No, this is not a critique of the 90s American beach drama but the next instalment in our journey around New Zealand. The Bay in question is Hawkes Bay, and our destination is the small city lying at the south end of the bay, Napier. Our drive down was straight forward. In 185km there were no petrol stations and one cafe in the middle of no-where, some very twisty roads as we climbed through the mountains, and some looooooong dead straight bits either side of the mountain pass. The cafe was clean and spacious but was playing Country and Western music from a bygone era, namely the 1970s. I am sorry to all those readers who like C&W music but it was very very sickly!
That cafe with the cheesy American Country Music. Coffee was good though.
As we approached Napier, the landscape flattened out and scrub land and bush turned to cultivated orchards and vineyards. Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s finest wine regions and one of its most productive, with many red and white wine varieties produced here, much of it for export. Sadly our time in Napier was limited so a wine tour was not in our plans. Our plan was to make the most of what time we had here so the first item on the agenda was the Art Deco Walking Tour of Napier.
Captain James Cook was one of the first Europeans to see the future site of Napier when he sailed down the east coast in October 1769. He commented: “On each side of this bluff head is a low, narrow sand or stone beach, between these beaches and the mainland is a pretty large lake of salt water I suppose.” He said the harbour entrance was at the Westshore end of the shingle beach. The site was subsequently visited and later settled by European traders, whalers and missionaries. By the 1850s, farmers and hotel-keepers arrived. It was decided to place a planned town here, its streets and avenues were laid out, and the new town named for Sir Charles Napier, a military leader during the “Battle of Meeanee” fought in the province of Sindh, India.
Today Napier is a quiet city, with a resident population of around 63,000. This means that there is plenty of room to move and no-where is crowded. Even the roads are quiet in rush hour which is lovely. According to our guide, it qualifies as a city because it has reached a population of 60,000 which is the measure in New Zealand of city status. When the cruise ships dock it can get busy as passengers are attracted to the Art Deco architecture tours and the wineries that thrive in the Hawkes Bay area. So quiet was the city when we were there, we had the Walking Tour guide to ourselves!
Napier Beach – Swimming off this beach is not advised – too dangerous
Us on the promenade
Napier’s long Promenade, great for a morning run and where we met many dog walkers.
Napier has one of the worlds finest “collections” of Art Deco Architecture in the world and this is celebrated each year by a hugely popular Art Deco weekend each February. Around 30,000 people flock to Napier and the surrounding areas to celebrate this period of 1930’s style and design. The American Frank Lloyd Wright was a leading Art Deco Architect and a pioneer in this style of construction and design.
Napier’s Art Deco buildings were developed following the 1931 earthquake, of which more later. As a result of the earthquake only two buildings were left standing in the centre of Napier. When the decision was taken to rebuild, not only would the new buildings be made earthquake proof, architects decided to adopt the newly fashionable Art Deco style of building and decoration. Many have subsequently been lost through demolition and redevelopment, however there are now preservation orders on all remaining buildings and Developers are instructed to maintain the existing style and decoration of the buildings. Indeed many are going further and using 1930’s Art Deco styling for their interior designs. However all is not well as many shop fronts display corporate logos on the veranda shades below the Art Deco decoration, which spoils the effect somewhat. Nevertheless, today the city’s Art Deco buildings with their pastel shades, bold styling and elaborate motifs are renowned around the world. Hence the popularity of the festival.
Examples of the Art Deco buildings in Napier.
Our guide took us around the streets pointing out the many features of Art deco design and decoration, telling us some of the background and filling in with stories from the Earthquake. It was a fascinating tour and an education in a style we knew very little about. Not sure I would want to take any of their design and decoration ideas forward though.
Clockwise from top left: Some of the detailing in the Art Deco style, this represents The Cross; Example of Art Deco styling retained in a restored and modernised interior; Even the street furniture has examples of Art Deco art.
Wine Tour anyone? You can even be driven round a wine tour in a car from the era!
Napier has a new combined Art Gallery museum and exhibition centre opposite the Art Deco Centre. As well as the usual displays of Maori contemporary Art and local artists there was a room dedicated to the Hawkes Bay earthquake which happened on 3 February 1931.
New Zealand lies across the boundary of two tectonic plates and on this day the Hawkes Bay area, in particular Napier and neighbouring Hastings, were virtually destroyed by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which shook the area for around two and a half minutes whilst a large number of aftershocks followed over the next two weeks causing further damage. Nearly all buildings in the central areas of Napier and Hastings were levelled and the local newspaper later noted that “Napier as a town has been wiped off the map”). The death toll reached 161 people in Napier, 93 in Hastings and two in nearby Wairoa. Thousands more were injured, with over 400 hospitalised. The local landscape changed dramatically, with the coastal areas around Napier being lifted by around two metres. The most noticeable land change was the uplifting of some 40 km² of sea-bed to become dry land. This included Ahuriri Lagoon which was lifted nearly 3 metres and resulted in draining 2230 hectares of the lagoon. Today, this area is the location of the Hawkes Bay Airport, housing, industrial developments and farmland. Fire soon spread destroying what had been left standing after the earthquake. Photographs and documents from the time illustrate the devastation caused but the most moving and shocking testaments came in a series of short film interviews playing out in a small auditorium from those who were there at the time. At the time of the interviews they were senior citizens retelling their stories and it was clear that the events still impacted them and the memories were as strong as ever. Out of respect for those who died I have not featured any pictures from that time. I will leave it to your imagination to picture the scene.
Overlooking the port and the city is Bluff Hill Lookout and the Bluff Hill Domain. This is reached via a walk through the Centennial Gardens a residential area and part of a nature reserve. Once at the top the views are stunning and Hawkes Bay is laid out before you. The area that was lifted by the earthquake can be seen as flat lands where agriculture and the Airport now sit. It was very breezy but clear and warm on top.
From top: Panorama of Hawkes Bay. The flat area to the left of the bay area was that created by the 1931 earthquake; Lyn on Bluff Hill Domain; View of the reclaimed area fro the Domain; US at Bluff Hill Lookout.
Napier is a lovely city which we will remember with affection, not least for the dogs and their owners we met on our morning run. Onward now to the Capital of New Zealand, Wellington.
Our new friends from top left: Ellie, Sam and bottom Joanna (After Ms Lumley!)