Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Hawkes Bay: Corncobs, sharks and a soak

Corncob Crazy Golf in Hawkes Bay. Photo / Supplied
Corncob Crazy Golf in Hawkes Bay. Photo / Supplied

Someone has made a big mistake by not scheduling the All Blacks to play in Napier at next year's World Cup. Frankly, it's really quite disappointing as it means no return visit to Hawkes Bay for me in the immediate future.

My brief, as rugby writer, for next year is to follow the All Blacks throughout the tournament. But those who do find themselves in the city, which is hosting three non-AB World Cup matches, can congratulate themselves on their good fortune. The city has a huge amount to offer beyond rugby.

Everyone knows about the wine - hours, days, weeks even could be whiled away tasting and not really spitting, but what if you're travelling with the kids in tow?

That was our challenge: for my wife, Fiona, and I to take our three kids, Mackenzie, 6, Isla, 4, and Lachlan, not quite 1, to Napier for four days to see if we could keep them entertained.

They loved it. We loved it. We want to go back, although we would like someone to arrange for the sun to shine as it's supposed to.

But even in the rain, Napier had us hooked and on this trip it was mini-golf rather than rugby that was the big hit.

Isla has two great loves in her life - one is mini-golf. The other is corn on the cob. When we arrived at the unfathomably strange world of Corncob Crazy Golf on the outskirts of Hastings, we had to check she wasn't hyperventilating from excitement.

What appears, at first glance, to be a messy paddock filled with abandoned farm equipment in fact turns out to be a mini golf course. One clever, diversifying farmer has built the course in one of his fields, and instead of normal putters, he's made clubs with corncobs on the end. Genius.

For Isla, life just couldn't get any better, but if you do want more there's also a maze through the maize in a neighbouring paddock. Just a note, the mini-golf and maze are both closed over winter but it's the perfect pastime once the weather warms up in spring.

The next stop for us though was a little more scary. We were off to the National Aquarium - a space-age style building on Napier's Marine Parade, offering a huge range of weird and wonderful aquatic life. The scary bit is the shark swim.

It was only after I'd offered myself up for the cage-free experience that I thought to ask when the toothy big fish had last been fed. It was all a bit much for Mackenzie, who burst into tears at the idea of dad becoming shark fodder for afternoon tea.

Nevertheless, in I plunged giving my best impression of being fearless, as the kids watched, their noses pressed to the glass walkway that cuts through the aquarium.

Hopefully, they were impressed that I seemed so relaxed in such close proximity to the 2m- shark known affectionately to staff as "Big Girl".

Little did they know I was relaxed only because I had no clue that Big Girl was quite so close. Once I caught sight of her and the rest of her pals, I couldn't fake it any longer - although it was as exhilarating as it was terrifying to be so close.

Dried off and with nerves calmed, we headed to Napier's excellent museum where the key exhibit focuses on the city's famous 1931 earthquake. Museums are not an easy sell to young children but the quake draws them in - part geological lesson and part history.

We trundled out of the museum some time later feeling infinitely more informed about the forces that shaped this small city - then headed for a little more contemplation across the road at Ocean Spa hot pools. Again located on Marine Parade, the pools are the perfect spot to sit, relax and admire the views across the Bay to Cape Kidnappers.

We obviously relaxed too much though, as when we were packing up to leave few days later, we realised we (sorry, I) had left all our togs at the pools.

To our amazement and delight we returned to find that not only did they have them, but they had been washed, dried and neatly folded. Nice.

IF YOU GO

"Ah, Kennedy Park." It's the response you get from everyone who knows Napier when you mention that's where you'll be staying in Hawkes Bay.

It's a local institution. And like all good classics, the reason it has been so successful and earned such fame, is because it never lets standards slip.

The staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful and our two-bedroom villa was spotless, warm, comfortable and well equipped.

The biggest plus was the playground, which contained a "jumping pillow", pictured, a kind of giant trampoline that is a genuine piece of Kiwi ingenuity. The presence of pedal cars was also a huge winner.

Handily placed close to town, Kennedy Park is the perfect choice for families with young children.

- Herald on Sunday

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