The beauty and calm of Napier belies the fact that early, 10:36am, on a quiet morning on February 3, 1931, a horrific earthquake hit this city causing destruction and death. The earthquake destroyed this city and nearby Hastings. Some 4000 hectares of todays’s Napier was actually undersea before the earthquake caused the land to rise up and drain the waters leaving boats sitting high and dry. Buildings collapsed and then a fire burned for three days. The fire department was helpless with no access to water. The centre of town was destroyed and later gave them the opportunity rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at the time. It also gave them the extra land they needed to enlarge their city.
Today it is a lovely city with a beautiful waterfront and old art deco buildings. Many of the streets are a combination of walking, traffic & bike lanes all at the same time. It is amazing when you think this was all planned in the ‘30s. The art deco is understandable, but the foresight to think that there would be more and larger cars and plan the streets and roads accordingly is amazing.
Napier and the area of South Beach in Florida are considered to be the two of the best preserved Art Deco towns, and in 2007 Napier was nominated as a World Heritage site with UNESCO. This is the first cultural site in New Zealand to be so nominated but it did not meet all the appropriate criteria.
The city lives the art deco period, you see quite a few old cars, Don would have loved this, and wandering around we ran into a barbershop quartet. The people who work at the tourist centre all dress in period dress including our guide. The shops however, are modern and it was a pleasure to walk around this town. I found my perfume here. I have been looking for it for months and no one carried it through all our stops on the trip so far. Several of us had lunch at the Angkor Wat Kiwi Cafe. This gentleman who immigrated here makes meat pies – a huge variety of meat pies – and he wins the contest for the “best meat pies in New Zealand” every year. And they were delicious!
Many cities, Toronto in particular, could take a lesson in the way they have developed their beautiful and functioning waterfront. Open to the water, with lots of walking areas, art and bandshell. So, out of disaster rose a really lovely city. Well done and a very nice day here.