Rugby was one of the earliest organised sports in Hawke’s Bay. A club was formed in Napier in 1875, and it is likely that the game was played in other districts before this. Club members played against themselves by forming two teams, until matches with Gisborne started in 1878. The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union (formed in 1884) was the first union outside the country’s four main centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin). By then clubs had also started in Wairoa and at Te Aute College.
The Hawke’s Bay team became known as the Magpies after their black and white jerseys. It was the top provincial side in the 1920s and held the Ranfurly Shield in 1922–27 and 1966–69. By 2015 it had fielded 49 players in the national All Blacks teams.
The region’s best-known sporting heroes have been rugby players like George Nēpia, Maurice and Cyril Brownlie, and Kel Tremain.
McLean Park in Napier hosts international cricket and a small number of rugby matches.
When time stood still
When horticultural magnate James Wattie entered his horse Even Stevens in the Melbourne Cup race in 1962, a sound system was installed in the Wattie’s factory in Hastings, so workers could listen to the race. Once it started work ceased, and the hotels in Hastings stopped serving beer. Even Stevens won, and when Wattie arrived back in town he booked out a hotel and shouted his entire staff a celebratory drink.
Horse racing was another popular early sport. Most 19th-century settlements had annual race meetings, often during the Christmas–New Year period. The first formal meeting in Hawke’s Bay was held at Clive in 1856. Horse breeding and training became popular with runholders. Stud farms devoted to breeding racehorses sprang up around Hastings, which was still a popular spot for this activity in the 2010s.
The major racecourse of the region is the Hawke’s Bay Racing Centre in Hastings. Smaller courses are in Wairoa, Waipukurau and Woodville.
Other equestrian sports played in the region are polo (Hastings and Wanstead), rodeo (Hastings, upper Mōhaka and Wairoa) and cross-country hunting. The first pony club in New Zealand was started in Hastings in 1940, and the city has hosted the Horse of the Year show since 1999.
Tramping, walking and cycling
The inland mountain ranges are popular tramping (hiking) spots. The Department of Conservation manages more than 40 tracks within the regional conservancy, which is centred on the Ruahine and Kaweka forest parks and Te Urewera. Tracks also follow the coastline. Endurance events take advantage of this environment and are held around the peaks of Havelock North, Esk Valley, and between Lake Waikaremoana and Wairoa.
Walking and cycling tracks are located in urban centres and some rural areas.
In 2002 Rotary clubs began building walking and cycling paths in the Napier and Hastings area. Heritage trails suitable for walkers are found from Mōrere in the north to Woodville in the south.
Many of the region’s rivers are used for adventure sports such as kayaking and rafting, and more sedate pursuits like fishing. Popular swimming beaches are located on Māhia Peninsula, at Westshore in Napier, and along the coast between Haumoana and Herbertville. Power-boat racing takes place off the Napier coast. Splash Planet in Hastings is New Zealand’s largest water theme park.
Hawke’s Bay’s climate attracted the first tourists in the late 19th century. Many came for their health, believing the warm, dry climate would benefit debilitating illnesses such as tuberculosis. Napier also attracted travellers en route to the ‘hot lakes’ at Rotorua.
Race to the top
In the 19th century the road up to the mountain resort of Kurīpāpango was served by two coach companies. Competition for passengers evolved into a race to get to the top from Napier – a hair-raising journey for passengers, but entertaining for those who lived along the route. Some reportedly kept their binoculars on the road-side window sill so they could follow the pursuit.
Despite its isolation, accommodation was available at Lake Waikaremoana from the 1870s. The government ran a tourist lodge there from 1909 until 1972. Kurīpāpango in the Kaweka Range became popular as a summertime mountain retreat, and a hotel was opened about 1881.
Napier and Hastings promoted themselves as tourist destinations from the early 20th century, and development groups such as the Napier Thirty Thousand Club, Hastings Progress League and Greater Hastings organised events and published booklets designed to attract visitors. The region was a popular spot with domestic holidaymakers throughout the 20th century and into the 2000s. In the 1980s the region began to draw tourists interested in food, wine and art deco architecture.