It’s not often you get to thank a natural disaster for a splendid architectural creation. In 1931 a huge earthquake rocked Napier – a town in Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island. The quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and rocked the Hawke’s Bay area for more than three minutes.
There were 260 lives lost and the vast majority of Napier’s town centre structures were destroyed. But the city was rapidly rebuilt so that when I recently visited Napier, driving into the city centre, I was thrilled to be immersed in a stylish time capsule.
Travelling further around Hawke’s Bay, I happened across Marine Parade, a tree-lined waterfront boulevard.
Time should always be allotted for a pit stop at the cultish ice cream parlour Rush Munro’s, which has been here since 1926. And yes, I had a double scoop of hokey pokey and vanilla (for research purposes, of course).
Post-earthquake the Kiwis rallied and did what they do best – got on with it. The rebuilding was mostly done within two years, and the architects were on the spectrum of the quirky and ambitious. The new buildings reflected the styles of the times: striped classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco. Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, had his moment to shine. Maori motifs also gave the city a traditional stamp – just check out the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets, that features Maori koru and zigzags.
Plan to spend at least three days in Napier so you can enjoy the town’s vibrant, colourful ambience. Check out the waterfront restaurants for great seafood.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
Between November through to April, as winter tends to get a little bit nippy.
Visit: artdeconapier.com; napiernz.com and get your Art Deco vibe happening in 2019.
ARCHITECTURAL WALKING TOUR:
Napier’s city centre displays a seamless line of 1930s architecture that is quite extraordinary. Enjoy the streetscape via a self-guided walk – the information centre or the Art Deco Trust should be able to provide a map. Guided walks around the city are available every day, rain or shine, with the exception of Christmas Day.
ART DECO WEEKEND
Every February, Napier displays its heritage with the Art Deco weekend – a stylish celebration of all things 1930s, including vintage cars, fashion and music. So get your flapper on, tilt your boater at a rakish angle and do the Charleston – all while drinking pink cocktails and throwing caution to the wind.
Napier’s other special attractions include the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the many vineyards that make good use of the region’s alluvial soils. Pinot gris and syrah are the region’s signature drops. On Saturday mornings, a visit to the Napier farmers’ market is a chance to shop for artisan foods and fresh produce.