Fine designs and dining in a city reborn
A DISASTROUS START: Earthquakes don’t usually put a place on the map, but it was the devastati ing shake of February 3, 1931, that saw Napier, on the east coast of the North Island, transformed from a small town with a handful of notable Victorian buildings to the art deco gem it is today. Two years after the disaster, the city had been rebuilt in the style that was sweeping the world at the time, particularly in Los Angeles and New York. While denied UNESCO heritage listing several years ago, Napier is said to have the most comprehensive collection of deco buildings in the world. The style was chosen for its look (ziggurats and zigzags are recurring motifs) but also because it was easy to build and its solid block formation was hoped to be disaster-proof. More: artdeconapier.com.
ARCHITECTURALA AMBLES: There are several w ways to see the highlights, which include buildi ings in the Spanish mission and stripped classical styles. Self-guided walks are leisurely although escorted tours and vintage car rides, led by characters in costume, are a real treat. Or hop aboard the Hawke’s Bay Express, a motorised train with three retro carriages. Look out for the Louis Hay designs (the local architect was an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright), including the Daily Telegraph, Criterion Hotel and National Tobacco Company buildings. The ABS Bank incorporates Maori designs, while the green dome atop the T&G building and the Sound Shell are well-known favourites. A fleet of well-polished vintage cars is always on standby and keen motorists can self-drive in style from a company called Hooters. More: hbexpress.co.nz; hooters-hire.co.nz.
PUTTING ON THE RITZ: Napier goes Gatsby ga-ga in February each year when about 30,000 revellers hit the streets dressed in flapper finery and boaters, blazers and spats during the Art Deco Festival. Next year marks the 30th anniversary (February 14-18); glittering dances, a prohibition party, fashion parades (even for dogs), billycart races and a Depression dinner are all on the bill. Organisers of the dinner insist you “dress down” (women in hair curlers have been spotted), eat from tin plates and sing tunes from the 1930s. There’s no need to pack a suitcase of outfits as plenty of stores bulge with clobber for hire. A smaller Winter Deco Weekend is held each July (14-16 this year; 13-15 in 2018).
CAPE CAPERS: A headland at the southeast extremity of Hawke’s Bay, Cape Kidnappers is h home to a spectacular golf course, a five-star lodge set on farmland, dramatic cliffs and the largest mainland gannet colony in the world. There are fourwheel-drive tours up-hill and down-dale to the cape (named for the attempt by Maori in 1769 to abduct one of Captain Cook’s young crew) but a fun way to go is by tractor-drawn trailer along the beach. On the way, guides explain how the 1931 earthquake raised the seabed by 2.7m and point out fault lines and fossil deposits in the cliffs. A 20,000-strong colony of golden crowned birds nest on the plateau and rocky outcrops from September to April. More: gannets.com; capekidnappers.com.
DRINK IN HISTORY: The oldest winery in New Zealand lies on the outskirts of Napier on the h hills above the city with glorious views over the vines. Mission Estate was established by French Marist missionaries in 1851 who brought vines and set about cultivating sacramental and table wines. No longer housing the religious order, the 1880-built seminary is home to an acclaimed restaurant and cellar door and is set in huge grounds that play host to the annual Mission Concert where the likes of Tom Jones and Rod Stewart have performed. This is the place to begin a tasting tour of Hawke’s Bay, the second largest winegrowing region in the country (after Marlborough) and renowned for merlot cabernet blends, syrah and chardonnay. More: missionestate.co.nz; hawkesbaywine.co.nz.
FOODIE FESTIVITIES: Blessed with a Mediterranean climate and sheltered by the ranges to the west, Hawke’s Bay has long been New Zealand’s fruit bowl and today specialises in artisan produce. Farmers’ markets abound, with Napier holding the urban market on Saturdays at Clive Square in the art deco hub, and stalls moving to the Hawke’s Bay showgrounds at Hastings, Napier’s twin settlement, on Sundays. In a festival-made city, expect a foodie fair or two. The FAWC (food and wine classic) takes place over five weekends in winter (from June 9 this year), while the summer event starts cooking on November 3. A long list of offerings includes whodunit dinners in grand wineries. More: hawkesbayfarmersmarket.co.nz; fawc.co.nz.
T TWO-WHEELER TRAILS: With 200km of bike trails and a handful of rental companies that will h happily send riders off with maps and pick them up after a day in the saddle, cycling is a great way to explore Hawke’s Bay. The flat off-road trails around the wineries are perfect for a leisurely day of picnicking and wine-tasting. Coastal Wine Cycles promises there are no hills on its recommended paths that skirt the wineries and even claims its comfortable bikes are “‘wedgie-free”. Napier City Bike Hire and Fish Bike run art-cycle tours and escorted jaunts along the shoreline visiting the old port suburb of Ahuriri north of Napier. More: fishbike.co.nz; winecycles.co.nz; onyerbike.co.nz; bikehirenapier.co.nz.
A ARTS AND MURALS: With more than 30 galleries and artists’ studios in Napier, Hastings and Havelock North, there’s no shortage of talent in this neck of the coast. Indigenous potters, weavers and sculptors showcase their works at the Waiohiki Artists Village, and public art abounds. Installations such as the towering Spirit of Napier statue and the A Wave in Time series in Emerson Street depict the city rising from the devastation of the quake. Pania of the Reef, a legendary Maori mermaid whose bronze image graces the foreshore, is said to the most photographed statue in the country. The latest installation, Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans, comprises 29 large-scale murals painted on council buildings and old warehouses in Napier and nearby Ahuriri. Don’t miss the Earthquake Gallery at the MTG Museum. More: hawkesbaynz.com; mtghawkesbay.com.
BISTRO A GO-GO: Housed in a Louis Hay art deco building, Bistronomy serves the most imaginative fare in Napier. Chef James Beck, who settled in Hawke’s Bay after globetrotting in Europe for 10 years with stints at The Savoy in London and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, has created a casual bistro, offering a menu of six courses, taken as a degustation or a la carte. It’s ideal to comfortably dine solo, perched at the chef’s bench and watching all the action of the open kitchen. My starters (or “bites’’) of beet toffee, organic chicken wing and Manaaki whitebait arrive on steel skewers artistically stuck into a piece of driftwood, which is local, of course, along with much of the produce. More: bistronomy.co.nz. STATELY AND STYLISH: Location and nostalgia meet at Art Deco Masonic Hotel. With views over the bay and a stroll to the Sound Shell, the museum and Art Deco Centre, one might as well be back in the 30s, when the hotel was rebuilt after the earthquake. The 46 guestrooms and lobby have been recently treated to a stylish makeover in keeping with the era. The Pacific Suite (pictured) is the best in the house, opening on to a long flower-filled balcony via French doors (the balcony is shared by a handful of other rooms), while the Royal Suite was Queen Elizabeth’s home away from home during her 1954 Coronation tour of the colonies. More: masonic.co.nz.
Caroline Gladstone was a guest of Hawke’s Bay Tourism.
• hawkesbaynz.com • newzealand.com/au
Classic cars outside Art Deco Masonic Hotel, Napier, top; Mission Estate Winery, above; National Tobacco Company building, above right; shopping in Napier, below; the tractor ride to Cape Kidnappers, bottom