Napier is the self-proclaimed art deco Capital of the world. An offbeat New Zealand town with plenty to offer, it’s the friendly and welcoming vibe that keeps us coming back for visits. From Māori and European history to wine tasting or adventure, there are plenty of novel things to do in Napier.
To understand Napier, you need a brief history. In 1931 Napier was devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that levelled the main commercial district but didn’t break the town’s spirit. As a result of such an extensive rebuild reflecting the style of the time, the town’s look is art deco.
Below is our recommendation of things to do in Napier New Zealand. It includes popular activities, but above all, it features several off-the-beaten-path Napier attractions.
First, be inspired by New Zealand …
Things to do in Napier – starting with Art Deco
While there are tons of things to do in Napier, it seems only fitting to start this section with art deco.
Art deco tours
After the earthquake, the city was basically starting with a nearly blank canvas. As a result, Napier’s architectural rebuild reflects the trendy art deco and Spanish-mission styles of the time.
The best way to discover the detail is with a walking tour guided by Napier’s Art Deco Trust. We loved our tour so much that we wrote a separate art deco tour review.
Above all, the fascinating stories, history, and detail of the architecture came to life through our passionate volunteer guide. Book your art deco walking tour here.
Art deco weekend (a major Napier event in February)
If you’re in New Zealand in February, grab some 1930s-period apparel and head to Napier for the art deco weekend. It’s a citywide-themed party that attracts over 40k people over four days. The weekend highlights include vintage car parades, fashion shows, outdoor concerts, and Great Gatsby themed picnics and dances.
Active things to do in Napier
Walk or cycle along Marine Parade
A walk along Marine Parade is a must-do for any visitor to Napier. Paralleling the coast, the seemingly endless Napier beach and cliff tops are interweaved with Norfolk pines, gardens, monuments, sculptures, fountains, and flowers.
Be sure to look straight through the Marin Parade Arch, as it was purpose-built so the plaque of the HMS Veronica is visible. The significance is due to the crew of the HMS Veronica providing the first outside source of help following the earthquake. For special Napier events, the ship’s bell hangs below the sign, otherwise, the bell is on display at MTG.
Surf, swim, and watch the waves at a Napier beach
Napier is one of the sunniest regions in New Zealand, boasting approximately 2350 hours of sunshine per year. This great weather is evident in the popularity of its beaches.
Head to Sandy Bay if you are looking for a great swimming beach. It’s located north of the Marine Parade, just past the port.
Hike (or drive) to Bluff Hill
From the Bluff Hill domain lookout, we enjoyed panoramic views of the sea that extended from Cape Kidnappers in the south to the Mahia Peninsula to the northeast. Cape Kidnappers was given its name when local Māori attempted to abduct a member of Captain Cook’s crew in 1769. Mahia Peninsula is now home to Rocket Lab’s orbital launch site. Bluff Hill held a military battery during World War II.
Historic things to do in Napier: museums and other Napier tourist attractions
National Aquarium of New Zealand
The National Aquarium holds New Zealand’s most diverse range of aquatic animals and wildlife, both domestic and international.
While I am fascinated by the sharks, stingrays, piranhas, and kiwi birds, it is the little blue penguins that won my heart. A highlight for many is watching them at feeding times (daily, at 9.30 am, 1.30 pm and 3.30 pm).
If you visit in the morning, you can watch the daily reef feeding at 10 am. However, an afternoon visit can include the 2 pm shark feeding in the 1.5 million litre Oceanarium.
Another fun option is the Little Penguin Close Encounter. This experience will take a maximum of four people behind the scenes for a tour of the penguin facility and a chance to hand-feed these adorable birds. Great for families, with a minimum age of 6 for participation.
MTG Hawke’s Bay
1 Tennyson Street
MTG Hawke’s Bay is a regional museum filled with art, Māori jewellery and artefacts, and local history, including extensive detail on the devastating 1931 earthquake. Entrance is always free, so even a short visit will be interesting. The name: MTG stands for Museum, Theatre, Gallery.
55 Coote Road, Bluff Hill
It is the stories that make Napier Prison such a fascinating place to visit.
Active from 1862 to 1993, it is New Zealand’s oldest prison. It is brought to life with the audio guide, or if you are brave enough, you can enjoy an evening ghost walk (limited weekends).
A self-guided audio tour of Napier Prison took us through cells, the quarry, the hanging yard, and even the small cemetery. Here, the only four prisoners ever hung at the prison are buried upright to prevent them from achieving eternal rest.
