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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

If it's Tuesday, this must be Napier

Circumstances led us to staying in five different places in five straight nights.  Our original plan was to leave Auckland and hit the Bay of Plenty area along the eastern seaboard of New Zealand for three nights.  The drive in the scenic Coramandel Peninsula area changed that, as we could resist the charm of the town of Coramandel.  Then, hitting Rotorua on a weekend in the midst of the locals summer vacation season meant one night stays in two separate hotels.  Packing as lightly as we have for our year-long journey, we’ve gotten pretty efficient at getting our luggage together quickly on each transition morning.

Sunday night was the first of four nights we had booked at a cottage in Napier, a town in the heart of the Hawke’s Bay region.  An earthquake devastated Napier in 1931 and the downtown area was rebuilt in the Art Deco style.  The city celebrates its architectural heritage, hosting an Art Deco weekend each summer, this years’ is coming up in about one month. 

The sun came out on Monday and the city responded by coming to life.  The streets filled with people on their holiday:  families like us with children, empty-nesters enjoying time together and the ever-present backpackers.  Napier caters to the backpacking crowd more than any city we’ve seen.  There are several “backpacker” hotels, and a youth hostel, all offering inexpensive accommodations, some sporting signs for rooms costing as little as $19 a night.  That’s a per-person rate, and somewhere along the way we’ll probably be staying at such a place, especially if it’s for just one night.  With four nights scheduled in Napier, we found a cozy three-bedroom cottage in a hillside neighborhood.  The owner seemed to like our story that I shared with her in an email and I managed to get her to give us the fourth night free, which helped convince us to book the cottage.  Marley and Ben are loving having their own rooms, even if our goofball son has decided to make his sleeping area the floor between the two single beds in his room. Marley did some decorating to give her room a homey feel.

Napier is a coastal town, the beach is dark grey volcanic sand with some pretty good waves that the kids have enjoyed dodging.  It’s been fun to see the two of them bonding, making up their own games and sayings.  Marley likes to make mini-movies on the laptop with Ben as the “talent”.   We’ve also become avid mini-golfers, as Napier boasts a seaside 36-hole layout.  It’s not the acclaimed Cape Kidnappers golf course on the dramatic New Zealand coastline just south of here, but it also doesn’t cost more than $400 dollars to play, which is what Cape Kidnappers will set you back. 

Monday night, while Marley was playing Steven Speilberg, Annie and I drove to the nearby port area of Ahuriri, which has several restaurants surrounding a marina.  It gave us the chance to have a kid-free evening and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

Tuesday brought more sunshine, and we enjoyed another round of mini-golf (yours truly successfully defending his title from the day before) and strolled around the sunlit streets.  Finding wi-fi has been a daily challenge as our cozy cottage has no internet connectivity.  The public library offers wi-fi for $2 for 30 minutes, so Annie got the kids set up on some home school activities there, while I tried to find the free internet offered by Napier in a four-block area of its Central Business District.  Turns out it’s only good for 15 minutes and it’s pretty slow, but we did find an internet option at the Masonic Hotel and the Med Restaurant.  After getting some online business done and the all important Facebook updates posted, we checked out the National Aquarium of New Zealand, a short drive down the Marine Parade, which is the name of the road that heads south along the coast.  The Aquarium featured an impressive array, including an Oceanarium with a glass tunnel which enabled you to walk underneath swimming sharks and rays.  We considered it a field trip for the kids, and they were thrilled to see another Kiwi bird, which the Aquarium featured in it’s Kiwi enclosure.  Hopefully the weather continues to co-operate and we see more sun than clouds in the days to come.

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