Kia Ora day ten – having a deco at Napier

Hands up how many of you have heard of Napier? Can you place it in New Zealand? And why was it a must visit on my itinerary?

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there’s one like it in Bournemouth


As with so much in the middle section of NZ the seismic activity has dictated what we have done. The rapids, the hot beach, the tramp around Lake Tarawera. But nothing, so far (we have yet to reach Christchurch after all) can compare recently to the devastation of Napier in 1931. The place was smashed by earthquakes and just when that seemed bad enough it was engulfed by fire. The world was struggling with the biggest economic depression then experienced and here was a thriving city destroyed. Could it survive and if so how?

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Two citizens were given the task of effecting a restoration.

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They were geniuses – benign dictators mostly but in two and a half years they took the unemployed men of NZ and turned Napier into a jewel.

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Perhaps the disaster was well timed if the deaths of 157 people (in Napier – over 260 all told) and the destruction of a town be said to be well timed. But the architectural forms of the 20th century coalesced here; the Art Deco movement, the science integrating with the arts, the use of Maori art forms, the Spanish Ranch style and Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas merged to form the palate with which Napier was repainted.

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In those two and a bit years Napier was transformed and it kept on until WW2.

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Of the 160 new building built in that time 140 survive.

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Those in the commercial quarter house modern businesses and with modern shop fronts these could be High Street Anywhere. But look up, please look up and be stunned.

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When I was a teenager we drove along the A40 – this is the road that leads out of London towards Oxford. There’s really nothing special about it, a classic ‘arterial road’. But as you begin to leave London’s sprawl behind, you pass some industrial buildings and one is the Hoover factory. Built in the 1930s it is a vision in glass steel and concrete and stunned me.

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Since then I’ve been blown away by early 20th Century architecture, whether it is Art Nouveau or Art deco, in places like Helsinki and Barcelona, or South Beach Miami with its dolly-mixture colours. But Napier tops the poll for me. It’s not big but is just works, it clicks. My photography does not do the town justice but please, if you ever find yourself in NZ don’t pass this small coastal town by. You need to detour (it’s right next to the Hawkes Bay wine region if you need an incentive) but detour you must.

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They said ‘Go to the South island’. They said that’s where New Zealand is beautiful. Fools! Charlatans! Philistines! Visigoths!! Blackguards! Bashi-Bazouks!! Do not miss Napier.


I even bought the hat!


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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13 Responses to Kia Ora day ten – having a deco at Napier

  1. Archaeologist says:

    Definitely channelling the great captain


  2. Yes I loved Napier also. I think that due to the earthquake it has the largest number of art deco buildings in the world and they are magnificent. My personal thoughts only are that you are doing it the right way by going to the North Island first. We went South first and the North couldn’t live up to our experience in the south and yet we knew it was breath taking in its own right. Glad to see you are enjoying your holiday.


  3. Charli Mills says:

    You are styling in that hat! Napier is indeed unique as building at that scale was not in force due to economies crumbling, yet art and architecture was at an interesting juncture. Beautiful result. Thank you for defying the call south and bringing us this report and photos!


  4. Norah says:

    I’ll have to put Napier on my itinerary when I get to visit NZ. I really enjoy the way you told its history; and love the hat and new look facial hair. I’m sure it wasn’t there last time I looked. 🙂


  5. willowdot21 says:

    I know the Hoover building well my mother in law used to work on there. She 94yrs and fit and bright as a button. Is it a Tescos now.. Eek? Sacralige! Any way I digress Napier looks amazing as does the new hat!!


  6. Pingback: N is for Napier and other places worth a deco | TanGental

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