This is one of the most picturesque places on the North Island. Many of the people who come to the region known as Hawke’s Bay are attracted to the top-shelf wine produced. Even if you’re driving, you’ll want to stop by at least one of the more than 30 excellent cellar doors and grab a bottle (or two) of cab sav, merlot, syrah or chardonnay for later.
Starting in the glorious Art Deco capital of Napier, it’s about 120km (or a 90-minute drive) to your destination. From a famous national park to a hike along the beach, your tour to this bayside town will be a sight for city-weary eyes. Here’s what to see and do on a day trip to Wairoa.
It’s the town’s major landmark and no visit would be complete without a stop at the Wairoa Lighthouse, sitting on the banks of the Wairoa River. It wasn’t always here. Originally it was positioned on nearby Portland Island, but in 1960, an automated lighting system was installed there and the Kauri structure was moved to its current position.
Starting at the lighthouse is the Wairoa Township River Walkway, a 7.7km path that follows the waterway, takes in the lookout at Pilot’s Hill and ends at Whakamahia Beach. If you feel as though you’ve got heaps of time, you could do the full return stroll or simply stretch your legs on part of it.
This is a tiny town, with its shops strung along the main road opposite the river, and you’ll likely to find yourself completely charmed while you explore them. In one of the heritage-listed buildings, you’ll find lunch or, to be more precise, Oslers Bakery, which has been cooking up award-winning pies, sausage rolls and tempting slices for more than a century.
If you’ve ever wanted to find out more about Māori culture and history, this is an excellent way to do it. Saddle up with Out On A Lim and trot off on a two-hour guided trek that takes in Iwitea Village, its beach, an old flax mill and Wairua Lake, which is farmed for eels and home to a variety of waterbirds, including spoonbills. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been on a horse, because it’s all done at a relaxed pace. There are other activities available too – eeling, surf fishing, historic walks – all accompanied by Māori legends and knowledge.
If what you’d rather do is soak your muscles and relax, Mōrere Hot Springs is a half-hour’s drive east from Wairoa in the rental car. Even though it’s located about 10 km from the coastline, this is a rare sea-water hot spring. The water comes to the surface naturally and is piped to a number of pools – some public, others that can be booked for private use – set in a lush rainforest.
Not that anywhere in the Hawke’s Bay area has a shortage of it, but if you really want to fill your lungs with fresh air, head even further afield in your rental car. Wairoa is the closest town to Te Urewera, protected native forest covering more than 200,000 ha and the home of the Tūhoe people. On its southern edge, and less than an hour from Wairoa, is Lake Waikaremoana formed about 2,200 years ago after a landslide cut off the Waikaretaheke River. Drive along the eastern shore to Waikaremoana Holiday Park, where you can rent kayaks and hit the water. Otherwise, check out a series of spectacular splashes at Āniwaniwa and Papkorito Falls. Follow the easy, half-hour Hinerau Walk that takes in all three Āniwaniwa Falls and a clearing, thought to relate to early Māori occupation.
Separating Hawke Bay (the actual body of water Hawke’s Bay is named after) and Poverty Bay is an outcrop of land known as the Mahia Peninsula. Māori legend has it this place is Te matau a Maui, or the fishhook of Maui. Step it up on the 3.5km walking trail through the 374 ha Mahia Peninsula Scenic Reserve, where you can see plenty of different types of native vegetation. The other option is to clamber to the top of the white-cliffed headland known as Mokotahi Hill. It only takes about 20 minutes, but the outlook when you get to the top is spectacular. Work up a sweat? Go for a swim at Mahanga Beach, said to be one of the most beautiful in the Hawke’s Bay region.
Remember those cellar doors? Drop by the boutique Crab Farm Winery, located just before Napier, and taste its range of wines, made using grapes from three vineyards in different parts of Hawke’s Bay. The cellar door and restaurant are welcoming and rustic. When you’ve discovered a favourite, pop a couple of bottles in the boot of the rental car to have with dinner after your excellent day out.
Ready to take a drive around Hawke’s Bay? Hire a rental car in Napier before you leave.