Culture Club

Hawke’s Bay has long attracted visitors for its climate, beaches and world-class food and wine. These days it’s a destination where art, culture and architecture combine. Jacqui Gibson gets the inside story.

“A $50 million regional art collection, the national anthem of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi and a cluster of heritage buildings that took eight years to restore,” says Hastings District Mayor To’osavili Nigel Bickle, my private guide for the morning. He’s very proud of these treasures, and with good reason; he’s listing why Hastings is quickly becoming top of mind as a destination for people (like me) who travel for art, culture and architecture.

We’re standing on Hastings Street South outside the newly refurbished, award-winning Municipal Building, which opened in August 2022 following a multimillion dollar upgrade. Together with the town’s Opera House, originally built in 1915, it makes up a striking heritage complex known as Toitoi, Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre.

On the top floor are conference rooms such as the elegantly restored Edwardian Neo-baroque ballroom, while downstairs, a number of businesses have moved in. There’s Ākina Gallery, Craft & Social, a popular eatery and bar, Cellar 495, a boutique wine bar, Long Island Delicatessen and Hasting’s new iSite and Visitor Information Centre, where I will pick up my tickets for singer and performer Reb Fountain’s show at the Opera House later that night.

Nga Pou o Heretaunga, Hastings

At the building’s centre, on the ground floor, is a community room dedicated to one of the district’s most beloved arts icons, Tama Tūranga Huata. Of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, Tama founded Māori Music Month, the Waiata Māori Music Awards, Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival and the global Kahurangi Māori Dance Theatre company. His father, Wi, from nearby Bridge Pā, wrote one the country’s most popular waiata, Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi, an anthem celebrating diversity as a unifying strength.

The love song Pōkarekare Ana was also penned by local rangatira and musical composer Paraire Tomoana, says Nigel. “The council’s goal is to showcase our arts, culture and architecture so we can better tell the story of who we are,” he explains as we walk past the Municipal Building’s gleaming white exterior.

Every October the two-week Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival introduces visitors to the talent within the region, nationally and from overseas. This year, 20 large-scale, locally-made apple sculptures were displayed on Hawke’s Bay streets for two months before they were auctioned off at the festival.

Napier’s Art Deco Festival is a highlight

In a nod to the region’s booming horticulture sector, the apples represented different perspectives on the industry and formed a walking, cycling or driving trail throughout Hastings, Havelock North and Flaxmere. Coming up, Napier’s ever popular Art Deco Festival will draw more than 40,000 visitors to the region, with a special concert by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band held at the Opera House in Hastings.

By 2025, says Nigel, a regional art collection worth $50 million will become another tourism drawcard for Hawke’s Bay. Currently in storage, it will soon be relocated to a new, purpose-built building on Queen Street in Hastings with an ever-changing pick of artworks from the collection on display at the Hastings City Art Gallery. Hastings will be the only place to see the Heretaunga Māori arts collection, says Nigel, as we walk past a large-scale print of local icon, Nola Luxford, on a wall in Albert Square.

The actor, broadcaster and entertainer is one of a dozen portraits dotted throughout the CBD, profiling locals such as noted Māori architect John Scott and actor Bruno Lawrence. There’s a lot more in the pipeline, Nigel explains, as we enter Brave Brewing, a craft brewery and eatery set in the recently upgraded Tribune Precinct. Taking a seat, Nigel outlines plans to launch more arts events, extend Hastings’ network of outdoor laneways connecting the town’s heritage precincts and continued support for developers to upgrade the town’s many art deco, colonial, Spanish mission and modernist buildings. Working with the Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust, representing mana whenua, to repatriate and restore a carved meeting house dating back to the 1870s is another exciting project underway, he says. “It’s taken Hastings 20 years to recover from the massive economic shock caused by the demise of our two big freezing works. But it really is a remarkable time. There’s a lot of private investment here and confidence is high,” Nigel says, ordering the light Tigermilk IPA and highly recommending one of Brave’s signature hot dogs.

