Continuing on our exploration of New Zealand's North Island, we head up the east coast from Wellington.
After a 1931 earthquake razed the city, Napier was rebuilt and has maintained its 1930s Art Deco look. Art Deco buildings are everywhere and it's fun to walk around and pick them out. There's a guide that provides more information about each building and there are lots of boutiques and restaurants to visit while you're exploring.
Don't miss funky Opossum World … it's not Art Deco, but it's a hoot (unless you're a possum, that is).
East Cape is the easternmost point in New Zealand and the Maori influence is strong here. We drove the Pacific Coast Highway through rural, little Maori villages with traditional meeting houses, lovely churches and exquisite carvings. For other Maori experiences, partake in a hangi (feast prepared in an underground oven), watch a Maori haka (dance) or spend some time in Rototua.
St. Mary's Church in Tikitiki shows its Maori influence with carved pews and traditional woven mats, tukutuku, on the walls.
The East Cape Light sits high on Otiki Hill. There's a path that leads to the top of the hill and the lighthouse which is touted as the “first lighthouse in the world to see the sun” each day.
As New Zealand's “big smoke”, unless you come in by boat, this is probably where you'll land and begin your travels. Hotels, restaurants, car rentals, money exchange … anything you might want or need as a traveler is easily found here. It's recently been named as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit by Lonely Planet. We liked it, but in all honesty, we prefer the countryside instead of the city. That said, the Sky Tower is awesome, though we didn't do the Sky Walk nor any bungee jumping. There are museums, aquariums, shops and lots of tours including several to Great Barrier Island.
Great Barrier Island
This is one of those “you can't miss” places, but we missed exploring it due to weather … three separate times. Everyone's who has visited has raved about it.
Things to try when you're on New Zealand's North Island …
Fish'n'chips – Some say the best place for fish and chips is the Mangonui Fish Shop and Takeaway in Mangonui. We thought it was good, but not great, but then we're not big fish'n'chip fans.
Kauri souvenirs – You'll find all sorts of wooden souvenir bowls and trinkets made of this native New Zealand wood. We always try to take a little distinctive piece of each country we visit with us (when it's legal, that is).
Maori something – a tattoo, perhaps? Or maybe one of their intricate designs in fabric, jewelry or carvings. Maori designs are very symbolic, so choose carefully.
Tui Beer – Tuis are native New Zealand birds and Tui is the beer of choice in New Zealand. It's available just about everywhere. They also have entertaining TV ads and billboards.
Wool & possum fur – Possums are a nuisance in New Zealand. They eat and defoliate all the trees. Kiwis hunt them, but use their fur in a mix with wool. The result is incredibly soft and warm. Look for gloves, socks and most any knitted item in this unlikely possum/sheep combination. All things wool, including lanolin lotions, are good New Zealand takeaways.
Long blacks and flat whites – The coffee culture in New Zealand is alive and well. Long blacks are black coffee and flat whites are similar to a latte with an artistic flair. The better baristas draw an iconic New Zealand fern into the foam. The coffee tastes the same … the nomenclature's a bit different.
New Zealand Wines – If you're a wine drinker, try the wines here. We especially enjoyed the whites ... Sauvignon blanc and Pino Gris topping the list. They're wonderful. Visit a vineyard in your travels.
And if you think the North Island is great, join us over the next couple of weeks as we talk about Kiwiana, all those things that are unique and quirky about New Zealand. Then we'll visit the South Island and see our first kiwi bird, explore wild Fiordland and tussle with some territorial sea lions. It's spectacular!