Tuesday Feb 20, 2018
Napier sits on the Pacific coast of NZ in Hawke’s bay. Captain James Cook landed here in 1769 and named it in honour of Admiral Edward Hawke who decisively defeated the French in 1759 at the Battle of Quiberon Bay. It is now famous in the UK for its fine wines. “Napier”, says the Lonely Planet Guide, “is a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent sea-side resort. It was largely rebuilt after the devastating 1931 earth-quake in the popular architectural styles of the time and has a unique concentration of Art Deco buildings”. It reminds me of old UK cinemas, the Hoover building on the Great West Road, Boots’ grand factory in Nottingham and numerous block of flats. None of those are as good as this.
Napier is very conscious of its charm and exploits its tourist potential mercilessly. Crowds of cruise-ship visitors wearing “Whisperer” headsets are taken around its streets by guides carrying small penants. I am sure the former are being expertly tutored by the latter, but they all look so bored. Those not in crocodiles sit glued to their i-pads or mobile phones (for cruise ships, as we know, provide limited and very expensive internet connections and shore-time is valuable for catching up.)#
There is a good supply of elegantly restored cars of the 1930s vintage that serve as dial-a-ride taxi experiences. The place has the air of a film set and we are the “extras”. We coat-tail a couple of English speaking groups for a while, then slink off to savour the experience for ourselves. It really is quite charming. Napier has the café culture characteristic of warm climate cities and its streets are generously laid out with pedestrian-only open spaces and handsome public art – and nice coffee shops. It is a good place to be and we like it.
We drive south along Hawke’s bay towards Cape Kidnappers named in honour of the place where the Maoris tried unsuccessfully to kidnap Captain Cook’s Tahitian servant boy. Now it is a colony of nesting gannets – equally voracious but only accessible by tractor or 4×4 vehicle, neither of which we possess. I guess it is also accessible by air if you happen to be a gannet.
We withdraw and drift along the lovely continuous village of low-rise houses which comprise the village of Clearview. What a pleasant surprise! There is a winery, The Clearview Estate, just by. We roll up to their cellar door and spend a delightful half hour tasting some of their delicious wines, including a Gewurtztraminer, two sumptuous dessert wines, a noble late harvest and a red which we buy. Sadly, their output is not to be found in the UK. Now there’s a thought for an import business, David.
Sue is on a mission to visit Mission Winery in Napier. We book for dinner, get togged up (for we are living in shorts and T-shirt order) and drive to their grand estate. Mission Estate is the oldest (1851) winery in NZ and is named for a catholic seminary who still own the property. The French founder monks imported their wine-making prowess so that Hawke’s bay wineries generally produce excellent Bordeaux style reds, Syrahs and Chardonnays. The famous fruity Savignon Blancs are mainly found around the Marlborough district in South Island. It starts to rain and a complete 180° double rainbow greets us as we arrive. Is this a portent?
We dine under a pergola of grape vines (of course), sip enormous Gerwurtz and Chardonnay aperitifs and share a bottle of Mission Gimblett Gravels Syrah with our delicious entrees. I can’t think of a nicer way to share a table, a glass or two, and an evening with my lovely Sue.
We drive carefully back to our hotel and fall sound asleep. Tomorrow we journey another 320 km to Wellington and our ferry to South Island.