“How about an active weekend in Hawke’s Bay” was a passing thought when I tried to figure out how I wanted to spend the New Year’s. So far I’ve only made a quick stop or stayed overnight in Napier a couple of times before, but have never visited for longer.
When I did (a bit of a thorough) browse of what can be done In Hawke’s Bay, I was actually surprised by all the possibilities! I came to realize that being active is so doable here and going out in nature is just the right choice for me.
This time I came to totally fall in love with the place by dedicating a long weekend solely to actively explore the area (yes, sometimes I need to be intentional to find the real beauty a place offers).
So, if you’ve always wanted to set aside 2-3 days to be active in Hawkes’s Bay area, then this is a perfect itinerary for you. You are able to spread the activities out the way it most suits your plans, as all of them are easily accessible from Napier. So, let’s discover what your active weekend in Hawke’s Bay could look like.
Hiking to Te Mata Peak
Te Mata is an icon of Hawke’s Bay. It’s a gorgeous hill in Havelock North with spectacular 360° views of grassy ridges and the whole of the region. Anyone who likes having a choice in terms of hiking will love Te Mata for it. There are so many options here that it’s easy to find just the right trail length and difficulty to suit everyone’s needs.
With the 399m elevation, it’s an ideal hiking spot in the area that gets you out and exploring. Numerous walking tracks here quite often interlace, which is convenient if you want to add to or shorten your walking distance as you go.
There are top 5 walking tracks as the map at the parking area suggests. I decided to complete the Rangokako Trail that’s a bit longer and in my opinion covers the most beautiful areas of Te Mata. Here, I absolutely loved the section on the way down that follows the top of the limestone ridge and gets you near all the rock cliffs. In addition, this trail also passes through the Big Redwoods, an area that got me admiring these giant and evergreen trees from California.
Also, Te Mata hill offers mountain bike tracks that are suitable for bikers at all levels. You might want to check out this option if you enjoy exploring the craggy landscape on two wheels.
And while there is also a sealed road for a car access right to the top of Te Mata, you’ll be glad you’ve chosen one of the many hiking trails and earned the expansive view at the summit lookout. The experience is totally unique, one that will stick in your memory for a long time.
Tip: Make a photo of the trail map at the car park for your walking reference or download it to your phone. It will come handy, as I found a few areas to be poorly signposted.
Swimming and beaching
No weekend getaway is complete without a good ocean swim. Or a surf! Summer days can be really hot here in Hawke’s Bay and you’ll be craving that kind of refreshment.
Ocean Beach and Waimarama Beach might both be the obvious choice if you want to hit the surf. They are located next to each other and cover quite a long stretch of the coast that you might want to explore on foot. They become quite popular during those scorching summer days. Also, they’re located a bit further from Te Mata, so you might want to combine activities in the area.
Out of the numerous beaches in Hawke’s Bay, Waipatiki Beach won my vote this time. It’s located around 30km north from Napier. The settlement is sheltered by towering cliffs that offer amazing top views of the area. I totally loved the relaxed feel, golden sand, amazing crystal clear water and its remoteness. In a way, it reminded me of the Ocean Beach in Whangarei Heads, although this one is much much smaller.
→ Also check: Exploring Auckland’s West Coast Beaches (Part 1)
Biking and hiking to Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve
Visiting and exploring the area around Cape Kidnappers was something I was looking forward to the most on my weekend getaway to Hawke’s Bay. This place can basically only be accessed on a low tide, which I found out the hard way once before.
However, after doing the homework (aka research) this time I thrillingly realized there was a bike rental provider nearby, with bikes tailored specifically for beach rides. This was exactly what I was hoping to come across after my last year’s sandy hike on Pouto Peninsula. Long beach hikes are no joke!
As I mentioned, the exact time frame of exploring Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve totally depends on the ocean tide. This guide might give you an idea of the upcoming options, as you’ll possibly have to plan all other activities around it.