In one of the rooms, there is a case with a few random objects, including a key retrieved from a prisoner. Apparently, in the 1980s, a prisoner had copied a key and rather than escaping, he used it on a regular basis to go to town for KFC (yes, that is Kentucky Fried Chicken). Reserve your self-guided audio tour of Napier Prison here
St. John’s Anglican Cathedral
28 Browning Street
Waiapu Anglican Cathedral is the first cathedral in the world to greet each new day. Also called St John’s Anglican Cathedral, it was originally built in 1886 but, like much of the city, was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.
The 19-year rebuild began in 1946. By 1965, an architecturally modernist-style cathedral had been completed. It is best known for its abstract style stained-glass ambulatory windows depicting scenes from the life of Christ. It is closed on Saturdays, and as a result, we missed our chance to get inside.
Napier sculptures and fountains
Pania of the Reef
According to the sign, “An old Māori legend tells how Pania, lured by the siren voices of the sea people swam out to meet them. When she endeavoured to return to her lover, she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier breakwater.”
Dancing fountains – one of my favourite things to do in Napier at night
Ever-changing colourful lights create a dancing effect from this inground fountain. The late autumn wind gave me a chill as I watched, but it also created a misty fan-like effect at the top of each spout. To my surprise, a group of teenagers couldn’t resist running through the spouts, trying to time the water so as not to get wet. They failed.
Nearby to Napier: the surrounding Hawke’s Bay region
No visit to Napier would be complete without venturing beyond the city borders. There are fascinating cultural sites, stunning views, an impressive wine region, and more. So much, in fact, that we wrote about Hawkes Bay in detail. Highlights of the region:
- Ātea a Rangi Star Compass
- Otatara Pa (archaeological site)
- Vineyards and wine tastings
- Te Mata Peak (for views)
- Longest place name (a photo opportunity)
- Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers
- Morere Hot Springs
Where is Napier New Zealand?
Napier is an east coast city on the North Island of New Zealand with a population of 57,000. It is accessible via plane, bus, or driving. We visited as part of a North Island adventure and drove in from Wellington, and headed to Gisborne and the East Cape when we left. Key drive times are as follows:
- Auckland to Napier: 5 hours
- Wellington to Napier: 4 hours
- Hastings to Napier: 23 minutes
- Napier to Gisborne: 3 hours
Where to stay: Napier accommodations
Napier accommodation options cover the full gambit from beachfront luxury with amazing ocean views to backpackers with shared rooms. While we typically stay at 4-star or higher options, we planned late, travelled during school holidays, and they were all sold out.
We opted to stay in a family-friendly accommodation across the main road from the beach. While it was okay, we don’t specifically recommend it.
For our next visit, we hope to stay at the Scenic Hotel Te Pania. The sweeping ocean views are what pulls me to this 4-star option on Marine Parade. It offers a one-minute walk to the beach and both indoor and outdoor dining options. Check availability and reserve your Scenic Hotel Te Pania
Arriving via the Napier cruise port
Whether you want art deco, wine tasting, or something else, if you are arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you will not have enough time to see it all. Check out what the ship offers, then take a look at these independent options, all from Viator.
We find they generally have much smaller groups, more personal attention, and lower cost than the ship’s excursions. And Viator offers of a worry-free shore excursion guarantee on most of their options (read the details of the tour you choose).
Check out these Napier shore excursions
|Art Deco Tour with Wine or Beer Tasting||Napier’s art deco architecture|
Two local wineries for tastings
Drinks at a local ale house
|Highlights Tour||Napier’s art deco highlights |
National Tobacco Company Building
Mission Estate winery
Silky Oak Chocolate Company
Important if you are not arriving via cruise ship
If you are NOT arriving via ship and your plans are flexible, you might want to check for the Port of Napier cruise ship schedule. As you can imagine, having cruise ships in port makes many of the popular venues crowded.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
Save for later
If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media and save it for later on Pinterest.
Which of these things to do in Napier will you do first?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
All photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such or stock images from Depositphotos.
Disclaimer: We worked with Hawkes Bay Tourism, the local tourism board. Also, we were provided with many complimentary entrances, tours, sample items, or media rates to assist in the writing of this article. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
The Marine Parade looks really awesome. New Zealand is a such a beautiful country. Would certainly visit New Zealand.
Great article! New Zealand has always been there on my bucket list! Now I know where to start from.
Thanks for the guide.
We loved Napier, Rhonda. Your photos and text do it justice!
I thought I left a comment here before. Oh well I’ll do it again. All these photos are fantastic Rhonda. Have a great Sunday my friend. See ya.