Hawke's Bay delights

“It’s a wonderful time to travel to Hawke’s Bay if you’re into the arts and culture or if you like heritage buildings. Napier’s a really cool little city. The Napier Art Deco Festival is always fantastic. Havelock North has plenty of rural heritage, including Te Mata House, an original colonial settler building, with stunning food and wine right on its doorstep. There’s the coastal village of Waimārama for their incredible Māori cultural tours. And, of course, there’s Hastings.”

The rugged beauty of Cape Kidnappers

Nigel is confident Hawke’s Bay will continue to draw people to the region for its arts, culture and built heritage as the range of things to do increases. In October, a new driving tour called Ngā Ara Tipuna, won the title of 2022 Hawke’s Bay Heritage Awards Supreme Winner.

The self-guided tour features places of cultural and natural significance, including pā sites and the Pukeora limestone cliffs, in Waipukurau and Takapau in central Hawke’s Bay. “Pakipaki Village, seven minutes’ south of here, has three historic churches and marae that tell the story of Catholic sister Suzanne Aubert’s time in the Hawke’s Bay,” says Nigel. “That’ll be fascinating for people into faith-based tourism and visitors who’re interested in Hawke’s Bay’s rich Māori culture. All these things we’re proud of. As a region, we want to share it all.”



Where to Eat & Drink

For breakfast, head to Ya Bon French Baker on Heretaunga Street East in Hastings for a locally roasted coffee and a sugar encrusted donut. Later, grab a hot dog and a housemade beer at Brave Taproom and Eatery, Hasting’s newest craft brewery set in a former newsprint factory on Queen Street East. Drop in to the luxe tasting room of Hastings Distillers for an afternoon of award-winning biodynamic gins and organic nibbles in a converted 1930s print shop. Spend a few hours at Te Awanga Estate’s cellar door. Grab a picnic blanket and go on a Sunday in summer for live music and a glass of Wildsong rosé on the lawn.

If you’re a gin fan (and have a designated driver) make your way to Napier’s iconic National Tobacco Company Building on Ossian Street, where spirit maker Blair Nicholl, of the National Distillery Company, and his team will take you on a tour of the former tobacco factory, serving gin cocktails to finish. For dinner, grab a table at Craft & Social in Hasting’s Municipal Building where sharing dishes and pizzas are popular, or head to Mary’s Wine Bar in Havelock North for a simple burger or fancy beef tartare. Keen to really splash out? Book a table at Craggy Range Winery Restaurant, recipient of two hats at the 2022 Cuisine Good Food Awards and winner of Winery Restaurant of the Year. Expect a seasonal menu, world-class wine and views of the jagged peaks of Craggy Range. Not done yet? Go to Teresa Cocktail Bar on Napier’s Emerson Street. But, keep in mind, it seats no more than a few dozen people and is not an easy find. (Clue: look for an Italian deli, then slip through the secret backdoor to enter the speakeasy bar). The handmade cocktails designed by award-winning mixologists Sarah Mitchell and Andrea Marseglia are worth the effort.

A Wanderer's Wonderland
The sophisticated Hastings Distillers

Where to Stay

  • Pakowhai Country Park, Richmond Road Clive, Clifton Road Reserve Te Awanga and Hastings CBD. All have designated reserves for self-contained motorhomes.
  • Hastings Top 10 Holiday Park. Handy to town, with a heated pool, landscaped grounds.
  • Kennedy Park Resort in Napier. Park-like grounds and a short drive to the Art Deco centre of Napier.
  • Waipatiki Beach Holiday Park, 30 mins north of Napier. Views of Waipatiki Beach. Handy to boat facilities and popular walks.
  • Waiwhenua Farmstay and Riverside Park. An hour’s drive from Napier and Hastings on the banks of the Tutaekuri River. Family friendly, close to nature walks, farm tours and trout fishing.

Jacqui travelled to Hastings and Napier courtesy of Hawke’s Bay Tourism

A negroni, Teresa Cocktail Bar


The views at Te Mata Peak


Making friends at Te Mata House
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