Napier is the focus of most of the bay's paid attractions, but you'll find the bulk of the wineries in the Hastings/Havelock North area. Tip: Get a 4 in 1 Pass from the visitor center. This gives you entry to four Marine Parade attractions including the National Aquarium, Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery, Ocean Spa, and Par 2 Mini Golf. The pass is also available from any one of the participating attractions.
The National Aquarium of New Zealand, Marine Parade (tel. 06/834-1404; www.nationalaquarium.co.nz), opened in 2002, includes a huge ocean tank with an acrylic tunnel, plus themed exhibits. Napier opened the first public aquarium in New Zealand in 1956, and it now holds the most comprehensive collection. It's as close to the ocean as you can get without getting your feet wet, and the themed sleepovers for children and the interactive displays are a big hit.
The aquarium's magnificent architecture imitates the form of a stingray. Exhibits include tuatara, kiwi, piranha, crocodile, and every sea creature you could imagine. Kids have lots of hands-on activities, and feeding times (the reef tank at 10am, the ocean tank at 2pm) are always exciting. Allow 1 to 2 hours for a good visit. Admission costs NZ$17 for adults, NZ$8.70 for children 3 to 14, and NZ$44 for families. Swimming with Sharks (9am, 11am, and 3pm) costs NZ$60 per person and children under 15 must be accompanied by a paying adult. The Behind the Scenes Tour runs twice daily at 9am and 1pm and costs NZ$35 for adults, NZ$18 for children ages 3 to 14, and includes the price of aquarium admission. The aquarium is open daily 9am until 5pm (till 7pm Dec 26-31); closed on Christmas Day.
Classy Crafts -- Statements Gallery, Tennyson and Hastings streets, Napier (tel. 06/834-1331; www.statementsgallery.co.nz), is one of my favorite places for finding that extra-special piece of colorful New Zealand art glass, beautiful handcrafted New Zealand jewelry, and ceramics you'll want to take home. It also stocks paintings, prints, and sculptures.
Outdoor Movies -- Black Barn Vineyards Amphitheatre, Black Barn Road, Havelock North (tel. 06/877-7985; www.blackbarn.com), is one of the best outdoor venues in the country; if you time it right (ring for the program), you could enjoy a fabulous live concert or an evening of open-air cinema. Sit on grass terraces surrounded by grapevines and enjoy one of your most memorable New Zealand nights. Book early.
In the Path of the Ancestors -- Explore the fascinating history of the Hakakino area, which was home to Maori over 700 years ago. Descendants of the original people have formed Te Hakakino Tours (tel. 0800/847-488 in NZ, or 06/879-9302; www.waimaramaori.com), and they'll take you to the archaeological site to experience Maori history and culture. The 2-hour historic tour runs daily at 10am, and requires good shoes and a moderate level of fitness. It costs NZ$60 per person. A 3-hour tour can be pre-booked for any time of day (min. four people), and it includes sharing fresh dishes, such as seafood, cooked in traditional Maori ways. It costs NZ$295 per person.
Going Behind Bars -- Visit New Zealand's oldest prison with Napier Prison Tours, 55 Coote Rd., Bluff Hill, Napier (tel. 06/835-9933; www.napierprison.com), and learn about its 1993 decommissioning and tales of the infamous characters who called it home. Look out for the ghosts and stand in the hanging yard, where people once paid a shilling to watch a hanging take place. Guided tours run daily from 9:30am to 3pm and cost NZ$22 adults, NZ$12 children 12 and under, and NZ$50 to NZ$65 for a family. They also have night tours and self-guided audio tours.
Kidnappers Escape -- Stop by the visitor center to pick up the excellent free brochure and map Kidnappers Escape, which details all artists, craftspeople, accommodations, and tours in this especially picturesque area. The trail starts at Clive, which is a 5-minute drive from Napier, Hastings, or Havelock North, and covers the 12km (7 1/2-mile) coastal stretch out to Clifton. A great day out. For more information, check www.kidnappersescape.com.
The Hawke's Bay Exhibition Centre, 201 Eastbourne St. East (tel./fax 06/876-2077; firstname.lastname@example.org), is the region's major venue for touring exhibits of paintings, sculpture, crafts, and historical material. It has a cafe and a shop specializing in local crafts. The center is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4:30pm; Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 11am to 4pm (closed Dec 25). Be sure to pick up the Public Artworks brochure, which details the large number of public sculptures (over a dozen) that have been installed in Hastings and Havelock North as part of an award-winning revitalization program.
Driving to the top of Te Mata Peak, about 11km (7 miles) from Hastings, is a must-do activity. Take Havelock Road to Te Mata Peak, then to Simla Avenue to Te Mata Peak Road, and ascend the 393m (1,289-ft.) peak. On a clear day, the grand limestone ridge between beach and city offers panoramic views across the Ruahine, Kaweka, and Maungaharuru ranges, with the volcano Ruapehu visible in the distance. There are also walking tracks in the forest as you ascend.
Australian gannets have been nesting at Cape Kidnappers since the 1870s, with numbers steadily increasing to around 6,500 pairs. This makes it the largest and most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world. The sanctuary affords stunning views and is open to the public from October to April. The best time to view the birds is from early November to late February. If you want to go it alone, drive 21km (13 miles) south to Clifton Domain; then it's a 2-hour walk along 8km (5 miles) of sandy beach. Note: The walk must be done at low tide because the high tide rides all the way up to the base of steep cliffs. Be sure to check with the Napier or Hastings visitor centers or with the Department of Conservation (tel. 06/834-3111) about tide times.
There are two main organized tours, which basically differ in the form of transport. Gannet Safaris Overland, 396 Clifton Rd., Te Awanga (tel. 0800/427-232 in NZ, or 06/875-0888; www.gannetsafaris.co.nz), offers half-day tours in an air-conditioned coach from September to May; no walking is required. The 3 1/2-hour trip departs daily at 9:30am and 1:30pm and costs NZ$65 for adults, NZ$35 for children age 5 to 15. Gannet Beach Adventures, 495 Clifton Rd., Te Awanga (tel. 0800/426-638 in NZ, or 06/875-0898; www.gannets.com), transports you by tractor and trailer for NZ$39 adults, NZ$24 kids 2 to 14. It includes 20 to 30 minutes of walking and lasts 4 hours. Tours operate from October through early May. Bookings are essential for both.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.