By the way, did you receive the email that I sent you about the camera change that I would like to do?
My favorite would be seeing those blue penguins, for sure! Napier looks like a beautiful place, and I love that you can hike up a bluff for the view and be as active as you want here. It’s amazing that those lovely houses perched on the hill survived a major earthquake!
So complete! I would love to check out one of the world’s first sunrises! Must be awesome
You have convinced me of the uniqueness of this place. I am a big history nerd and I think that is why I enjoy architecture too. I would not mind walking around and discovering the different Art Deco buildings. The attractions in the look very interesting too. I didn’t know fortified Maori villages existed.
What a beautiful place with lots of history.
I’ve never heard of Napier and after reading your post I know I would love it! I like traveling to smaller cities and towns and this has so many things of interest to me with the Art Deco tours, wineries, historic prison, archaeological sites and beautiful scenery. So funny that a prisoner made a key and used it to get KFC! Thanks so much for sharing! Pinned!
Great post. I’d love to be there for the Art Deco Weekend in February.
I love the art deco style, obviously it is awful that so much of the town was destroyed in the earthquake but it has created a beautiful unique town! I would be all over the winery tours too – great point about not drinking and driving, having someone else take you is so much better! Te Mata Peak looks like a great hike too.
You had me at Art Deco Tours! I love that old architectural style. So much to do here. I need a month to visit New Zealand. Napier especially.
Handmade Jewelry Haven
LOLOL!! KFC???!! For real??
Once again your photo tour mesmerizes!
Thank you for sharing!
This is a jam packed itinerary to Napier! Looks like there are so many great things to do here, love the art deco tour; who knew?! And I also adore those little blue penguins, they’re precious! Thanks for the tip on the beach too; it looks so tame, but I’ll be sure not to go swimming here.
Sounds like there’s lots of things to appeal about Napier. I do like the idea of seeing the sun rise in one of the first places in the world and I love Art Deco so I’d love to look around all the buildings in the town. Plus, who hasn’t heard of the famous Hawkes Bay wine?
I hadn’t even heard of Napier and now I’m wondering how that’s possible since there’s just so much to do here! The hike (I’d probably prefer the hike) to Te Mata Peak absolutely tops the list for me though. I love getting out an hiking!
Napier sounds like a great place to visit. And based on its weather, a nice place to settle/live as well. Of all the fun things you have listed in the article, two that I would absolutely love are: hiking up the Te Mata Peak and experiencing the dancing fountains at night. I would surely enjoy these two.
Andrea B. Agillon
I love everything in this post, and am hoping to visit NZ again. But the most interesting is the longest name, i will copy it to post on my FB wall for others’ information, hehe!
I have never been to an aquarium that had shark feeding. That sounds like something I would like to see, but I would also love to see the blue penguins. I have never seen penguins that color! Great list 🙂
Life Images by Jill
We are hoping to travel to New Zealand in a couple of years, and I need to add Napier to my list. Thanks for the great information. Can people really say that long name? Happy travels and have a great week.
Nice post and photos Rhonda I like those quaint houses amazing that they survived the earthquake, I like the art deco too 🙂
Thanks for the tour 🙂
Have a tanfastic week 🙂
Sandy N Vyjay
Napier is definitely an off-beat and relatively lesser known destination of New Zealand, but it sure is a complete destination in its own right. There are so many things to experience in Napier. Love the idea of an Art-Deco walk. The hiking and biking options in the beautiful outdoors of the place is another attraction that draws us to the place. The hike to Te Mata Peak sounds really thrilling and something that we would love to do too.
Ah this brought back some fond memories! I thought Napier was an Art Deco beauty, but sadly I seem to have lost all my pics from that trip. Was so lovely to see your images, thank you! 🙂
Yes, Napier is quite a bit about the Art Deco (and I am writing more about that next week). But there is so much more to it.
I have been to NZ but never visited Napier. The photo of the dancing fountain, reminds me of Las Vegas! I love your photography too, there appears to be lots to do in Napier.
The fountains reminded me of the one outside the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was fun to watch as the colours changed.
napier is on my bucket list of places to visit, my family came from there.
You really should visit. It’s lovely, and there are so many cool and unique things to do, in addition to finding some of your family histories.
I didn’t realize that New Zealand has so big earthquakes. I thought, you’d be safer there than in California, lol! There seem to be quite a few things to do in Napier. If I were to choose, I’d probably done one of the Hawke’s Bay Shore Excursions if I go there.
