Napier, Vintage cars awaiting cruise ship passengers, photo by Art Deco Trust
Captain Henk Draper expertly guides his 285m-long Holland America ship, the MS Noordam, into port at Napier in
Hawke's Bay on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island.
Napier is the principal port for the northeast, the largest producer of the country's apples, pears and stone fruit. It's also a key grape and wine area and the largest wool centre in the Southern Hemisphere. However, we are here to celebrate its incredible 1930s
Art Deco architecture, one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the entire country.
Nattily attired David Brock and colleague Tony Mairs from the Vintage Car Tours explain that Napier's unique construction was realized immediately after
the 1931 earthquake. David holds up an historic picture of the downtown area, every building flattened except for one, the Public Trust Office, saved by a solid foundation of reinforced cement and steel.
Did the earth move for you? is not a frivolous question for Vancouverites and New Zealanders alike, who sit perched along the Pacific Ocean's perilous
"Ring of Fire," a 40,000 km horseshoe shape with trenches, volcanic thrusts and tectonic plate movements, home to 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes. In fact, 90% of earthquakes and 81% of the largest occur along the Ring of Fire.
Richter scale measures earthquakes with a magnitude number that quantifies the energy released. 2.5 or less is not felt but merely recorded by seismograph, and they account for 900,000 events yearly, whereas 8.0 or greater destroys communities near the epicenter, and they occur once every 5-10 years.
The Napier earthquake, New Zealand's deadliest, killed 256 citizens. Centred 15 km north of Napier, it lasted for 2.5 minutes and measured 7.8, considered a major earthquake. There were 525 aftershocks in the following two weeks. Grey dust clouds turned black as fire raged through the wasteland of the central business district. "Napier as a town has been wiped off the map," reported The Dominion paper.
Our informative guides drive two polished 1939
Packards, one in pure, basic, gleaming black and the other more sporty in a shiny, maroon body with contrasting black fenders. David wears a 1930s period round straw boater hat with a black silk band, a crimson vest and a red cravat with beige trousers, and Tony is also outfitted in splendid fashion in a black fedora with a yellow, striped vest and dark blue pants. Both sport two-toned, black and white brogues,
Fred Astaire's favorite shoe style.
Art Deco was all the rage in the 30s, the term attributed to Swiss,
Le Corbusier. Emerging from the inter-world-war period, it represented extravagance, glamour, enthusiasm and faith in social and technological progress. It emphasized geometric forms, sunburst motifs, and its elements were often arranged in symmetrical patterns. Tony relates that modern materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, Bakelite, chrome, and plastics were frequently employed with stained glass, inlays and lacquer quite common.
Addressing adversity with incredible confidence, city leaders judged the earthquake not a disaster but a golden opportunity to design one of the most attractive towns in New Zealand. David suggests that the greatest gift of all was land. Bordered by swamp, real estate in Napier was in short supply, but suddenly, the earth thrust upward and lifted the seabed and surrounding land more than two metres, magically creating 3,200 hectares of new land!
Four architectural firms worked around the clock, and new buildings appeared in simple but striking designs, favouring Art Deco and influenced by
Frank Lloyd Wright,
Spanish Mission and the growing modern movement.
In just under two years, Napier transformed itself into the newest city in the world - and the most modern. One hundred and sixty buildings were completed, streets widened, service lanes included, corners on buildings splayed and utilities and services installed underground.
Now, each February, the city takes on a Hollywood film set atmosphere as the
"Tremains Art Deco Weekend" begins with a Gatsby picnic, street parties, steamer train trips, soirees, Big Band concerts and events ranging from Depression dinners to a grand ball that entertains tens of thousands of visitors.
We drive all over town, taking in myriad Art Deco structures and examine in detail the gorgeous Napier Municipal Theatre, (named in 2013 as one of the Top 10 Art Deco buildings in the world) directly across from the unyielding Public Trust Office and the attractive National Tobacco Company (one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand) constructed by wealthy entrepreneur,
Vivacious Sally Jackson, blonde with vivid red lipstick, General Manager of the Art Deco Trust, meets us in a Clara Bow-like
flapper outfit. Flappers were the new breed of young women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted a contempt for acceptable behavior. Sally brags that Napier and South Beach, Miami, Florida, are considered to be the two best-preserved Art Deco towns in the world.
Alongside the ship as we return, vintage cars line the way, and a Dixieland band wails out tunes with gentlemen and ladies gathered around. Someone, (deliberately, I think) has left a fox stole to grace the hood of a Ford beside a DeSoto.
This impressive Hawke's Bay region is also renowned for its award-winning red wines - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, fresh produce and artisanal food. It's home to one of the world's largest mainland gannet colonies, more than 15,000 seabirds strong at Cape Kidnappers. The
Cape Kidnappers Golf Course is ranked among the best in the world by Golf Magazine.
The pleasant sunny climate, relaxed lifestyle,
world-class wineries, restaurants and 180 km of cycle-trails make it a perfect year-round place for a holiday.
Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.