New Zealand Days: Napier

Napier is also known as Art Deco City.

In our drive around New Zealand’s North Island, we chose to stop in Napier, located on Hawke’s Bay on the southeast coast, for two reasons: 1) We wanted a place to stop between Rotorua and Wellington (we’re hoping to keep our daily drives between four to five hours a day); and 2) We heard that downtown Napier has a collection of vintage Art Deco buildings that we wanted check out.

We left Rotorua about 10:30 in the morning yesterday, and had a lovely drive down to Napier, through rolling hills and lush farmland on a two-lane state highway. In the distance we could see mountains at times, some even with snow, but they eventually disappeared. We had also hoped to stop off and check out a couple of waterfalls along the way, but although we saw signs letting us know they were in the area, we never saw any other signs letting us know when to turn. Google Maps was no help at all either – it has not functioned well here in New Zealand. As we approached Napier though we came over a last set of hills and got our first look at Hawke’s Bay, chock full of sailboats out in its turquoise water, and loads of houses perched up on the bluffs above the town.

The amazing view from our room in Napier. There is actually a huge cruise ship hidden behind the palm tree!

It took us a couple of tries to find our Airbnb up in the hills – the streets were narrow, some were one-way or dead ends, and once again Google Maps let us down – their directions told us to go up a one-way street, and they left off information that we would need the ‘North’ side of a street versus one labeled ‘South.’ But, we eventually found the house, and when we were shown to our room, the view alone made all of the frustration of getting there worthwhile. Our first thought as we looked out at the incredible view was to wonder why we hadn’t booked the room for more than one night!

Three of seven Victorian houses that survived the earthquake sit across from the waterfront park. These painted ladies now hold restaurants, shops and guest houses.

After getting our stuff up to our room, we chatted with our delightful host for a while and played with their adorable little terrier, and then got directions for how to get down into town as well as some suggestions for where to eat dinner. We turned out to be closer to the Art Deco district than we thought, and decided to start over at the waterfront, then stroll through the town and end with dinner.

The park along the waterfront was a much nicer place to walk than down on the beach.

There was a strong wind at the waterfront and lots of choppy water – definitely not beach weather. The beach was shingled (small rocks) versus sandy and didn’t look very inviting either. There’s a long park lining the beachfront, so we walked through that to a main street (Tennyson) that headed back into town. We had glimpsed a few of the buildings on the way to the waterfront and thought Tennyson would be a good place to start.

This tower on the T&G building sat on the first corner we came to.

Art Deco has been my favorite architectural style for forever, and walking through Napier was like going through a box of exquisite jewelry. Almost every building was vintage Art Deco, built in 1933 after most of the city was destroyed by a large earthquake in 1931. Many of the buildings now house modern shops on the ground floor, with the vintage upstairs offices, apartments or sometimes left empty. All were well-maintained though with no peeling paint, etc. We must have walked around for an hour or so – every time we looked up, there was another masterpiece of the style. Even the street signs and manhole covers were done Art Deco style so as to blend in.

Lovely detail
A Chinese merchant’s building – next door was one of the few non-Art Deco buildings, a small place with a green Chinese-style tile roof, but we couldn’t find any name or connection to this one.
Does it get more Art Deco than this?
The Municipal Theater was a masterpiece and is still in use – La Traviata will be performed there next week.
Art Deco manhole covers.

We eventually made our way to a small Mexican restaurant, and managed to get the last available table (customers after us either had to sit at the bar or wait outside). We enjoyed some very tasty (and spicy) food and cool drinks, and then headed to our car and back up to our room to enjoy the view some more and relax. The bed during our stay in Rotorua was the most uncomfortable we’ve slept in during our travels (way too soft for us), but the one in Napier more than made up for it and we both slept soundly.

The Mexican restaurant we ate at was in an old house that had survived the earthquake.
Hidden between and behind all the Art Deco was this tiny bar – loved the name!
We had a beautiful sunset view from the second window in our room.

This morning we enjoyed coffee and breakfast out on the terrace with our host, enjoying the beautiful view for the last time before starting our journey to Wellington. It may have only been for one night, but we definitely found this Airbnb and the visit to the city one of the highlights of our Big Adventure!

We enjoyed breakfast out on the terrace before we departed Napier this morning.

14 thoughts on “New Zealand Days: Napier

  1. Gorgeous! Love the Art Deco right down to the manhole covers. And that view. I can see why it was one of your favorite stops.

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    1. We loved it there and were sad to leave. Being there made us realize once again how much we love being near the water, and the turquoise waters (and palm trees) there in Napier reminded us so much of Hawaii.

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    1. Napier was a jewel for a variety of reasons – we’re so glad we put it on the itinerary!

      The tie is OK – good days and not-so-good days – but I am going to have it looked at when we get to Japan. Right now I’m struggling with stomach issues that have been plaguing me since Sydney – they come and go too. I’m going to miss seeing the sights in Wellington as I don’t feel well enough to go out. Brett will be doing all the sightseeing for both of us.

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  2. I’m loving your New Zealand posts, you’re following an itinerary very close to what I did with my mom ten years ago! We would have been on that giant cruise ship ha ha. Instead of using the cruise line excursions, I researched and found unique ones in each port of call. I remember going into a courthouse or some official government building and looking up to find the most exquisite art deco glass installation. And I think there was a beautiful park there that was created by convicts? I loved Wellington – took the cable car to the top and walked back down through the gardens. Are you going to Christchurch?

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    1. New Zealand is beautiful! The drives have been incredible too – so much beautiful scenery. Crazy at times too though – yesterday Google sent us off for a while on some twisty-turny back road in the middle of nowhere. Great scenery but not a soul around – we were glad to eventually get back to a state highway again (they can be pretty intense at times too!)

      Feeling under the weather today here in Wellington so I will be staying at the Airbnb and drinking tea while Brett gets out and explores for a bit. We’re only touring the North Island, so no Christchurch this time. Long drive tomorrow too, but we’re staying up in a rainforest in the side of a volcano!

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      1. Thanks, and so far, yes. I picked up something in Australia that keeps coming back – I’m OK for a day or two and then it comes back and knocks me flat. Hopefully the other day was the last of it!

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  3. Once you are back in the States, and if you havent be een, a trip to the Phoenix Biltmore will be in order (art deco!). Take care and hope you feel better. Thank you for sharing your amazing journeys. Australia has been on my DHs list and your experience is helping us with a real perspective!

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    1. Thank you for the tip about the Biltmore! One of the things I love about Art Deco is finding or learning about places. Sometimes I hear about them and go search them out, but other times they sneak up on me, hidden in spots I least expect to see them (like Sydney, for example).

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  4. I love Napier. One of my favourite towns. Even more so when I found out local business people do up the buildings, even if they know they won’t get rented out. They do it for the town, for their civic duty, to keep the place looking amazing. How good is that!!??

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    1. The vintage buildings were all beautifully maintained, even if the upper floor(s) were empty – it was one of the first things we noticed too. The entire city was lovely and well-cared for by its residents.

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