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New Zealand’s North Island: Hawke's Bay and Wellington

New Zealand’s North Island: Hawke's Bay and Wellington

Renowned for their vistas and world-class LGBT-friendliness, Auckland, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, and Waiheke Island charm visitors.

Hawke’s Bay

Clockwise from top left: Tākaro Trails, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Lodges, Gannet Safaris, Guided Art Deco Walk and Vintage Car Tour. Courtesy of Locations

The east coast of New Zealand’s North Island is home to a beautiful and robust food and wine region, Hawke’s Bay. The region is especially known for award-winning chardonnay (though sauvignon blanc, bordeaux varietals, and syrah thrive here as well), wide-open vistas, and a relaxing pace. The town of Napier is a destination known worldwide for its profusion of Art Deco architecture, art, and a festival dedicated to the style and design movement.

Tākaro Trails
The scenery — from vineyards to beaches — is wonderful, the biking gets the blood moving, and Jenny can tell you where to find an excellent local beer, coffee, ice cream, or a bottle of wine to take home. The Hawke’s Bay Trails include hundreds of kilometers of great bike-only paths, all year round.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Lodges
Countryside accommodations that showcase the natural environment are a grand tradition in New Zealand. And this stunner is the ultimate luxury lodge. Poised atop 6,000 acres of rolling pastureland, including a working sheep and cattle farm and a renowned golf course, The Farm is all refined rusticity and modern, lavish comfort. Suites and the Owner’s Cottage can accommodate up to eight guests. Dinner (jackets required) features lamb, beef, local produce, and seafood. Hikes and tours of the remarkable estate — land’s end is dramatic cliffs over remote Pacific beaches — are available to guests. This is a grand escape worth saving up for.

Gannet Safaris
On The Farm is the largest, most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world. Birders from all parts flock to watch the 20,000-plus gannets (members of the Booby family) that nest on the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers.

Guided Art Deco Walk and Vintage Car Tour
The Art Deco Trust was formed to preserve and showcase the unique architecture that arose after Napier’s devastating earthquake in 1931. A local guide in 1930s attire will meet you for a walk through the city’s landmark buildings. The vintage car tour takes place in a gorgeously restored 1930s car and goes to landmarks like the National Tobacco Company building, among the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.

The Food and Wine Classic highlights the region’s finest food and wines. An event in November 2014 (springtime) featured Nadia Lim, winner of 2011’s MasterChef New Zealand, serving her signature “Aromatics” dishes while Black Barn winemaker Dave McKee poured a tasting flight, accompanied by striking sunset vistas.

John’s House
The pastoral setting of this private and secluded holiday home for rent (next to an actual alpaca pasture) is a 20-minute drive from Hawke’s Bay’s vineyard, and a 10-minute walk along the Karamu stream to the shops of Havelock North.

Mister D’s
This diner-style restaurant, in the heart of the Art Deco district in Napier, has a big wine list and serves up neatly prepared dishes of fresh ingredients in a bustling environment. They make their own bread, 
pasta, and pastries daily — and guests can inject filling (quince, chocolate, or custard) into their famous donuts.

Elephant Hill Winery
A modernist architectural stunner. Classic techniques, local ingredients, and attentive service are paired with outdoor dining table views of a reflecting pool, grapevines, and a hint of the sea beyond.

MTG Hawke’s Bay 
The museum is home to an earthquake exhibit and a nationally significant collection of fine art and historical artifacts, including the Taonga Māori collection and costumes and textiles from the 18th to 20th centuries.


Courtesy of Wellington Resource Hub (beach); Courtesy of Museum of New Zealand te Papa Tongarewa; Jess Silk (Cuba Street); Gourtesy of Garage Project; Courtesy of Museum Art Hotel

Wellington is significantly smaller than Auckland, with more winding roads than wide boulevards. Nestled between a stunning harbor and forested hills, Wellington is picturesque, cosmopolitan, and walkable — be prepared for some hills, though. But wildlife, mountain biking, and hiking are just a short drive from the city’s innumerable restaurants.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Home to exhibits that range from the island nation’s formation in the geological wayback to its first inhabitants from east Polynesia: Māori cultural treasures, the remarkable changes brought by the 20th century, diversity and civil rights advances (including LGBT rights), and many rotating exhibits.

Museum Art Hotel
Located in the heart of Wellington city opposite the beautiful harbor and Te Papa, the 165-room hotel is overflowing with massive paintings and sculptures — and not anodyne, hotel-y pieces for the faint of heart. The rooms are well-appointed, but be sure to ask the staff about how 
the entire building was moved 120 meters from its original spot.

Charley Noble
The seats at the seafood bar are recommended, so one may watch the cooks working at the wood-fire grill. The atmosphere is lively, the raw seafood selection (oysters, clams, ceviches, crudo) is copious, and the cuts of aged meat are all pasture-fed.

Garage Project
Their auspicious launch in 2011 — releasing a different beer each week for 24 weeks — showcased their bold creativity, as do non-traditional ingredients like chili, mango, golden syrup, and kumara (sweet potato). These brewers opened Cellar Door in a former auto mechanic’s garage, and there they brew, pour tastings, and sell their rotating selection of distinctively named beers for takeaway.

Cuba Street
Kitsch and vintage boutiques sit side by side with emerging artists and designers, cafés, and buskers. Wakefield Hotel ( stocks high-quality menswear from New Zealand and international labels. Mandatory ( custom-makes suits and sells a selection of work and casual wear. Ziggurat ( sells classic clothing and accessories from 1900s to contemporary designer labels. Good as Gold ( sells youthful street style in a treehouse.

Bike Wellington
The trails that rise above the harbors on the wooded hills of Wellington offer some of the best mountain biking in the world. Amazing scenery and friendly guides make for a biking adventure. Bike Wellington’s tours are full or half day and include a full-suspension bike, a helmet, snacks, and transportation.

Gay Nightlife
The bartenders at S&M’s (for Scotty and Mal’s, pour cocktails on the street-level lounge, while a DJ keeps the small downstairs dance floor thrumming. Club Ivy ( calls itself “camper than a pair of tits” and is a little slice of hedonism in the excavated basement of the old James Smith Department Store.

Zest Food Tours
Getting a handle on Wellington’s food offerings requires a pro’s touch. The Capital Tastes walking tour was a great introduction to hidden alleys of craft soda pop makers, craft chocolatiers, craft coffee, burgeoning farmers’ markets, an array of dining options, and samples of fruit, chocolate, cheese, and wine; it’s a must for foodies.

Air New Zealand
One of the world’s stellar airlines, Air New Zealand offers premium economy seats with nifty features. The Spaceseat design is hard-shelled, so others’ reclining seats never tilt into your space. Seats along the center of the plane are good for couples, with a shared bit of room between the seats, while those along the cabin edge are staggered for greater privacy. The 17,000 hours of movie and TV content, full meal (with New Zealand wines) and snacks available for order made a quick and easy trip of a long-haul flight.

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Matthew Breen