CLIVE, NEW ZEALAND — On the North Island’s sun-splashed Hawkes Bay, Napier is the main attraction.
We’d made vague plans to backtrack from our cottage in Clive, to visit the National Aquarium of New Zealand or go on a historic walking tour of the famous art-deco buildings. But we hadn’t really warmed to Napier, and we weren’t feeling very ambitious.
So we lounged around our lovely little cottage until nearly noon, then drove into Hastings. It, too, was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake, so it has art-deco buildings but not a tourist industry built around them.
Strolling downtown, Beth was drawn into the Little Red Bookshop and asked the owner to recommend a book set in New Zealand. “Well, most of them are about depression or mental illness,” she said. What? In a sunny, no-worries places like New Zealand? She shrugged. How about a nice road-trip book? She couldn’t think of any but recommended books by Janet Frame, Maurice Gee and Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning “The Bone People.”
Beth picked Frame’s “An Angel at My Table,” part two of an autobiographical trilogy, and “Six Clever Girls Who Became Famous Women” by Fiona Farrell, and the owner had another book waiting at the counter: “A Wife on Gorge River, Raising New Zealand’s Remotest Family.” Perfect, how did she know we loved the outdoors?
Carrying those books around earned us a burst of friendliness from the clerk at the gift shop where we stopped to buy postcards: She loved Janet Frame, and she’d just heard an interesting update on the grown son from “Gorge River.”
The Hastings City Art Gallery was around the corner, and admission was free. The pieces were all created by New Zealand artists in the last few years, and we really liked most of the pieces, especially a gorgeous Maori bust and a charcoal piece by Anna Jepson tracing her family history, complete with land grant. Outside, carvers had created an installation of 18 elaborately carved and stylized pou, representing Maori ancestors, some warriors with clubs but many equally fierce women with children.
Wineries are the big attraction around Hastings, and our host Sandra had recommended Craggy Range, so we did our duty as tourists and visited the tasting room, where a man named Kerry launched into an explanation of New Zealand geology and the terroir needed for the finicky grapes.
Beth felt bad ordering a glass of sauvignon blanc made with Marlborough grapes instead of the more local Martinborough, because Kerry had told us – twice, with a trace of resentment – that the owners added the better-known Marlborough label only because British drinkers demanded it. Oh well, it tasted great out on the patio, in the shade of an umbrella.
Craggy Te Mata Peak rises next door, so we drove to the top for the view. On the way down, we picked up two hitchhikers who seemed to be wilting in the heat. Both were 24, and the young French woman was traveling for six months and the Argentinian man for a year, using a New Zealand work visa to pay his way. Torsten was fascinated: Why didn’t he do that when he was 24?
We had to stop at the New World grocery store in Hastings but offered to take them to Napier if they were still around when we finished. The French woman said she’d never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride, and sure enough, they were gone when we looked for them.
New World had the greatest selection of food and classiest ambiance we had seen yet — by far. The deli counters were backed by wooden shelves filled with wines by the cheeses, or oils with the meats and fish. The fish counter had a very wide selection, some of the species we had never seen before, and the wine selection had three full shelves of Beth’s favorite Sauvignon Blanc, in wooden shelves adorned with barrels.
Back at the cottage, we walked down the street to the deserted black-pebble beach, where Beth had a leisurely swim and Torsten lounged on a giant log of bleached driftwood. Then it was time for a feast from New World Market, the Lund’s of New Zealand: tiger prawns and buttery salmon sautéed with garlic and white wine, fresh corn on the cob and roasted vegetables, with a fruit tart for dessert. Perfect!