The Art Deco Capital of New Zealand

The Art Deco Capital of New Zealand

7 am Sunday 12 January 2020, we arrived at Port Napier in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. It is a small port in area as the photos and map will show.

DSC07002Looking southwest from ship, with Bluff Hill to left. The town of Napier is south of Bluff Hill

DSC07000View to the west

DSC06992Northwest view

DSC06997_1Tour buses on Port Napier’s “part time” cruise dock awaiting their passengers

Hawke's Bay - Google MapsPort Napier – MS Noordam was docked adjacent to white buildings (to right)                                Image courtesy of Google Maps

Although Port Napier is small by area, it is large in export capabilities. It is the primary seaport for northeastern New Zealand, exporting apples, pears, stone fruit, wine, table grapes, wool, frozen meat, wood pulp and timber.

DSC06999View south into lower section of Hawks Bay, from aft deck

Hawke's Bay - Google MapsHawkes Bay stretches 100 kms from Mahia Peninsula (north) to Cape Kidnappers (south, just east of Hastings). Napier is in the southern 5th of Hawks Bay

Of course the Hawkes Bay area is famous for its wines. Missionaries planted the first vines there during the mid 19th century and it is now the second largest wine region in New Zealand after Marlborough.

But how, and why, did Napier earn the title “Art Deco capital” of New Zealand?

Napier suffered two devastating earthquakes in February 1931 – Firstly a 7.8 quake (Richter scale) on Feb 3 and then another 525 aftershocks in the next two weeks, including a 7.3 aftershock on Feb 13. As a result of broken gas lines in two chemist shops fires started and quickly engulfed the entire business district.

There were 256 deaths and thousand of injuries as a result of the quakes and fires.

Prior to this cruise to New Zealand I was only aware of the earthquakes in Christchurch 2010-2012. I had no idea that earthquakes have been so common in various parts of the New Zealand for centuries and that “about 14,000 earthquakes occur in and around the country each year, of which 150 to 200 are big enough to be felt” (wikipedia).

DSC07101The events of 1931 have helped shape the architectural and cultural landscape in Napier

When rebuilding commenced the dominant architectural style in the world was still Art Deco. That, together with the relatively low cost of reconstructing in this style and suitability for quake prone regions, meant that much of Napier “became” Art Deco.

However not all of the buildings shown below can be called Art Deco, as styles such as Spanish Colonial Revival, Prairie School, Stripped Classical and Moderne apparently coexist with Art Deco in Napier’s central business district. Unfortunately I do not have the knowledge to distinguish, so I present the buildings that grabbed my attention as we walked the streets.














While we didn’t stop in the industrial or residential areas, I managed to capture these images of preserved buildings from the tour bus, as we drove past.

DSC07057National Tobacco Company factory






… and it is not just the buildings in Napier that reference the 1930s and 40s.





Art Deco is definitely at the heart of Napier’s consciousness and the way it presents itself.

There’s another “Deco” structure that’s not so obvious (to me), even though it stands in plain sight.

DSC07144Colonnade and Sound Shell (Curve structure right) on beach side of Marine Parade

“The Colonnade was erected in 1937 to form an enclosure in front of the Soundshell. The landscape group of Soundshell, Colonnade, Veronica Sunbay, Skating Ring and the gardens form the only public memorial in Napier commemorating the 1931 earthquake. So it is very fitting that these structures are built above a foundation of rubble removed from the devastated town centre and deposited on the beach in 1931–32.” Wikimedia Commons.

Napier is a vibrant, seaside town that deserves to be recognised for promoting and conserving its early 20th century heritage. I hope the halt to tourism, due to Covid-19, does not interfere with their conservation efforts.

Our Next Port is Tauranga, for a bus tour of Rotorua. Hope you will join us.

  • Barbara Wood
    Posted at 07:18h, 15 April Reply

    Beautiful photos Al, we loved Napier, thanks for the memories.

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 08:01h, 15 April Reply

      Thanks for your comment Barbara. I’m pleased if my photos helped you recall good memories of Napier.

  • Rodger Jamieson
    Posted at 00:01h, 17 April Reply

    Brings back our time in beautiful Napier Al.
    Kind regards Rodger and Mel

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 08:02h, 17 April Reply

      Thanks for your comment Rodger & Mel. I’m pleased I could help you recall your memories of Napier. What other places did you visit in NZ?

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