Finding a city’s secret spots can only really happen at human speed. In this series, World Running Guide, we’ll provide information to help you discover your next destination through the eyes (or rather, feet) of a runner.
If you were to descend into the Napier airport, you would see an expanse of greens with varying shadows as the hills climb and descend. There would be beautiful chaos in the mountains and then perfect order in endless rows of grape vines and apple orchards. With limitless skies above and rich soil under your feet, the possibilities for a runner seem endless in this corner of New Zealand. Welcome to Hawkes Bay.
On Your Mark
Photo by McGee Nall
When foreigners visualize New Zealand, a Hawkes Bay-like landscape may not be what first comes to mind. Instead of heaven-reaching, snow-capped mountains and lakes, you are met with endless vineyards and fields and rolling hills that seep into the horizon.
New Zealand’s climate is completely opposite from the U.S. in terms of its seasons. September through February are the spring and summer months while March through August are fall and winter, so keep that in mind while packing.
Hawkes Bay has both flat and hilly areas. Napier, a seaside town that appears a mixture of England’s countryside, Miami’s Art Deco-style, and Santa Barbara’s beachside scenery, has a town center right on the water but backs up to hills and cliffs. If you go south of Napier, more vineyards and taller slopes await like Te Mata Peak at 1,309 feet. In short, beginner runners will have pleasant scenery wherever they go, but height-chasers can also get a very rewarding view.
Photo courtesy of Phillip Capper, CC-BY
The Hawkes Bay region is known for its wine, food, coastline and small mountains. Thankfully, running routes and races all over the area allow you to see those qualities up close and personal.
For beginners, the Big Redwoods Track provides a way to see the land surrounding Te Mata, Hawkes Bay’s tallest peak. The 1.6 miles would take around an hour to hike, but also makes a great running route. You’ll come across a lookout point to see the Heretaunga Plains and dash around the Big Redwood trees.
In order to see some of Napier’s best, try the 6.36-mile loop. You’ll start on Browning Street right by the fountain in town center. While having an ocean or harbor view for over half of the run, you’ll run past the city port, around Bluff Hill, and end near the Napier Visitor Center. The route bookends in the heart of the town’s infamous Art Deco scene.
These routes are pleasant, but there are always ways to amp up the risk. If you choose to accept the challenge, try a 22-mile mountain loop through Kaweka Forest Park. The forest marks the western edge of Hawkes Bay and has sweeping views of the valley below, especially at Kaweka summit. This route is not only physically challenging, but geographically challenging if you’re new to the park, so bring a map. And your wits.
Photo courtesy of Hawkes Bay Marathon/Tim Bardsley-Smith
Organized running clubs aren’t as heavily present in Hawkes Bay compared to other major New Zealand cities, like Wellington or Queenstown, but the region still has consistent runners. Run Walk Hawke’s Bay has two branches, one in Napier and on in Hastings/Havelock North, and both have group runs on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. They have calendar listing social and running events on their website and membership is $50 per year.
Another way to find running buddies is by simply knowing their favorite spots. Some possibilities include pathways running along Napier’s beach, near the visitor’s center and around the port. Te Mata Peak is consistently swarming with runners and bikers, so running partners aren’t far away.
The Air New Zealand Hawkes Bay International Marathon, that starts in Napier and goes all the way to Sileni Estates Winery in western Hastings, is also a great place to find other local runners. The race just had its second installment in May and participant numbers are relatively consistent at 5,000 last year and 4,500 this year. On route, you’ll have a unique opportunity to run through private vineyards and orchards, at one point running single-file through a row of mature vines. When trailing so closely to another runner, it’s easy to make a friend.
Like each region of New Zealand, Hawkes Bay has a personality all its own. With quiet, sheep-filled fields, vibrant green hills, pleasant coastline and golden-quilted vineyards, the region makes for a peaceful running location and should not be missed.
Beginner: The Tainui Trail 3.5K with Peak Trail Blazer
Bold: Air New Zealand Hawkes Bay International Half or Full Marathon
Beast: Triple Peaks Challenge
Can’t Miss: The view from Te Mata Peak
McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.