Napier, New Zealand: Adventures in Art Deco


Napier is a charming city situated on the shores of Hawkes Bay, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.  The main attraction in Napier is its impressive collection of Art Deco architecture. On February 3, 1931, a 7.9 on the Richter scale earthquake destroyed the town, killing hundreds. The residents decided to rebuild and did so predominantly in the Art Deco style, fashionable at the time but also practical in that the style does not often involve the use of large balconies.  Many of the deaths in the earthquake were due to collapsing balconies.  The town celebrates the Gatsbyesque spirit of their town in February every year with an Art Deco Weekend, full of antique cars, 1920s outfits and parties.  Despite its annual Jazz Age celebration, Napier is not really a party town, but a sophisticated place for enjoying wine, scenery, design and architecture.

I had a somewhat limited time to visit Napier, but managed to do the following things, all of which I would recommend:

Ascend Te Mata Peak

After a scenic drive from Rotorua, I finally arrived in Napier. After checking in with my hosts, who I found on Airbnb, I drove my car up to the Te Mata Peak to admire the sunset. The road leading up to the lookout at the top has some steep drop-offs, but offers incredible views of the mountains and the ocean. According to a Maori legend, a man named Te Mata was given several impossible tasks to perform– a Maori version of the labors of Hercules.  His last task, which ultimately killed him, was to eat his way through the landscape so that the people could come and go more easily.  His gnawing created the jagged landscape of the Te Mata Peak.  Sunset is a particularly enchanting time of day to visit this stunningly beautiful place.


Rent a Bicycle

Bicycling is a great way to get around Napier and explore the Hawkes Bay area.  I rented a bike from Fishbike, originally intending to bike out to the Mission Estate Winery for their 10:30 am free tour, but it was too far away to make it.  I ended up biking along the Marine Parade, around the quay through Ahuriri, where the beautiful Art Deco National Tobacco Company Building sits.


From there, I went several kilometres north along the water through a region that had been lifted from the sea during the 1931 earthquake.  After a coffee at the Snapper Cafe, I made my way back towards Napier.

Some of the wineries a quite a long way from the city center of Napier, so if you’re wanting to visit wineries on bicycle, take special note of the distance and well as the days and times the wineries are open.

Admire the Art Deco Architecture

One of the things I really enjoyed about Napier was simply walking through the streets and checking out the many examples of Art Deco architecture through town.  I did a tour with the Art Deco Trust, which starts at the Trust’s shop with a lecture about the history of the Napier earthquake and the city’s reconstruction.  It was followed by a guided tour through the city streets.


The tour includes walks through the inside of a few buildings, including the Napier Municipal Theatre, an elegantly designed venue that still serves as an entertainment center for the Hawkes Bay region.


The tour ends with a promotional video for Napier’s Art Deco Weekend.  You can certainly politely duck out at this point.  The tour is somewhat fast-paced and doesn’t cover all of buildings, but the Art Deco Trust sells a detailed self-guided walking tour booklet if you want to explore in depth at your leisure.


I wish I had more time in Napier to tour some of the wineries, investigate the history and architecture, ride a bicycle on the many bikeways, or hike out to Cape Kidnappers.  It’s location is a little out of the way for those touring the North Island, but it is definitely well worth the trip.



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