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An Art Deco City Rises from the Ashes

Friday 16th October 2015

sunny 20 °C

Although we had seen quite a number of the Art Deco buildings in Napier, I was looking forward to seeing more on the tour we had booked for today. Before that we had a filling cooked breakfast at The County. We weren't being picked up until just before 11:30am so we had plenty of time to catch up on emails and Facebook first thing. Our guide for the tour was called Evelyn and she was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgable when it came to the history and architecture of the town. She started off talking about the earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale, that struck Napier at 10:47am on the 3rd of February 1931. Tragically it wasn't just the earthquake that did the damage and resulted in loss of life, but the subsequent fires that spread from a couple of chemist shops in the town. When the earthquake occurred large areas of coastal land rose including Ahuriri Lagoon, which was lifted more than 2.7 metres creating 2230 hectares of new land on which Hawkes Bay Airport, housing and industrial developments and farmland are based today.

Not only was much of the town centre flattened but 256 people died. Evelyn retold many of the human stories of that day, some tragic and others funny like the man stuck in rubble who urged rescuers to remove his leg. When they questioned whether this was necessary he pointed out to them that it was wooden! A lot of the timber Edwardian buildings up in Bluff Hill survived, it was the brick buildings that were most severely damaged and because this was early in the life of the Hawkes Bay area, some were new or nearing completion. Rebuilding took place very quickly and the favoured style because it was quick and relatively cheap was Art Deco. We were shown many examples in the town including the theatre, the old newspaper office and the tobacco factory as well as many shops.

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After we had seen some of the town centre buildings we went up to the top of Bluff Hill from where there is a great view of the port and lumber yards.

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We also went to the residential areas near the Westshore and were shown some of the best examples of domestic Deco architecture.

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The trip finished back in the town at our hotel, one of the few buildings in the centre that survived pretty much intact. In the afternoon we drove south of Napier towards the town of Hastings and up a famous landmark Te Mata peak. It is 399metres above sea level and affords great views of the Hawkes Bay area. We stayed there for quite a while admiring the view which stretched as far as the Tongariro peaks. Below us we could also see some farmers rounding up sheep and cattle of their farm using a quad bike alongside the more traditional sheepdog.

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The road to the peak was very steep and a popular place for both runners and cyclists so Nigel had to be very careful on ascent and descent. Once we had finished admiring the view we drove back to Napier.

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Once there we went and had a closer look at couple of the buildings we had seen from the outside in the morning and then we went to a wine centre over the road from our hotel where we were able to try sniffing a large range of aromas and do a tasting whilst watching a film of the wine growers describing their wines. Afterwards Nigel and I chose a bottle each to purchase.

We had booked a table at the hotel restaurant for an evening meal so we went back to the hotel and relaxed for a while (I had a quick nap) and then after getting ready we went down to the restaurant. The food was lovely but what was great was the waiters knowledge of wine and we had three great recommendations including a delicious dessert wine. We then went to have a quick look at the Tom Parker Fountain named after its benefactor and inspired by one similar he had seen whilst on a trip to Bournemouth. This is illuminated at night with coloured lights and it was quite a spectacle to watch.

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It was a great finish to a fascinating day and we retired feeling chilled (and a little squiffy).

Posted by Gill's Travels 16:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes buildings new_zealand napier earthquake art_deco

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