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The Birthplace of New Zealand Wine Culture

KARRYN MILLER explores Napier, the birthplace of New Zealand winemaking and a hub of Art Deco architecture.

Published on Aug 26, 2016


NAPIER'S HISTORY ENDS AND BEGINS AGAIN on February 3, 1931. On that date a fierce earthquake leveled the town on the eastern edge of New Zealand's North Island, and even altered its coastline. The community was forced to build the city anew, and trendy Art Deco turned out to be the perfect style to adorn the low and sturdy buildings required by the new quake proofing standards. So, out of the rubble emerged a stunning concentration of the 1920s-born, geometric, folk art- and avant garde-influenced new modernist aesthetic. Most of it still stands today, frozen in time for 85 years. The annual Tremains Art Deco Festival, set for February 17 to 21, 2016, is a throwback celebration of the style that defines Napier.

New Napier Arch
Make your grand entrance through the New Napier Arch. Courtesy of Art Deco Trust Napier.

In February 2016, the city and surrounding region will play host to 250 events over five austral summer days, from a "Gatsby Picnic," to a "Prohibition Party" with moonshine and casino tables, to a procession of vintage automobiles passing the Art Deco facades of Napier's main thoroughfares. And though much of the draw is the history, hotels are getting total renovations, new restaurants are opening up and there are brand-new sites to see—evidence that city, while reverent of its past, is looking towards the future. Here, our guide to experiencing Napier in all its Art Deco glory.


The Art Deco Masonic Hotel (Corner Tennyson Street and Marine Parade; +64 6 835 8689), the place to stay during the festival, completed a total refurbishment of its 42 eclectic rooms. The Royal suite has the best view of Marine Parade and the festivities. You can even make like Queen Elizabeth II, who stayed in the room during her Coronation Tour, and wave to onlookers from your coveted perch.

Masonic Hotel
Masonic Hotel's Royal suite. Courtesy of Masonic Hotel.


The city's Art Deco Trust runs daily tours—either on foot or in a vintage Packard— through the town, with guides pointing out details that may otherwise be overlooked. Take for example the ASB Bank building in stripped classical style that, on closer inspection, has traditional Maori motifs worked into the exterior. Or there's the bronze A Wave in Time statue on Emerson Street depicting Sheila Williams, daughter of Napier's most famous architect responsible for the rebuild, in 1920s regalia walking a sleek greyhound. She never owned one, but the sculptor felt the dog completed Shelia's look, our animated German guide told us.

A Wave in Time
A Wave in Time, a statue of Sheila Williams, the daughter of Napier's most famous architect. Courtesy of Napier City Council.

+ The region boasts a little more than 200 kilometers of off-road trails. Napier City Bike Hire (117 Marine Parade; +64 21 959 595), run by a friendly group of five girls—four Rachels, and an Anna who said she will answer to Rachel—hires bikes out by the hour or day, and is only a few minutes walk from the Masonic.

Take your wheels for a spin along the Colonnade on Marine Parade and the iconic Sound Shell. Both are part of a strip of land that emerged from the sea during the quake. There's also a wide path hugging the shoreline, popular with both pedestrians and cyclists.

Stop by the viewing platform jutting out into the bay, which also opened in December 2015, before heading south. On the rapidly developing waterfront you'll pass a mini-golf course, playgrounds, a bike track and skate park for kids, and the National Aquarium, before the buildings give way to a quieter shoreline.


Masonic Hotel's restaurant, Emporium Eatery & Bar (+64 6 835 0013) is a casual indoor/outdoor dining and drinking hangout with inventive thin-crusted pizzas and a lengthy (and educational) artisanal cocktail and craft beer menu.

Emporium Eatery & Bar
Emporium Eatery and Bar's cabinets. Courtesy of Emporium Eatery and Bar.

+ Also close to the hotel is Hapi Kai (89 Hastings St.; +64 6 561 0142), a opened vegan raw food café. At lunchtime the takeaway spot sells hearty gourmet salad trays (perfect for tucking into a bike bag for longer trips) with fillings like chunky almond and sun-dried tomato chili, and a smoky lime and coriander cauliflower rice.


Napier is set in the Hawke's Bay region, which is famous for its wine, and south—a little more than an hour by bike—on the Te Awanga coast is the newest region's vineyard, Elephant Hill (86 Clifton Rd., Te Awanga; +64 6 872 6060). The facility is exceedingly modern, with a white and turquoise interior and even an infinity pool as a water feature. Cuisine Good Food Guide 2015, New Zealand's authority on the country's dining and drinking scene, listed it among its top winery restaurants. Those stopping in for a wine tasting can sample duelling versions of the Sauvignon Blanc; the pricier Reserve comes from vines nearer the ocean, which grow in tougher soil and therefore produce hardier, and tastier, grapes.

+ Closer to the town center is New Zealand's oldest winery, Mission Estate (198 Church Rd.; +64 6 845 9350), which aesthetically could not be further from the steel and glass of Elephant Hill. Founded in 1851 by French missionaries, the vineyard is still owned by the Marist order, and if you look to your left while driving in, there's a row of Muscat grapes that were grafted from the original stock brought to the country in 1838.

Mission Estate
Mission Estate at night. Courtesy of Mission Estate.

+ Next door is another integral player in the country's wine scene, the Church Road Winery (150 Church Rd.; +64 6 833 8234; there's also a free tasting of three wines), which traces its history back to 1897. It was here that the country's first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon was produced, in 1949.

Though the countr's winemaking has expanded to other regions, most notably on the South Island, many vino fans still flock to Hawke’s Bay to pay homage to the history of the drink, and to the glorious age of Gatsby.


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Mission Estate Winery at sunrise. Courtesy of Art Deco Trust Napier.
  • A parade of vintage cars at the Art Deco Festival. Courtesy of Art Deco Trust Napier.
  • The vintage cars at Masonic Hotel's facade. Courtesy of Masonic Hotel.
  • Get fired up at Emporium Eatery & Bar. Courtesy of Emporium Eatery & Bar.
  • Mission Estate's building fountain. Courtesy of Mission Estate.
  • Masonic Hotel's Royal suite. Courtesy of Masonic Hotel.
  • A symphony of salad at Hapi Kai raw food café. Courtesy of Hapi Kai.
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