Napier is based in Hawkes Bay and is famous for 2 things; 1930s art deco and wine. The former is due to an earthquake in 1931 which levelled the city, it was rebuilt almost entirely in art deco style. This has become a main feature of the town and a highlight which attracts many visitors to it.
When I arrived in Napier the sun was shining and it gave a special feel to the town. It was very relaxed and the art deco gave it a peaceful feel. You could wander around and just enjoy the architecture and the town itself. Napier is also beside the coast, so with a purpose built walkaway you could entrance yourself with the beautiful sea on one side and the interesting architecture on the other. I must admit that art deco is not my style but it was still lovely to look at, see it in excellent condition and appreciate it for what it represents.
My first activity was to do something a bit random and swim with sharks! I had wanted to swim with dolphins but the cost was a bit astronomical, so instead a cheaper option was to do this in Napier in the aquarium there. The main aquarium has an under water tunnel which you can walk through and see the fish. There were some pretty big ones in there, including sting rays and three or four sharks. I started to realise what I was actually about to do.
I was greeted by an employee who was your typical sci fi fan. Slightly large, with long hair and sci fi tatoos. He spent most of the time talking about the Lord of the Rings and how he was going to the centre where all the props were made and how he might be an extra on it. Fascinating! I was given a wet suit, googles and fins and before I had time to think we set out to enter the aquarium. I thought that someone would be swimming with me, but in fact I was to do it alone. We went behind the back and up some steps where a small pool led into the top of the aquarium. Reality kind of hit home, especially when I realised how cold the water was. Another misconception - I had thought the water would be a nice temperature when in fact it was only 14 degrees c.
So off into the pool I went. The first to greet me were some massive fish about a metre and half long. They swam in a group and seemed to follow me - until the shark came. An 8 gill shark, about two metres long swam straight under me and away. I turned to follow it and as I did a massive sting ray glided past. It soon became clear that the fish swam in a certain circuit so I tried following it. Until the biggest of the sharks, at three metres, veered from the route and aimed straight at me. She passed within a fingertip. I then realised that i could not see where the other sharks were nor the stingrays and they were more than likely behind me. Freaking a little, I turned quickly and got water in my snorkel. This happened several times.
After a while the cold got to me as well as not knowing where all the fish were. Logically, I knew they would not hurt me, or the aquarium would not have let me in, but, illogically I wanted to see the sharks and stingrays all the time, especially when they swam so close. So after about 15 minutes I headed out. I had seen all the fish and did not want to tempt fate. My sci fi fan instructor was a bit surprised but was soon launching back into which stars he'd met! It took a while to warm up again but it was an amazing experience, though not one I am likely to repeat again!
The south island is renowned for its white wine, in particular Sav Blanc, where as Napier and Hawkes Bay are more for the Pinot Noir. I decided it would be rude not to try the north island wine and it was a way of recovering from the shark experience. Unfortunately I was the only person booked on the tour, so whilst I had a private guide there was no to share the experience with me.
Our first stop was at a cheese factory. I do not like cheese unless it is melted, so I was not impressed. The cheese is made by disabled people in the area and is apparently quite renowned. I felt obliged to try and for once it did not make me gag, like raw cheese normally does. Maybe another taste bud change? I looked at buying some but the price was a little bit too high! Our first winery was Matariki, where we were greeted enthusiastically by a man ironically from Newbury. After we established that I had also worked there he proceeded to allow me to taste what I wanted! Awesome :-) It was a bit odd being by myself and I felt very self conscious when I was doing the tastings as both my tour guide and the winery guide watched me! Delicious wine though, my favourite being the most expensive but outstanding red made of a mixture of 5 grapes. Called Quintology - if you see it buy it.
The second winery was Crossroads, which did a lovely Sav Blanc Rose. Yum. The other wines were nice but this stood out. At both of the wineries, it was a mixture of red and white so I could not see how different the types of red were. I did realise though that Pinot Noir was my least favourite red. I also learnt that 2007 was an excellent year for New Zealand reds due to the weather - so if you want New Zealand wine, buy from that year. As there was only me on the tour we were running ahead of time so my guide stopped at the chocolate factory. Hurrah! Here pure Belguim chocolate is imported and made. Delicious and a very happy stop. We also detoured through fruit fields and my guide showed me where kiwi fruits were grown and harvested.
Finally our last winery was Moana Park. Again nice wine but not as outstanding as the wine I had tried in the south island. The tour ended with a cheese board for me to enjoy with some port from the winery. My taste buds have definitely changed as I actually enjoyed the cheese as long as it was with some chutney.
The wine tour was interesting but the differences between the wineries were less defined than in the south island. Also as none of the wineries we went to exported to the UK it seemed a bit pointless. However, I think I like the wine tasting experience and will certainly look to do more!!