From a tragic event on the 3rd of February 1931, that literally changed the landscape of little seaside town Napier in New Zealand’s North Island in minutes, Napier was reborn and now celebrates everything Art Deco every February.
The event was a 7.7 seismic earthquake; equal to that of the devastating Christchurch 2011 quake and so destructive that it virtually levelled the town, tragically taking around 300 lives with it.
But despite the tragic circumstances, by some bizarre twist of fate Mother Nature did Napier a favour by reclaiming land that had previously been underwater and in turn created a whole new Hawkes Bay harbour to re-build on.
And proudly re-build Napier did, with the whole town re-created in Art Deco and Spanish Mission styled structures (the hot design trends at the time) built with the vision of re-birthing a place that had been written off by many post quake.
Today, those beautiful buildings still stand tall with the locals embracing the Art Deco era as their talisman and key point of difference to draw in visitors from all over the world. It’s a gorgeous little place that feels far from the spoils of modern living and is full of friendly and relaxed locals. Welcome to Napier.
Here’s our top 6 guide to going back in time without the help of Dr. Who.
1. MARVEL AT THE ARCHITECTURE
All around town you’ll see stunning heritage buildings from the Art Deco period in pristine condition. It’s a testament to the proud people of Napier that they’ve lovingly held onto them as their own over the years, even when developers have threatened to do otherwise.
I went on a private walking tour with Bill who’s one of the 150 Art Deco Trust volunteer guides to learn more about the history of each building and just what part they’ve played in Napier’s story. It was a fantastic way to see the town through the eyes of a local and get the back stories that make up the fabric of a town that has well and truly triumphed through adversity.
Find out more: Art Deco Trust Walking Tours
2. HUNT FOR CHIC TREASURE IN NAPIER’S OP SHOPS
“Style never goes out of fashion” they say, which most certainly rings true in Napier with an abundance of op shops and vintage boutiques all over town selling everything from period jewelry to dresses, hats, feather boa’s and Art Deco artifacts.
A good starting point is the Art Deco Vintage Shop where the walking tours start and finish. Beyond there you can meander on a style hunt in stores such as ‘Charleston Chic’ or Napier Art Deco Antique Treasures.
Napier isn’t a big place so it’s easy to explore the town on foot or bike whilst taking in the fresh Hawkes Bay air and stopping off at the many cafe’s such as the very cool Mister D’s along the way for one of their signature ‘filled by syringe doughnuts’ – Interesting!
3. GO VINTAGE AND TOUR IN STYLE
To really get in the mood for some hot steppin’ there’s no better way than to take a Vintage Tour run by the Art Deco Trust society and let them chaperone you around town in one of their immaculate cars giving you a history lesson on the way whilst you sit smugly in the back like Al Capone or maybe Greta Garbo.
My retro journey with the lovely ‘Rose’ took in Napier’s famous Art Deco Quarter, historic Port Ahuriri as well as the Napier Municipal Theatre, named in 2013 as one of the Top 10 Art Deco buildings in the world, and the National Tobacco Company building, one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.
Cruise ships visit Napier in the summer months and it’s not unusual to see the fleet of Vintage cars lined up port side waiting to pick up eager Art Deco enthusiasts from the ships, ready to explore the town in style.
4. GET DAPPER AT THE ANNUAL ART DECO FESTIVAL
Partly to remember the events of 1931 but mostly because it’s just blooming good clean fun, every year in February Napier pays tribute to it’s past with an Art Deco festival that involves the entire town with everyone dressing up in their finest 30’s garb for the whole week.
Tens of thousands of people revel in the 1930s atmosphere that gives the sensation that people have travelled back in time to an era of glitz and glamour.
The annual festival features 125 events, including entertainment experiences, outdoor concerts, vintage car parades, fashions shows, dining experiences, great Gatsby picnics with over 40,000 people flocking from all over the world to see Napier transformed back in time.
There’s also a winter Deco Festival too, with High teas, hot toddies, coats, hats and fur wraps as Napier swings into Roaring ’20s and ’30s party mode for its annual wintertime celebration of the city’s Art Deco architecture. Ride on the traditional 1938 railcar, revel in a glitzy casino evening, swoon at an afternoon tea dance, sip cocktails in heritage splendour, and come out in your Deco duds to see the vintage cars on display.
The 2016 Winter Deco festival runs from the 15th – 17th July.
5. STAY IN AN ART DECO ABODE
Every classy dame or cool spy needs a place to lay their hat, which befits their status, and Napier has a variety of Art Deco inspired places to fit the bill.
One of the most iconic of all is oceanfront Dome Luxury Apartments which of which sits proudly on the corner of Marine Parade and Emerson Street, seaside and directly opposite the Sound Shell and Sunken Gardens.
Completed in 1935, the building was originally the home of Temperance General Insurance, a company that emerged during the prohibition era in the early 1900’s.
These days it features 6 luxury apartments that have each retained their individual Art Deco charm and character. They built em’ to last back then with solid walls and quality fittings and all the apartments have ocean views and have been fitted out magnificently.
Rooms start from NZ$250 per night.
Find out more: www.thedome.co.nz
Napier is located in the South East of New Zealand’s North Island and is accessible by flying into Hawkes Bay with Air New Zealand.
To get all the latest information on Napier – Click here.