Napier in New Zealand is the most consistently Art Deco city in the world, due to being largely rebuilt in the 1930s following a devastating earthquake in 1931. It is in Hawke's Bay, on the sunny east coast of the North Island.
At 10:47 AM on 3 February 1931, Napier and the wider Hawke's Bay was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The quake and subsequent fire killed 256 people and destroyed much of the central business district. The demolition rubble was dumped along the eastern foreshore and turned into gardens and a recreational reserve.
After the earthquake, the CBD and other areas were rebuilt in the Art Deco styles prevailing at the time. Today, Napier is billed as "the Art Deco capital of the world", with over 100 Art Deco buildings in the CBD alone, most of which have been restored and heritage-listed.
The earthquake raised the land by several metres, draining the Ahuriri Lagoon. The airport, the surrounding farmland, and the modern-day suburbs of Onekawa, Pandora, Pirimai and Tamatea all sit on the reclaimed land. Some streets still have the names they had when they were on the coastline – streets called a "quay" or a "bay" may be inland now.
The suburb of Taradale, a separate town until 1968, has the region's oldest and most famous wineries, which host concerts during summer.
Napier lies on State Highway 2, which passes through the centre of Napier just outside the downtown area. State Highway 50 crosses the city from the Port to Taradale before continuing south.
From Taupo and most destinations north, take State Highway 5 (Napier-Taupo Road) east from Taupo. The highway terminates onto State Highway 2 at Eskdale, 14 km north of central Napier. Make sure you check you have at least 150 km worth of fuel before leaving Taupo, as there are no fuel stations en route.
Distances and travel times to Napier (times are non-stop in typical traffic, so allow additional time for breaks and delays on longer trips):
- Auckland – 420 km, 5hr
- Hamilton – 295 km, 3hr 30min
- Taupo – 145 km, 1hr 45min
- Hastings – 21 km; 25min
- Palmerston North – 180 km, 2hr 15min
- Wellington – 320 km, 4hr
National bus operator InterCity provides daily services in and out with connections throughout the North Island. Fares start from $1 and can be purchased online or via numerous local ticketing agents including the i-SITE information network. Services arrive and depart from 12 Carlyle St, beside Clive Sq.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council runs a public bus service between Hastings and Napier via Taradale every 20 minutes on weekdays, and hourly on Saturdays. Catch the number 12 bus from outside the public library in each city; adult single fares cost $5.40.
Hawke's Bay Airport is located 6 km north-west of the city centre, off State Highway 2. Air New Zealand Link operates daily flights to Hawke's Bay from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Air Napier flies from Gisborne. Sounds Air flies from Blenheim, but this will cease after 5 Jan 2020.
- Taxi. Taxis are relatively inexpensive and can take you anywhere, anytime.
- Bus. The public buses are not very frequent. It pays to grab a timetable in advance. Information regarding fares, zones and timetables can be found on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council public transport webpage.
- Art Deco tour. Take a guided walking tour ($24-26, 1½-2½ hr) or buy a booklet at the Information Centre and give yourself a self-guided tour. Even a few blocks will take you past many of the most significant buildings that exemplify the style. One-hour tours in vintage cars available for $185 for up to 4 people.
- 1 Faraday Centre, 2a Faraday Street. M W F 9AM-1PM; Sa 9AM-11:30PM. Technology museum housed in a former powerhouse. Exhibits range from household appliances through commercial equipment to the massive engine that was used to generate electricity. Adult $9, under 15 years $2.50.
- 2 MTG Hawke's Bay (formerly Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery), 1 Tennyson St (cnr Marine Parade). Daily 9:30AM-5PM. Permanent exhibition on the 1931 quake with changing art and social history displays. Free.
- 3 Napier Prison, 55 Coote Rd, Bluff Hill, ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM, also occasional guided tours and night tours. Take a tour of what was New Zealand's oldest prison. Opened in 1862, it closed to inmates in 1993. Self guided audio tour – adult $20, child $10.
- 4 National Aquarium of New Zealand, 546 Marine Parade, ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM. Has a reef tank, a travelator which spirals its way beneath the enormous Oceanarium, creating the impression of a true underwater experience, and a typical New Zealand rocky shore environment. There are sharks, stingray and hundreds of fish species, many of them representative of the catches from along the East Coast. There are eels, sea horse, turtles, octopus, tropical marine fish, kiwi, tuatara, water dragons, frogs, penguins and alligator on display. There is also an exhibition that opened in 2016 about the Hikurangi plate boundary and associated hazards like earthquakes and tsunami. Adults $22, children (3-14) $11, family (2 adults+2 children) $60.
- 5 Pania of the Reef, Marine Parade (just north of the Soundshell). One of the most photographed landmarks in New Zealand, Pania is a figure of Māori mythology, and a symbol of Napier. She is a short stroll from the city centre.
- 6 Soundshell, 70 Marine Parade. An Art Deco outdoor stage, built in 1935 with a shell-like roof.
