Havelock North: The most underrated place to visit in Hawke's Bay
Who doesn't love Hawke's Bay? This is where great food and wine is born, all packaged together with captivating landscapes and world-class Art Deco streets.
While Napier and Hastings often get the most attention, there is a bustling little village (officially part of Hastings) that, we think, is the most underrated place in the region.
In recent years, Havelock North was named the country's most beautiful suburb – but that’s not the only reason it should be on your radar.
A thriving village
If you shrunk Melbourne down to the size of a village and surrounded it with vineyards and dynamic orchards, you'd be starting to get an idea of Havelock North.
The village has a thriving café, restaurant and boutique shopping scene that just gets better each time you return.
Mary's restaurant is the new kid on the block and proving exceptionally popular. It's named after Mary Peabody, one of the owners of nearby Craggy Range Winery, who has collaborated with chef Casey McDonald to create a restaurant full of flair and fun.
McDonald has worked in several Michelin star restaurants around the world, and it shows. The dishes are edible masterpieces, like a confit duck toastie with blue cheese and onion jam, alongside "The KFQ" – Kentucky Fried Quail sandwiches.
Then there's Mamacita serving excellent Mexican; Delciosa is a slice of Spain; Piku is a popular Japanese option; Chan's Chop House serves delicious dumplings and Fiko specialises in Mediterranean delicacies. You can eat your way around the world by walking down the road.
Knead to know
Thailand has pad Thai, Canada has poutine, France has crêpes, and Havelock North has a legendary restaurant known as Pipi pizza café.
The bright pink restaurant is the beating heart of the village, run by the warm-hearted Alex Tylee and husband, Chris Morris.
The pizzas, with the flavoursome local ingredients and delicate bases, are the best I've had in New Zealand. The handmade gingerbread ice cream was also mind-blowingly good.
It's the kind of place with an honesty fridge, where you let them know what you drank at the end. But most importantly, it's the kind of place you feel a connection – you enter a customer and leave a friend.
It wouldn't be a story about Hawke's Bay without mentioning wine – and one of the most atmospheric places to enjoy a drop is Black Barn Vineyards, just a few minutes’ drive from the village.
Embark on a wine tasting at the cellar door for just $10, or head to the popular bistro where you can dine under the vines – it feels like a slice of Tuscany.
Get figgy with it
Havelock North is home to a farm that is a shrine to all things figs. Te Mata Figs serves delicious creations like toasted fig bread, fig walnut and blue cheese pizza and a salted fig chocolate tart – to name just a few. You can't miss the fig almond salami (don't worry, not the meat variety) – if there are testers, give it a try.
Figs are generally picked late summer, and you won't get any fresher than straight from the trees just metres away from the café.
Most of us think our life depends on things like oxygen and money. However, you better add bees to the mix. Bees pollinate about a third of the world's food supply – and without them, we'd be in trouble.
New Zealand's most popular honey brand, Arataki, was born in Hawke's Bay – and while the interactive Arataki Visitor Centre is widely popular, especially with kids, the family behind the brand want to give people a greater appreciation of these incredible creatures.
The company has launched a 'honey encounter' where you can experience what happens from hive to pot. You'll be fitted with a beekeeper’s outfit and taken to a hive to have a look inside. You'll learn about the drone, worker and queen bees and get a chance to try and find them all within the beehive. You’ll also learn about how important bees are to the planet.
After the experience, you get a chance to taste all the different types of honey Arataki produces.
An escape to behold
Tucked away on Te Mata Road is a grand villa that has been so meticulously restored, it's as if you're stepping foot on a movie set.
Entrepreneur Jacqueline Taylor moved to the region in 2016 and set about restoring Te Mata House, which is where some of the first grapes in Hawke's Bay were planted.
Since the pioneering days, the property has been a temporary church, hotel, and bank – among other things – but five years ago it underwent a dramatic transformation as Taylor led a meticulous restoration.
Today, it's one of the most immaculate properties in the country, and visitors can get a taste of this wondrous place by staying the night.
Taylor lives onsite in the main house, but guests can stay in one of two detached houses and use the expansive grounds, including a large pool, spa, loungers, a tennis court, and even a tree house for the kids.
The entry-level option is the Old Stables, a stone-clad studio with a loft bed at the back of the property. Then there is a luxury cottage, which sleeps up to four people.
Just 15 minutes drive outside Havelock North, the Maraetotara Falls is well-loved by locals and a must-visit for those wanting to cool off over summer.
The hour-long Arataki Honey Encounter is $75 for the first person, with additional people costing $35. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 Arataki.
A visit to Smith and Sheth's Heretaunga Wine Studio is $75 per person. See: smithandsheth.com
A night at Te Mata House starts from $375 in the Old Stables. See: tematahouse.co.nz
Original story written by Brook Sabin for STUFF Travel.
Havelock North is a 20-minute drive from Napier. Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to Napier with connections across the domestic network. Napier is a four-hour drive from Wellington, and five hours from Auckland.
Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travelling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions. A return trip for one passenger flying from Auckland to Napier would generate 84.5 kilograms of CO2. To offset your carbon emissions, head to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.