Man, I've had some great trips to Hawke's Bay without children. There was the time I did a vertical tasting of Coleraine – 36 vintages in one single session. Going back further, I performed stand-up comedy at a waterfront bar then celebrated a storming gig by tearing up the nightclub dancefloor until the wee small hours.
It was fun but it was a different sort of fun. Nowadays when I plan a trip, I can't help but notice eight tiny eyes staring at me from around the lounge. They're now part of the package when I go on holiday, and I wouldn't have it any other way – but that doesn't mean I have to give up on good food and drink. Here are my favourite places for a foodie Hawke's Bay holiday, with kids.
I don't know if Craggy Range approves of children playing on its expensive bull sculpture, but it's not specifically banned either. You can see it from the window of Casey's Diner, a low-fi but nonetheless exquisite dining experience launched just after lockdown, which complements the vineyard's existing fine-food restaurant with more of a burgers-and-hotdogs experience. The titular chef used to run things at one of Melbourne's most celebrated hospitality groups (think Cumulus and Supernormal) but has returned home to raise his family in paradise. His signature burger is a must but also try the shrimp cocktail, chef's refined take on a Cobb and Co classic.
Chef Francky Godinho creates some of the Bay's most memorable dishes in this renovated church near Havelock North. He works as hard than any chef I know, including the cultivation of an organic vegetable garden on the surrounding land – great for the kids to run around and explore while their mains are being prepared. You can really taste this fresh produce in the menu which included, on our visit, a beautiful entrée paying seasonal tribute to the turnip (but don't miss out on a cured salmon and beetroot dish full of fusion flavour, one of the highlights of our trip). The standard fish and chips is available on the children's menu but there's also a fantastic creamy-style chicken pasta that lifts the bar for toddler dining. High chairs and colouring sheets available on request.
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You might convince the kids to sit down for brunch at this cafe/sculpture gallery/curio emporium but they'll probably be too excited about the standalone lolly shop, where they can pick a mixed bag of old- and new-school sweets from around the world, served by staff straight out of a bedtime story (the owner has a policy of hiring only grandmothers). Birdwoods was started by an ex-pat Zimbabweans Bruce and Louise Stobart, whose own incredible stories are worth hearing too if you have a few minutes while the kids are choosing gumballs.
Hey, you don't have to be able to pronounce it to eat here. Named after a Danish word that invokes comfort and charm, this beachside cafe has plenty of both, tucked into the nook of Cape Kidnappers in Clifton Bay. There is loads of room for children to run around and some good playground equipment too, although if the sun is out you may want to avoid visiting right on peak mealtime as the cafe is hugely popular. No matter how busy it gets, owners Robin and Kerry set the "no worries" tone nicely and it's easy not to feel hurried when you have a glass of something cold and local in front of you.
There is plenty of space for hungry families in this working vineyard just past the airport on the road out of town toward Taupō. We snuck upstairs to the informal seating area in the barn, but you might find the fireplace in the main dining room too tempting to resist. The kitchen offers a solid children's menu, with plenty of pub grub for adults and an extensive selection of wines produced on the property. Afterwards, browse the excellent Art Shed, which has become a popular spot for discovering the work of local artists in a range of media.
Bits and pieces
Silky Oak Chocolates runs a chocolate museum that is worth a detour if you're nearby (it's midway between Taradale and Hastings). In Havelock North the Arataki Honey Centre has a good mix of fun and education – your kids are guaranteed to leave knowing that honey comes from bees, not supermarkets. And if you're in the market for cupcakes, try Napier's Picnic, where you can browse their beautiful creations then head to nearby Ahuriri playground for a swing by the seaside (parents can grab coffee at Crazy Good, my favourite of the many decent cafes in this historic suburb).
Kiwiesque is a great accommodation option for families. kiwiesque.com
For more information, visit hawkesbaynz.com
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com