- 7 Waiapu Cathedral. Art Deco Anglican cathedral consecrated in 1960. The original cathedral was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake with the loss of two lives. By donation.
- Art Deco Festival. A five-day festival in February celebrating the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s. Dress up and eat at one of the picnics around the city, watch the soapbox derby, admire the vintage cars or attend some of the other 250 events. Book your accommodation up to a year in advance for the festival.
- Food and wine tours. Meet like-minded people and share an appreciation of Hawke's Bay's wines. Taste great wines and learn of the area's unique growing conditions. Cheese boards are provided on all tours. Take home great tasting wines and memories. Grape Escape. Depart Napier 1PM, return 5PM. Visit 4 or 5 local wineries. Tour includes tasting Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other wines. Some of New Zealand's finest cheeses matched with wine. Walk amongst the vines and learn about terroir. Winery tour can be arranged if requested when booking. Tours start half an hour earlier for those who request a winery lunch.
- Spend a day at the beach. The golden sanded beaches of Waimarama and Ocean Beach are approximately 30 min south of Napier by car and are local retreats in the summer months. These long sandy beaches cater for surfing, fishing, and long walks to check out the native habitat.
- 1 Cape Kidnappers. At the southern tip of Hawke Bay, you will find a colony of gannets. These gannets migrate seasonally and are popular with tourists during the season. You can jump on a trailer towed by tractors to reach the Cape, run by a local business out of the small community of Te Awanga. Bookings and information about these tours are available from the information centre.
The main shopping areas are along Emerson Street, Dickens Street and in the nearby suburb of Taradale. As well as the usual franchise stores seen across most of New Zealand, a handful of independent stores are in the city centre.
- Groove Kitchen Espresso, 112 Tennyson St, ☏ . M-F 8AM-3PM, Sa 8:30AM-3PM, Su 8:30AM-2PM.
- Hog's Breath Cafe, 49 Marine Parade, ☏ . 11:30AM-late.
- Hot Chick Restaurant, 4 Hardinge Rd, Ahuriri, ☏ .
- Indonesia Restaurant, 409 Marine Parade, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Mint Restaurant, 189 Marine Parade, ☏ . M-Sa 6PM-10PM. Contemporary cuisine. Fully licensed. Stylish interior, lounge. Reserve your table by phone or the website booking service. Mains $29.
- Raffles Street Cafe, 72 Raffles St, ☏ . M-F 7AM-3PM.
- Ujazi Cafe, 28 Tennyson St, ☏ .
- 1 The Cabana, 11 Shakespeare Rd. A legendary live music pub since the 1950s (albeit with a break from 1997 to 2008). The Spanish Mission/Art Deco style building was designed by leading architects Finch and Westorholm and was the first Napier hotel to be rebuilt after the 1931 quake.
Atmospheric West Quay, beside the beautiful Ahuriri marina, has a strip of bars and restaurants, including:
- Shed 2, 56 West Quay, Ahuriri, ☏ . The first establishment to emerge on West Quay and an Ahuriri icon. Step inside and you step back 125 years, for the converted storage shed goes right back to the days the square-riggers tied up just metres from its front deck.
- Speight's Alehouse, 68 West Quay, Ahuriri, ☏ . One of 12 specialised Speight's hostelries nationwide and the only bar in Hawke's Bay serving all seven of the Dunedin brewery's beers on tap, from top-seller Speight's Gold through to the crafted pilsner, pale ale, porter, old dark and a seasonal ale.
- Thirsty Whale, 62 West Quay, Ahuriri, ☏ . A bar with outdoor decking, big screen TVs, private bar, and mezzanine restaurant with sea views. Dinner from $15.
Accommodation is abundant in Napier and the surrounding area and ranges from luxury to budget; hotels, self-catering apartments, motels and lodges (some with restaurants), homestay; holiday parks and motor camps with self-catering units, budget cabins and campsites. There is also a beachfront youth hostel for backpackers. Families and groups are welcome at most establishments; seasonal and group discounts may apply.
It pays to ring and book in advance for several places due to regional events like Art Deco weekend. Such events are very popular and accommodation can be scarce at these times.
- 1 Napier YHA, 277 Marine Parade. Hostel in an old wooden building with loads of character. Beds from $24, rooms from $41.
- 2 McHardy Lodge, 11 Bracken St, Hospital Hill, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 1890 historic residence. $325-575.
- 3 Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, 48 Emerson St, Napier, ☏ . BBH hostel in a former hotel built in 1932. bed from £29, single room $53.
- 4 Masonic Hotel, 2 Tennyson Street. Art deco hotel built in 1932 on the site of a hotel first built in 1861. It was designed by Wellington architect W J Prowse. The hotel has 43 rooms and an apartment. from $151.
Just north of Napier, past the airport and Bay View, is Esk Valley. This area is now mainly orchard, vineyards and a lavender farm. The area is peaceful but only 10 minutes from the bars and restaurants of Napier. It provides a good place to stay for those who want to experience New Zealand country life or stay on a vineyard. There are numerous accommodation options.