The 9km ride (one way) to the striking peninsula tip was just amazing! It gave me so much freedom and open space compared to all other possible ways of exploring this area. And it was a pretty good workout as well! I was able to fully enjoy the beautiful coastline with striking cliffs on one side and coastal reefs on the other. The beach is mostly sandy, but also rocky and gravelly in parts.
At the end of the beach ride, you can park your bike and walk approximately 1km up the track to reach one of the gannet breeding colonies in this area. The place is gorgeous! It’s one of the few areas here in New Zealand where these birds nest every year. However, this particular one gets you incredibly close to them.
It’s best to set aside 3.5-4.5 hours for this nature trip in the southern end of Hawke’s Bay.
TIP: Self-guided biking adventure starts in the same area as the tractor tours, so don’t be confused (like I was) when you don’t see bikes being advertised. The address is the same.
Cycle the wineries
As New Zealand’s oldest wine region, Hawke’s Bay knows how to make the wine tasting experience a part of your active getaway. If you’ve been to NZ, then you’ve probably had a taste of Chardonnay, Merlot Cabernet or Syrah from one of the 72 wineries located in this part of the country.
Most of them are situated predominately along the coast, flat river valleys and terraces, and biking through such landscapes has become quite a popular activity here. There are local providers like Coastal Wine Cycles, Bike Hire Napier, On Yer Bike and Bike About Tours that will get you ready and going with the bikes, helmets and accessories, as well as help you with transportation and suggestions in relation to what are the best vineyards, wineries and cellar doors in different Hawke’s Bay areas.
These are mostly self-guided day tours and are more than ideal for groups that want to experience an active day visiting some of the region’s leading vineyards and wineries. An absolute must do when you’re here with friends!
Hiking to Bell Rock
The Bell Rock hike has been something I quietly wanted to do for a while now but wasn’t in the area for some time to actually be able to complete it.
Making this place a stopover on my drive back to Auckland was a perfect option because it’s located close to both, SH 2 and SH 5. Although a big chunk of a (well maintained) gravel road added quite some time to my trip, I soon realized the journey was actually part of the fun. After all, I came across some amazing views over the heart of the Hawke’s Bay as I was driving along this road.
The Bell Rock hike is a medium intensity walk and takes anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete, all depending on the number of stops you make along the way. It’s not too challenging and is such an ideal place to explore with the whole family.
The first section across the lush bush is all uphill and as the trees slowly thin out you reach the grasslands. There are DOC poles along this second part of the track until the Bell Rock limestone cliff top comes into view. And what a gorgeous place to take it all in this is!
Choosing a clear sunny day for this hike can be totally rewarding. The expansive lookout views from about 1,000 metres are absolutely breathtaking. For me, reaching this spot was a perfect start to the New Year. There were only a handful of other hikers in the area that morning, which made it all that more special.
In addition, consider these options if you’ve run out of the activities for the weekend or plan to stay in the Hawke’s Bay area for a bit longer:
- Hike the Lake Waikaremoana Track, one of NZ’s Great Walks. Distance: 46km.
- Kidnappers Coast Bike Ride from Napier i-Site to Clifton. Distance: 26km.
- Mountain Biking at Wairoa Mountain Bike Park and Pan Pac Eskdale MTB Park.
- Hike to Shine Falls. 1.5-hour return walk.
Napier is where Thermal Explorer Highway and Pacific Coast Highway meet The Classic NZ Wine Trail. The city is much loved for its Art Deco feel which kind of stands out and is unique to this part of the world.
On this long weekend getaway, I didn’t want to just roam around the city, but have purposefully chosen to go a bit further out to seek the adventure. I came to realize that Hawke’s Bay can be an ideal location for an active escape. Above all, the region offers not only some of the most amazing lookout points, but also an abundance of walking and cycling opportunities that provide just the right amount of challenge to stay active during your travels.
→ What activities do you usually want to experience in a new place? Is an active getaway something you’re considering when you’re choosing your next travel destination? Is there one that you would want to recommend, New Zealand or wider? Let me know in the comments below.
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