The Heretaunga Plains have always been known to in Māori lore as Heretaunga Ararau or Land of a Hundred Pathways. Now, with more than 200km of easy cycle trails celebrating Hawke's Bay's diverse landscapes, water and wineries, this is the perfect spot for a weekend of cycle exploration and relaxation.
At Napier's Tākaro Trails, we were introduced to the basics of our e-bikes. It was our first time riding an e-bike and teenage son George was keen to test his out. Keen mountain bikers, we were delighted to learn how easy the e-bikes were to pedal - one push down and the bike sprang forward three times as fast as our bikes at home.
After stowing our things in the saddlebags, we were off for a guided tour of the paintings along Napier's sea walls. Our guide had us time travelling back through the city's history, from settlement to earthquake, and it was fascinating to see entire suburbs of beachfront houses that were shunted up the hill, and vast tracts of land lifted out of the sea to form what is now the airport.
We biked along the seafront toward Havelock North, past many art installations and interactive activities for kids and families, and discovered that Napier certainly does have its fair share of stunning sculptures. I was particularly taken with the story behind Ngāti Kahungunu's legend of love, depicted in bronze statue Pania of the Reef.
We toured a navigational installation, Ātea a Rangi Star Compass, which shows how Pacific sailors used the stars and ocean currents to navigate to Aotearoa 1000 years ago, before heading inland. Cycling up the left bank of the Tūtaekurī River we feasted our eyes on endless orchards and rolling farmland framed by the Kaweka Ranges and the Te Mata Hills.
After a quick dip in the swiftly flowing gravelly river, we were ready for lunch. The Puketapu, a delightful country pub, was packed with fellow e-bikers, and owner Mary Danielson recalled how she was sceptical when the idea of a cycling trail up one side of the river and down the other, with The Puketapu located bang in the middle, was first floated.
"We had three staff. Now we have 28 and an incredible chef," she told us.
Wolfing down the Greek lamb burger and fighting over the spare ribs, George and I were in agreement. The food is incredible and so is the hospitality.
The next day held the promise of the region's finest wine and food, as we set out to Black Barn Vineyards. Here we met wine specialist Marie Le Guyader, who offered us tastings of gin aged in wine barrels (a collaboration between Black Barn and Imagination Gin), and had us shopping for feta cheese made from sheep's milk that she said reminds her of the cheese from her Swiss homeland.
Breathing in the sea air, with much anticipation, we biked an hour or so to the seaside location of Te Awanga, where lunch at Elephant Hill awaited. We noticed that mention of lunch at newly reopened Elephant Hill brought on a dreamy look in others - a look of justified food envy. Our meal was a culinary adventure that took in the very best of local fresh produce, some of which we couldn't resist taking away with us. We left with high spirits and heavier saddle bags.
Our final treat was dinner at Malo, a trendy restaurant in Havelock North. Malo offers honest food with a sophisticated, modern twist and an emphasis on local, seasonal flavours. We headed straight to the wine bar and ordered our newly discovered favourite wine and then hunkered down for another incredible meal.
In the land of 100 pathways, it seems every trail leads to another cafe, winery or wonderful restaurant. With so many more to discover, we will be back.