New Zealand’s city of Napier is a haven for architecture, gourmet produce and wildlife
This bustling, sun-drenched city set amid the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island is often referred to as the Art Deco Capital of the world. As you make your way around the centre of town, it’s easy to see why.
After the city was all but wiped out by a devastating earthquake in 1931, it was rebuilt over the next decade in a range of styles popular from the era, including Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical.
Chief among Napier’s architectural styles, though, is Art Deco. These days, the city is notable for its Deco buildings, chicly adorned with speed lines, sunbursts, geometric patterns and the style’s characteristically flat roofs.
Famous Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style was used by New Zealander J. A. Louis Hay in the rebuilding of the city. Today, thanks to only a few Art Deco buildings having been replaced in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, a large part of Napier has remained intact for the city to be recognised as architecturally important.
By 1989, a two-day Art Deco Weekend was started; it has now turned into an event attended by over 70,000 people dressed from head to toe in 1930s outfits. They don’t just marvel at the city’s architecture, but turn out to see hundreds of vintage cars, warbirds and steam trains alongside over 200 events, including concerts, car parades, aerobatic displays, fashion shows, Great Gatsby-themed picnics, and train rides.
You don’t need to wait for next year’s event (Feb 15-17, 2017) to enjoy the best of Napier, which nowadays is rivalled only by Miami’s beachfront Streamline Moderne, thanks to the team at the Art Deco Trust, who can take you around town in a restored 1930s vintage car, one of several used on fascinating 75-minute city tours. On that journey, you’ll see the architectural work of Hay firsthand and get steeped in the city’s rich history.
The Hawke’s Bay region has been shooting up the nation’s list of gourmand hotspots, thanks to the exceptional food and wine that are produced in the hills and valleys, and freshly caught from the oceans and streams. When it comes to wine, Hawke’s Bay is best known for its delicate Syrah, especially from grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels wine region. You’ll also find beautiful Chardonnays and respectable Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots around the Gimblett Gravels and across the large wine-growing region. Trinity Hill, Craggy Range, Te Mata and Black Barn are several of the best local wine producers, with all delivering top-notch drops.
Craggy Range, 25 minutes from Napier, also offers excellent accommodation, with stylish little cottages tucked amongst the vines, against a spectacular backdrop of the highest peak in the region, Te Mata. Black Barn’s luxury retreats are also highly recommended, offering a range of accommodation options from tiny, romantic cottages and beach houses to properties big enough to comfortably sleep 12 in style. Many of the wineries have fine-dining restaurants attached, with Craggy Range’s silo-shaped dining room one of the most visually stimulating. A two-course lunch outside under the wines at Black Barn is also hard to beat. If you find yourself here on a Sunday, stop by the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Markets, for local fruit, cheese, olives, game meats and more.
Back in town, there are more quality eating options. Napier’s proximity to wine country means it’s a town of foodies – you’ll find good food at every price point. Pacifica Kaimoana is the city’s standout restaurant, and it’s easy to see why. No two nights’ menus are the same, with chef Jeremy Rameka working with whatever ingredients are fresh and available on the day to create novel, palate-expanding flavours. Choose from the à la carte or the Pacifica tasting menu, and expect dishes like warmed crayfish medallions, smoked eel porridge, sesame-crusted swordfish, or crispy whitebait.
For something a little more casual, Mister D Dining is a café, bar and restaurant in one. Drop in for a hearty breakfast or lunch, or go in the evening for the full dining experience. Don’t leave without trying the house-made doughnuts, which come complete with a do-it-yourself container of custard, jam or chocolate.
Head to the hip FG Smith Eatery, which does café staples such as sandwiches, cakes, and a good cup of coffee. It’s conveniently attached to Aroha and Friends, a chic boutique selling top local labels, including Karen Walker and Zambesi, as well as beautiful prints for wall decorations.
Napier has plenty of accommodation options for all budgets, from backpacker hostels to stylish luxury apartments. The Dome Apartments, right on Marine Parade, the esplanade that travels along Napier’s shoreline, are handy to everything in Napier’s commercial centre, and have stunning ocean views to boot. Little touches such as Bose iPod docks and designer bed linen make the apartments comfortably luxurious.
For luxury accommodation, book into The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a 25-minute drive out of Napier and one of New Zealand’s best lodges. Secluded amid 2,400 hectares of rolling farmland and overlooking the sea, it has top-class dining, an excellent golf course, and a world-class spa to make it a destination on its own.
While up at Cape Kidnappers, don’t miss the largest and most accessible colonies of gannets in the world. Some 20,000 gannets with black eye markings and pale gold crowns, sized midway between a sea gull and an albatross, call this place home from September until early May, after which they leave New Zealand for Australia.
The region is also the country’s cycling hotbed, with bike trails around wineries, alongside the ocean and through the hills. Hire bikes downtown or organise a group ride with Takaro Trails, which offers tours around Hawke’s Bay both on-road and off.
Malaysia Airlines flies to Auckland (AKL) from Kuala Lumpur (KUL). Napier is a five-hour drive each way from Auckland.
Photo credits: Getty Images, Tourism New Zealand, Hawkes Bay Tourism