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Articles Blog

Napier, New Zealand

Karyn Planett

It’s 10:46am, February 3rd, 1931. As unsuspecting locals go about their mornings-as-usual morning, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake rips right through the streets of Napier with a deafening, grinding force. It was as if a hoard of angry gods unleashed the full strength of their fury, grabbing the earth and shaking it like a rag doll. This terror and violence lasted a horrifying two and a half minutes. When the rumbling stopped and the dust finally settled the tiny town of Napier was wiped smack off the map.

Then someone smelled smoke. A fire had started in a local pharmacy incinerating the rubble as well as everything in its path including nearby Hastings. As the carnage continued, 258 local people perished. Astoundingly, the entire area was raised up by this cataclysmic thrust a staggering seven feet creating 9,000 new acres of dry land. Imagine. Now, if this weren’t enough for the dazed community, over the next two weeks there were 525 aftershocks. These paled, however, by comparison with the shock community leaders faced with the prospect of literally starting over to rebuild their town. But, rebuild they did for the fine folks of Napier are quite hardy, indeed.

Art Deco

Yes, it was determined almost immediately to rebuild the town, starting with essentially a clean sheet of paper. Within months, the Napier Reconstruction Committee was formed and plans for a new central business district began to take shape. Architects, working as teams and independently, were profoundly influenced by the European Art Deco style of the mid-1920s, with its geometric forms, stucco surfaces, and relief decorations. Remember, this is not the same as the art deco of Miami Beach, which is closer to a parallel movement called Streamline Moderne. Traces of that style are found in the Municipal Theater. The Masonic Hotel, Taylor Building, Daily Telegraph Building and Kidson’s Building are each considered among the classics of the European genre.

There’s also a touch of California’s Spanish Mission style. Napier’s citizens were so impressed by stories of Santa Barbara’s recovery after a 1925 earthquake that they used that California city as inspiration for their own architectural revival. Charlie’s Art Deco Restaurant in the Hawkes Bay Chambers is worthy of a look, as well.

Cape Kidnappers

Curious name... “Cape Kidnappers.” This is the wind-and-sea sculpted, five-mile long peninsula at the southern end of Hawkes Bay. And, as the story goes, when some unruly Maoris tried yet failed to abduct one of Captain James Cook’s crewmen from Endeavor in 1769, that great explorer was able to add to his list of strange and wonderful Pacific place names... “Cape Kidnappers”. It’s also home to one of nature’s stranger species... the gannet.

“Gannet” is the more attractive name for a member of the booby family. In fact, over 20,000 of them nest here creating the world’s largest and most accessible mainland colony of these spectacular flyers, but unsure walkers. Until early May they soar overhead on six-foot wingspans bearing the latest seafood offerings for fuzz-ball chicks waiting hungrily. Due to the parents’ long days in flight searching for food, their land legs are often not as highly developed and landings can be a comical affair, for the observer that is.

The World’s 41st Most Beautiful Golf Course

That factoid comes from Golf Magazine’s respected ranking of the World’s 100 Best. However, as usual, beauty comes at a cost. The Links at Cape Kidnappers presents some of the most intimidating holes a golfer can face. Challenging fairways stretch along fingers of land scalloped into jagged cliffs. Greens at each tip create a permanent penalty for misdirected shots as golfers are warned against fishing for balls lost in the surf hundreds of feet below. And if the predictable wind is blowing, you’ll not be worrying about your handicap on this Tom Doak-designed, par 71 carnival ride. You’ll simply be holding onto your hat and making sure you don’t get blown over the ledge.

Once safe back in the clubhouse, there’s a buzz with first impressions and “never seen anything like it” stories as everyone shows off enough new logo wear to create covetous glances back on the home course.

Hawkes Bay Wines

After all this outdoor activity, something New Zealanders relish, you’ll discover there are some delightful indoor ones as well. One is tasting a variety of excellent New Zealand wines as the Hawkes Bay region has earned world-class credentials for many of its wineries. Craggy Range is currently top-of-the-heap with their Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah offerings. But several others (Brookfields, Church, Mission, Sileni and Ngatarawa) are also wonderful as local winemakers use the 300 plus days of sunshine per year that warm the area’s vineyards.

So there you have it. Culture, nature, sport and the nectar of the gods all in one tidy package.