and dressed in time to catch some America's Cup racing over breakfast at Emporium, the latest addition to Art Deco institution the Masonic Hotel. Over ricotta and corn fritters, topped with salmon, and Hamish's big breakfast loaded with all the usuals, we suffer through another Team NZ loss.
Noon: To make up for the disappointment, we head to the New Zealand National Aquarium. Not only do we watch as rookies feed sharks and stingrays, and giant eels slither through underwater caves, but I get hands-on with the resident Little Penguins. Experts Tara and Stephen let me prepare penguin food for the waddle [yes, that is the technical term for a group of penguins], before throwing me into a pair of neon gumboots and marching me out in front of the gathered crowd for the afternoon feed. One by one I gently shove tiny fish into penguins' mouths before having a bit of a cuddle with one of them. It's great fun, if you can ignore the smell.
2.30pm: Then it's all over. Just like that, it's time for a quick drive back past the pine trees, past the port and back into Napier airport for our trip home. Turns out it's a place worth braving the bumps for.
Sunday Star Times