Why you should discover the other side of Hawke's Bay
Words by Jacqueline Braid, for Sunday Star Times / Stuff
During the lockdown period, I observed and participated in a number of conversations on social media about where people would visit once the restrictions for regional travel was lifted.
I guess I’m being parochial as someone born and bred here, but I was honestly astonished by the number of people who said they had never visited Hawke’s Bay. Then there were those who had visited, but their experience was mostly around Napier city and not much further than that. So, I am here to introduce you to the other side of Hawke’s Bay, mostly around the Havelock North/Te Awanga region.
Hawke’s Bay/Te Matau-a-Māui, the great plains of Heretaunga, with its glorious bay area rich in kaimoana and bathed in seemingly eternal sunshine – this is where I call home. After being away for many decades and following some gentle nagging from a good friend, I returned to live here at the beginning of 2017 and since then I have been rediscovering my childhood home, taking my camera along with me. Havelock North, where I live now, was just a village at the foot of Te Mata-o-Rongokako when I was a child, full of interesting people with diverse views on life. Since that time, it has now been subsumed into the city of Hastings and has since taken on a more dynamic and cosmopolitan feel.
So, where can you go and what can you do here? The following is far from a comprehensive list, but these are some of my favourites.
Best coffee spot: For coffee, you can’t go past Hawthorne Coffee Roastery and Espresso Bar on Napier Road. An award-winning artisan coffee roasting company with some of the tastiest treats, they’re open Monday to Saturday.
Best brunch spot: Drive through Haumoana and Te Awanga right to the end of the road and discover Hygge at Clifton Bay. Whether the weather is hot and sunny or it’s a rainy winter’s day, you will find the food and atmosphere at Hygge an absolute delight. Open Wednesday to Friday 9.30am-3.30pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 4pm. Reservations are advised.
Best lunch spot: Just 3kms from the village centre, along Middle Road, you’ll come to the magic that is Birdwoods Gallery and Sweet Shop. Definitely a hit with the kids, with a large expanse of grassed area which also showcases wonderful pieces of art. Open every day 10am to 4pm. Bookings are recommended.
Best dinner spot: Havelock North has a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, but I’m going to cheat a bit here and recommend a short section of Joll Road between Te Mata Road and Campbell Street, where a wide selection of great dining can be found. The renowned Pipi cafe in its wonderfully pink home has a selection of tasty dishes to satisfy any family. Across the road is Piku Japanese Izakaya Restaurant and Cocktail Bar – one for the grown-ups with a great selection of Japanese fusion dishes. Open for lunch and dinner. Pop past Piku to the back of the courtyard and you will find Alessandro’s Pizzeria e Pasta Napoletana for authentic wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and pasta. Dine in or take away, this place is a real hit with the kids!
When you’re in Havelock North, there is only one thing you really must do and that is to grab your camera and make the trip to the top of Te Mata-o-Rongokako, or Te Mata Peak. There are a number of ways to do this – you can drive to the top, or you can walk the tracks from the bottom or halfway up, or even take your mountain bike and hit the trails.
At the top, you will get stunningly breathtaking 360° views of the region, and may even be lucky enough to watch paragliders dive off and make the most of the updrafts.
If you’re down on the flat looking back at the hill, you can see the clear outline of the prostrate body of Te Mata-o-Rongokako. Legend has it he died while proving his love to Hinerakau by biting out the hillside between his tribe and hers. Summit road access is open between 5am and 10pm.
Budget accommodation is found a little further afield – in Hastings. There you can find backpackers in the centre of town and the world-famous Hastings Top 10 Holiday Park which, in summer, has the added bonus of being next door to Splash Planet. Top10 provides amenities from tent sites through to motel accommodation, conveniently located within Hastings city.
Within Havelock North, there are a number of good motels to be found within walking distance from the village centre, all ideal for families. However, if your family size is a bit bigger, it might be worthwhile checking in to Trevelmond. Its onsite boutique accommodation ranges from a five-bedroom villa to a one-bedroom cottage and it’s just a short five-minute walk to the heart of the village.
If the idea of a romantic beachside getaway appeals to you, you can’t go past the stunning Te Awanga Cottages. The architecturally designed, self-contained cottages feature amenities such as a full kitchen, barbecue, fireplace and a bath with an outdoor view. Your hosts, Annabel and Willie, make you feel very welcome, but will also leave you to enjoy the privacy of your cottage. Bring your own bike or hire one here and make the use of the cycle trails to visit local cafes, restaurants and wineries. The curious alpacas resident on the property also make for a fun diversion.
In the heart of Havelock North is Porters Boutique Hotel. Porters offers a luxury stay for travellers with the bustling village and all the amenities right on your doorstep. The attention to detail and luxury in the hotel provides guests with the perfect atmosphere for total comfort and relaxation. Porters also provides deluxe accessible rooms. Downstairs, guests can dine at Malo restaurant, or may wish to take part in a wine tasting at Smith & Sheth.
Finally, if you are visiting over the weekend, the one thing you can’t miss out on is the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market! Held every Sunday morning from 8.30am to 12.30pm at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds on Kenilworth Road, visitors can indulge in the finest produce and artisan products on offer in the region. During the winter months, the market relocates inside the Exhibition Hall and Grandstand, and in summer, spreads out into the Waikoko Gardens.
Jacqueline Braid is a Hawke’s Bay-based photographer.