We are on the same Pacific Ring of Fire that California is on, and like CA, we have areas closer and father from fault lines. There are very few earthquakes where I live.
I laughed when you said , ” The late autumn wind gave me a chill “. Here I am sitting in sweat because we are having a week near 100 degrees. I would be willing to give you some of that heat that we’re having.
I wonder how those homes didn’t fall down after that earthquake. Amazing! Have a great day Rhonda. See ya.
It took me a few years to get used to living in the Southern Hemisphere and the opposite seasons, and I will happily take some of your heat. As for the homes, yes, it is a wonder to look at and know they survived.
Napier looks like the size of place I like to visit – kind of Goldilocks like…not too big or too small. And beaches, hilly views and penguins – it will go on my list.
The penguins are at the aquarium, but you can see wild penguins in other parts of New Zealand.
This sounds like a great place to visit and probably a nice place to live as well, not too big and not too small. I would enjoy all the walks and the sweeping land and beach views. NZ is just awesome.
I agree. I think Napier would be a lovely place to live, especially as it is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.
Hi Rhonda – Napier has happy reminiscences … it was my school house name! But this is amazing … what a delightful place – and great to have seen so much about it … yes, I’d love to visit – when I’ve no idea!! Amazing place … cheers Hilary
Hmm, I wonder if the New Zealand city was named after the same English place that your school was named for. Afterall, we were a British colony.
Great article! I know of Napier for its architecture, but didn’t realise there was so much more to do there! Sounds like a beautiful place to spend a few days.
LOL – I didn’t realize there was so much there either before I began my research.
L. Diane Wolfe
The aquarium would be my first visit. Then I’d want to take pictures of the fountains. (When it comes to photos, I have a thing for water shots.)
Bring a tripod for the dancing fountains. The colours change, and the spouts rotate in height and timing. A long exposure allows for a more detailed shot.
I absolutely love all of your amazing ideas! This gorgeous country is definitely on my travel bucket list!!!
Come for a long time, there are so many amazing places to see in New Zealand.
Thank you for this lovely post Rhonda. The pictures look great and The Atea a Rangi Celestial Star Compass is something I’ve never seen before. Would love to visit the place.
Yes, that star compass is pretty cool. I have lots of photos of it and am considering making a second article about it. What do you think?
Looks like there are lots of fun things to do there. They all sound great, but I think I’d be heading straight for the winery. I love Hawke’s Bay wines, so I think a wee tour around there would be a fantastic introduction to Napier!
Yes, Hawke’s Bay Wines are world famous.
I haven’t heard of Napier, New Zealand before. It looks like a really beautiful place, I have to go their ASAP.
It’s along the east coast of the North Island.
This is a great list! I would love to read a book based on that KFC prisoner! Haha!
LOL – I don’t know if there is one, but it sure is a great tale waiting to be told by someone who knows the full story.
New Zealand is such a beautiful country. This place is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks. I came to Napier for the architecture, so I was really pleasantly surprised to see so much natural beauty as well.
Hi Rhonda, I came across this as a Napier local – it’s a fantastic post about many of the wonderful things to do in our town. There’s just one thing in it that I worry about – the beach you have shown in the photo is Marine Parade Beach, also known as the Napier foreshore. It is extremely dangerous at all times of year and people are never advised to swim there. Sandy Bay is actually just around the corner, on the other side of the port, and provides a safe swimming spot sheltered by the port operation. Please update your post! Thank you.
Thanks for catching this. It is correct above now.
I love those blue penguins Rhonda. We missed ’em in Timaru. For a few night we chilled at the beach well after sunset, when they sometimes head into shore for the evening. But during fall, heading into winter months, blue penguins aren’t as frequently spotted, as is the case during hatching season. Either way, the aquarium and Napier look like a total blast.
We saw little blues come home in Dunedin at the Royal Albatross Centre. It was pretty magical.
The photos are beautiful! I would love to go to New Zealand some day! The architecture and scenery looks incredible and the star compass looks amazing too! It definitely sounds like a place I would enjoy very much!
That star compass is relatively new, and really cool. You can feel that you are somewhere special when you stand in the centre.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Great view from the hill.
Looks like a lot to see there. I would go.
We instantly knew why that hill was so popular, although I don’t think I could be brave enough to hang glide from there.
That photo of the Marine Arch is lovely. Looks like NZ has some pretty amazing skies in the fall as well. Love those sunsets – particularly the one off the beach! So beautiful. The penguins are too cute and too sweet!!! I would love to see them!
Yes, it was actually the rainbows that I noticed most in the sky when I first moved to New Zealand.