Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931.
The collapse of buildings and the fires that followed killed 256 people. The centre of the town was completely destroyed by the earthquake.
Walking around Napier today, there are lots of information points that show photographs of what the fledgling city looked like before 1931.
Within two years of the earthquakex Napier had been rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at that time.
Not only did the disaster result in the complete transformation of th buildings, but it also changed the land. Around 4000 hectares of today’s Napier had been under the sea before the earthquake raised it.
A few Art Deco buildings were replaced with contemporary structures during the 1960s -1970s but most of the centre remained intact for long enough to become recognised as architecturally important, as well as being very beautiful.
Since the 1990s it has been protected and restored. Napier and the area of South Beach, Miami, Florida, are considered to be the two best-preserved Art Deco towns in the world.
It is a beautiful town and the i-site (tourist information office) on Marine Parade is an excellent resource for anyone wishing to explore.
On arrival, we found around ten representatives from different tour companies setting out their offers. Wine tours, town tours, by motor trike, by classic car, take tour choice.
We were taking the more leisurely option and popped in to buy a walking guide for 10 NZD. If you want this in paper it’s 10 NZD, if you want the app for that it’s 6 NZD.
There is a lot to see and it is also a very green town. The jacaranda were blooming on virtually every corner.
And, while Napier is all about the Art Deco, there is room for street art murals, tucked down side alleys and painted on the walls of car parks too.
It’s a feast for the eyes walking around the town, but what about the food?
We had lunch at Mr D Dining.
For eight of us, with various food intolerances and preferences, there was something for everyone and the service was great.
To a certain extent this was unsurprising, since we spotted the certificate noting the restaurants commendation as “Outstanding Front of House Team of Year Finalist”.
The waiter was all set to defend plates from marauding tasting forks: “I can move her for you, if she tries to steal your food again.”
The pasta was made fresh at the kitchen counter behind us – I love being able to watch food being prepared, though I ignored this particular freshness and went with the chaat bombs as an appetizer followed by the Balinese dahl soup.
Both were excellent.
From here, we continued our Art Deco Exploration and while having a chat in the Municipal Theatre’s foyer, a member of staff gave us a quick tour of the theatre, pointing out the fixtures including an engraving of Isadora Duncan who danced at the theatre.
The original glass Art Deco style lights have been replaced with perspex and the originals are kept safely beneath the stage. The carpet in the original entry hall is the same style as the first carpet which, though made of New Zealand wool, had to be woven in Australia as there wasn’t a loom big enough for it.
The theatre was also damaged in the 1931 earthquake and the opportunity was taken to redesign it for improved comfort. The seats were widened and there is greater legroom than was originally provided for patrons.
This visit and the accompanying stories were an unexpected bonus as we wandered around Napier.
And for dinner… The Thirsty Whale at Ahuriri where apparently the house band were not popular.
If the freshly battered caught that day fish isn’t to your taste, I can assure you that the bangers and mash at Speight’s Ale House along the road are good.