New Zealand is a land of contrasts. For visitors, the options are diverse. Lord of the Rings fans flock to Hobbiton, a movie set that looks like a fictional town. But for Art Deco enthusiasts, the holy grail is Napier, a real town that looks like a movie set.
The story of Napier begins with tragedy. On February 3, 1931, an earthquake struck the seaside town. The violent tremor, and ensuing fires, killed over 250 residents and destroyed virtually all the buildings in central Napier.
Over the next two years, the citizens of Napier rebuilt the city with resolve. More than one hundred buildings in downtown Napier were constructed, most in the fashion of the prevailing architectural style of the day, Art Deco.
Thanks largely to the preservation efforts of the Napier Art Deco Trust, Napier today retains much of its Gatsby era character. The compact central district is a jewel box of Easter egg-colored buildings embellished with ziggurats and sunbursts. The interior of the Municipal Theatre is a treasure trove of chrome fixtures, neon lighting and cubist carpets. Along the shore lies the Marine Parade, a graceful seaside promenade embellished with an iconic Sound Shell.
Napier is no movie set. Napier is the real deal: an authentic Art Deco cache, arisen from the rubble of disaster.
Napier, New Zealand: When You Go:
Historic downtown Napier is compact and easily toured on foot, by bus or in vintage cars. The Napier Visitor Centre is a good place to start to plot your approach to the city’s Art Deco landmarks.
Napier is in the Hawke’s Bay area, New Zealand’s second largest wine-producing region, with some 72 wineries. Top stops on any Hawke’s Bay wine tour include the Elephant Hill, Te Awa, Craggy Range and Black Barn wineries. Cap your vineyard crawl with a drive to the top of scenic Te Mata Peak, or a picnic at pristine Ocean Beach.
The fertile soil that produces award-winning chardonnay and syrah also makes Hawke’s Bay an epicurean epicenter. Survey the edible abundance straight from the fields at the Black Barn Market or the Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market.
Hawke’s Bay is an active traveler’s dream. Employ your pedal power with Takaro Trails on the Hawke’s Bay Trails, some 200 kilometers of off-road byways. The entire New Zealand countryside resembles one big golf course, so imagine how spectacular the actual links are. In Hawke’s Bay, players can tee off at one of the world’s best, Cape Kidnappers. If you prefer a pole to a putter, fishing guide, Grant Petherick will put you in the sweet spot to land a trout in one of over two dozen local rivers and streams.
Why simply sample the sensory extravaganza of Hawke’s Bay when you live like a genteel insider? Millar Road, a short, scenic drive from Napier, is a sophisticated self-catering accommodation set in a working wine estate. The jaw-dropping vistas across the vineyard to the sea alone are a definite cause for a pause.
With only two luxurious villas and one design-forward house, the Millar Road experience is intimate, relaxing and quintessentially New Zealand. It doesn’t hurt that the Millar Road estate produces a downright addictive organically grown wine, The Supernatural. Millar Road is a smart, soothing, off-the-grid escape built for pleasure. Good luck leaving.
In Napier, begin your day with an insulin-inducing cognac custard injected donut at the perennially playful Mister D’s Bistro. Atone at lunch with a green wheat salad laced with avocado, cucumber and tofu at the local’s hangout, Milk and Honey. Launch a perfect evening on the town with a glass of local wine at the Emporium Eatery and Bar in the circa 1932 Art Deco Masonic Hotel. Next, nab a table at Bistronomy for unfailingly fresh and imaginative fare in a buzzy setting.
Among the Hawke’s Bay winery eateries, the Cellar Door at Elephant Hill scores with contemporary cuisine with ocean views. Terrôir at Craggy Range gets the nod for French country cooking in a spectacular mountain-rimmed setting.
The Napier Antique and Jewellery Centre is as much an Art Deco museum as a store. Sterling silver hair brushes and beaded flapper dresses are among the finds. Classic sculpture lamps and retro tin wind-up toys are among the treasures at the Art Deco Shop. For something more contemporary – and infinitely more packable – peruse the works of local artists at the Paper-Works gallery.