Hawke's Bay festivals, history, art and culture

Napier and Hastings have many stories to tell, from the arrival of the Tākitimu migration canoe to dancing the Charleston in the Art Deco era.

Since humans first arrived in the Hawke's Bay, exciting things have been happening. This region has experienced big changes over the years, as people settled in, built towns, started industries, found creative expression and fearlessly coped with the unexpected, like the 1931 Napier earthquake. Today this journey is reflected in the art, architecture, historical homesteads and Māori manaaki (hospitality) experiences that you can enjoy throughout the region.

Napier has a city centre that's unique in the world for its concentration of Art Deco buildings and the inclusion of Māori motifs in many of the 1930s graphic features.

All things Art Deco

In 1931, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake nearly wiped Napier and Hastings off the map, but the subsequent rebuilding programme gave the cities a special point of difference - Art Deco architecture. Today, Napier has a city centre that's unique in the world for its concentration of Art Deco buildings and the inclusion of Māori motifs in many of the 1930s graphic features. Hastings also has numerous stand-out buildings, including the magnificent Hawke's Bay Opera House. Here are some of the ways to embrace Art Deco while you're visiting Hawke's Bay:

  • Take a vintage car tour of Napier city, organised by the Art Deco Trust. Nothing beats the feeling of solid 1930s engineering as you cruise sedately around the CBD and Ahuriri appreciating Art Deco architecture and listening to fascinating historic stories told by an expert from the Art Deco Trust
  • Take a guided or self-guided Art Deco walking tour around the CBD of Napier or Hastings. As well as Art Deco, you'll see marvellous examples of Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical architecture
  • Stay at the elegant Art Deco Masonic Hotel on Napier's waterfront. Recently refurbished to a very high standard, this Hawke's Bay accommodation option oozes history and style. If you're a real Art Deco aficionado, you can dress the part and fit in beautifully with the colours, artworks and furniture that make this hotel so special
  • Shop for Art Deco clothing and jewellery at vintage shops in the Tennyson Street area. You'll find authentic dresses, hats, sunglasses and other titivations that will help you to acquire the swagger and style of the Great Gatsby and Daisy
  • Book yourself in for the Napier Art Deco Festival, which happens every February. Swathed in glitz and glamour, it's a five-day event full of dancing, dining, concerts, picnics, vintage car parades and fashion shows. Art Deco enthusiasts from all over the world flock to this festival

MTG Hawke's Bay and other artistic endeavours

To quickly gain an understanding of every aspect of Hawke's Bay culture, get yourself to MTG - Napier's museum, theatre and art gallery complex at the ocean end of Tennyson Street. While some display areas change their content regularly, there are permanent exhibitions about the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake and Māori history. From an art perspective, MTG covers fine arts, sculpture, textiles and photography. Entry to MTG is free.

For a fresh air stroll with a difference, pick up the 'Artists for Oceans' street art map from the visitor centre and see the sea wall art around Napier. These size-large murals bring colour, conservation ideas and sustainability philosophies to everyday life in the city.

In Hastings you'll find an art experience that begins even before you walk into the city's public art gallery. Nga Pou o Heretaunga is an outdoor installation of 18 distinct pouwhenua - carved wooden posts that were traditionally used by Māori to mark territory or places of significance. Some of these pou include classic motifs and characters; others put a contemporary spin on an ancient art form. The visual excitement continues inside the gallery, where exhibitions embrace a wide range of artists from the past and present.

If you love art events, here are a couple of Hawke's Bay high times that will grab you:

  • Hawke's Bay Art Festival. Held in October every year across venues in Napier, Hastings and Havelock North, this festival includes every imaginable type of creative performance - from theatrical productions and musical shows to poetry readings and outdoor concerts
  • The Edible Fashion Awards. Wearable art that's so good, you could eat it! This Havelock North event is held at Peak Vision Church on a Saturday in August. It's fun and flavourful

Waimarama Māori tours

Māori people settled in Hawke's Bay around 1250AD, establishing settlements from Mahia in the north to Porangahau in the south. There are many important sites within the region, but one that really stands out for its accessibility is a verdant valley just inland from Waimarama Beach.

Owned by the same family group since pre-European times, this valley is the home of Waimarama Māori Tours, an enterprise that practices the art of manaaki to extend hospitality to visitors from New Zealand and all over the world. The rich experiences you can have here are authentic and uncontrived. They also adhere carefully to the philosophy of kaitiakitanga, a word that embraces guardianship and protection of the natural world.

Guided by kaumātua Robert MacDonald, the Waimarama team deliver an immersive form of Māori tourism, which can include storytelling, learning about the celestial compass, planting native trees, tasting traditional foods, feeding eels, watching warrior drills and poi dances, visiting Te Mata Peak and learning about sacred sites.

Countryside charm

Once upon a time, in the mid-to-late 1800s, settlers from the United Kingdom built magnificent country houses in the Hawke's Bay hinterland, complete with ballrooms, servants' quarters and sweeping lawns. Most of these gracious homes still exist and many of them welcome visitors seeking accommodation, high tea, venues for special occasions and garden tours. If you want to see how the other half lived in the days of crinolines and waxed moustaches, check out these historic estates:

  • Oruawharo Homestead and Gardens. Around 140 years old, this gracious home is framed by 17 acres of gardens and farmland. Hosts Peter and Dianne Harris welcome visitors for high tea, weddings and special occasions
  • Wallingford Homestead. Here you can enjoy an incredible fine dining experience orchestrated by a celebrated chef. There's accommodation available as well
  • Chapelwick Coastal Estate. This luxury bed and breakfast establishment comes with all the joys of country living, including tennis, petanque, croquet, riding and farm animal encounters
  • Gwavas Garden and Homestead. Listed with Heritage New Zealand, this mansion offers bed and breakfast accommodation in a glorious setting

Another kind of country experience can be found at Taniwha Daffodils near Waipukurau. For the entire month of September, the 20 acres of parkland here bursts into every shade of yellow. There's no charge to look, wander or spread a picnic rug. If you want to pick some blooms, they're ridiculously cheap and the money goes to charity.