Napier’s swell party,
Joanna Wane joins the crowds putting on the ritz for the 30th annual Art Deco Festival in Napier.
Dogs wore cheese-cutter hats and brocade waistcoats. In an oldfashioned pram, a puppy in pearls and lace peeked out from under the hood.
Men with ruddy faces dressed in braces and bow ties and boaters; gangsters bared their ankles in short trousers, Al Capone-style, as they toted wooden machine guns on the street.
A flotilla of lace parasols floated along Napier’s Marine Parade – parting to make way for a mobility scooter that barrelled through the crowd, the rider’s pink gloves and shoes matching the flowers gamely pinned to her hat.
Matilda and her soon-to-no-longer-be-a-bachelor Art were there, both of them effortlessly charming and in a different outfit each day. On Saturday afternoon, she wore flat shoes, a cloche hat and spectacles to judge the Costumes, Coiffure and Bathing Belles competitions. MC John Cocking (aka “Bertie”) described a pair of beach PJS modelled by a visitor from the Gold Coast as “absolutely spiffing”.
“Give us a little spin at the end, darling,” he encouraged a shy young wren in an original World War I nurse’s uniform. “That’s it, beautifully done. The next little lady, please...”
Children swirled black moustaches above their top lips, and teenage girls showed off their legs in skimpy flapper dresses that revealed the occasional incongruous tattoo. An older woman dressed in head-to-toe apricot had plasters on the back of her heels, where the stiff leather of her lace-up brogues had rubbed.
Inside one of the banks, a teller worked at her computer in a headband and sparkly silver sequins. Thank god for air- conditioning. Out on the street, elegant women of a certain vintage sweated quietly under luxurious fur stoles as the midday temperature hit 30°C. How their stockings must have prickled in the heat.
Glen Pickering must have been sweating, too, before the opening pōwhiri at the Soundshell, on February 14 – Valentine’s Day. He ran the World Buskers Festival in Christchurch before taking over as director of Napier’s Art Deco Festival, making his debut in 2017. It rained, for the first
time in 17 years. Then, at his first Winter Deco Weekend a few months later, flooding closed the train lines – cutting off the Vintage Railcar – and heavy snow trapped cars on the Napier-taupō road.
This year, the sun glowed in a flawless, indigo-blue sky. Pickering shone, too, in a striped blazer with matching bow tie and boater. On Sunday, he helped judge the Deco Dog Parade at the Soundshell. Chihuahuas in tiaras nipped at the heels of Russian wolfhounds, and a bowler-hatted Charlie Chaplin and his lookalike schnauzer won a prize. By the time it was all over, the grass was littered with boa feathers.
An hour later, he was handing out prizes at the Soapbox Derby. Spectators lined the street as racecar drivers as young as four careered down Tennyson St towards a bank of sandbags at the finishing line, chased by runners to make sure no one veered too far off track; a replica 1930s Bugatti still had visible damage from a crash the year before. “Start your engines,” boomed the announcer, as the carts lined
up for each heat. “And push…!”
Pickering is in his element at an event like this, which is all about putting on a fabulous show and, for a while, slipping into someone else’s skin. In his early days as an actor, he was a body double for twins Jethro and Van on the TV3 series Outrageous Fortune (whether he was in any of the show’s notorious sex scenes, one didn’t like to ask, but apparently the writers liked to make sure there was at least one within the first few minutes of every episode).
“When you put on a costume, your behaviour changes, and you really do become another person,” he said, over coffee at the Masonic Hotel, one of the art- deco masterpieces that rose from the rubble after the 1931 earthquake destroyed so much of the city centre. All the Masonic’s staff were dressed up for the weekend, from busboys to bartenders, transforming the place into a heaving Prohibition- era speakeasy. “You can imagine the 1920s and 1930s looking just like this,” said Pickering, looking out over the terrace. “It’s like walking onto a film set.” It was the 30th year the festival had been held, and a staggering 45,000 people poured into Napier over the weekend – a quarter of them from out of town.
The Great Gatsby Party at the Mission Estate Winery sold out, with tickets at $220 a pop, but most of the events were free. On Saturday, the pavements were packed with spectators for the Vintage Car Parade, led through the city centre by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band.
Entry was capped at 300 cars, but all eyes were on the celebrity top 30, which had an extraordinary combined value of more than $30 million. There was a 1934 Cadillac V6 Town Cabriolet, first owned by Marlene Dietrich; a 1935 Duesenberg J Phaeton once owned by Carole Lombard; a 1935 Packard S8 Coupe that used to belong to Amelia Earhart; and New Zealand’s oldest car, an 1895 Benz. A ferret (long deceased) sprawled over the back of a gold and black 1913
On the North Island's west coast, Mt Karioi presides over the waves rolling in at Raglan's Manu Bay. Māori legend has it the extinct volcano is the form of a long-ago princess who, on discovering her husband's betrayal, lay down in anguish to rest. It's about three hours to the top – from where you'll spot Mt Taranaki, on a clear day – so you might need a little rest yourself once you've made it to the summit.
Raglan is only 45 minutes' drive for Hamiltonians, and two hours for Aucklanders, but the little town's end- of-the-road, harbourside locale feels a world away. The surfies seem to have set the tone: a laid-back, bohemian vibe.
Community spirit has soared in recent years, with eco-initiatives, a thriving arts scene and the likes of the weekly Crop Swap at the Bowling Club. In Raglan, you'll also find yoga classes, luxury yurts and locally made yoghurt (the dairy-free, coconut kind).
Make the most of the waves by having a crack at surfing, boogieboarding or kitesurfing. The calmer waters of the harbour are perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding, and the limestone cliffs around it can be scaled and abseiled – or take to the hills and beaches on horseback.
When it comes to shopping, you don't really need to make a plan, just wander along the palm-lined main street, and the alleyways sprouting from it, and you'll be in boutique/ gallery/curio heaven. Mosey on down to the wharf and you'll find a cluster of creativity, from local potter Tony Sly's clay creations, to delightfully eclectic vintage and handmade goods. Stay for a bite from Raglan Fish – a dine-in or takeaway fish and chip shop – or the Raglan Wharf Kitchen & Bar.
Hunger pangs are also well satisfied at The Shack, Raglan Social Club, Orca and Bow Street Depot. There's locally roasted coffee – Raglan Roast – and it's worth getting in early for the sourdough sold at Ruapuke Artisan Bread, a hole-in-the-wall bakery beside the Trade Aid shop. On the way out to the surf breaks, stop at Food Department, which is run by Italians with a passion for pizza and gelato; or Rock-it Kitchen, which is based in an old woolshed.
Heading inland, you can wind your way by foot or bike along the scenic Waikato River Trails, which span 100km of previously inaccessible land and weave through wetland, farmland and historic villages built to service the construction of the hydro dams.
Nearby Hamilton is the home of farming festival Fieldays, held in June, and it's also steadily amassing an array of great street art, retail stores, and award-winning restaurants and craft beer. The area's newest and most unusual crop – oolong tea – is flourishing at Zealong, New Zealand's only commercial tea estate.
Travel through time and across continents at internationally acclaimed Hamilton Gardens, where each of the 20-plus themed zones acts as a living museum for eras and civilisations as diverse as the Italian Renaissance, the Chinese Song Dynasty, Tudor England, the Mughal emperors of India and American modernism.
The city's Waikato Museum houses taonga that reflects the cultural heritage of Waikato-tainui, including Te Winika, one of the best-preserved waka from the precolonisation era. It also manages Artspost, a shop and gallery space for local art and design which is located in the former Post Office, a glorious heritage building.