On Monday morning, we grab a cab from The Museum Hotel back to the Wellington Airport, where we pick up a rental car and start heading north. Our destination is Napier, about 215 miles away, which our guidebooks tell us is about a four hour drive. But due to road construction and a sizeable detour, the journey takes nearly five-and-a-half hours to complete.
We pass through some beautiful farm country and stop in Dannervirka, a little town with a strong Danish heritage, for a quick lunch. We also pass through Palmerston North, where according to our Lonely Planet travel guide, comedian John Cleese once visited and commented, “If you ever do want to kill yourself but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.” The community soon after named a garbage dump in his honor.
Perhaps spoiled by the jaw-dropping scenery we’ve experienced on the South Island, the drive is decidedly a little ho-hum. It may also have something to do with my motion sickness pill-induced coma in the back seat.
Napier is located on the Pacific (which here in New Zealand is the east coast), almost halfway up the North Island. All guidebooks and tourist literature about this city always begin with mention of its 1931 earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale), the most powerful quake in the country’s history. The coastline was pushed upwards several feet and nearly every brick building collapsed. Most of the wooden structures that survived the quake were consumed by raging fires.
But the city was determined not to be defined by this catastrophe – within just a few short years, Napier was re-built with an eye toward the Art Deco style, especially within its business district. Driving around, we are reminded of Palm Springs, CA, Geneva, Switzerland, and villages that dot the Mediterranean Sea: lots of palm trees, cute bungalow homes, lush mountainsides, and a sunny climate.
We check into Mon Logis, a lovely four-room, Victorian-style bed and breakfast on Marine Parade, with views out over the sea and Cape Kidnappers. The inn, run by a transplanted Frenchman named Gerard, is quiet and clean, with bright rooms and luxurious bed linens. After grabbing a fistful of brochures and local maps, we head out to explore the community.
Parched from our long drive, we seek out an afternoon cocktail, and end up at the Med Wine Bar & Bistro, a quaint bistro with outside seating. We are interested in trying some of the local wines, so our waiter Ivan brings out eight glasses, each with a generous sampling of whites and reds that are made here in the Hawke’s Bay region. I prefer one of the Chardonnays; Peter and Mark both like the Syrah and the Montepulciano from the Trinity Hill vineyards.
We wander back into town center and end up at Kilim, a local Turkish restaurant for dinner. As we finish our meals, it starts to drizzle. It’s several blocks back to our hotel, and we’re all ready to call it a night, so we decide to walk back in the rain. Peter and I doff our leather sandals and walk back Maori-style (barefoot).