Burrowed into Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island, Napier is the country’s 6th largest urban area. A romantically evocative city replete with buildings that ooze old-world charm and aesthetic, this port-city hugging the North Island’s east coast, lies 300 km away from the capital Wellington.
Heritage buildings rebuilt in the Art Deco styles of the 1930s, after the devastating Hawke’s Bay earthquake that crushed most of the surrounding area, point to the resilience of Napier and the collective Kiwi spirit.
Napier also has the distinction of being one of New Zealand’s most gastronomically diverse and celebrated regions and is home to some of the finest wineries in the country. Napier becomes abuzz with tourist flurry during February as it hosts the Napier Art Deco festival which draws large numbers of tourists from outside Napier and is indicative of Napier’s place as a hub of culture and art.
One of the first points of contact between the native Maori tribes of New Zealand and Captain James Cook and European settlers, Napier has always occupied a place of significance in New Zealand’s history. One of the most photographed and picturesque regions in all of New Zealand, Napier is also one of the most well-preserved cities, with many of its buildings recognized as heritage sites, making it a photographer’s paradise. It is also the centre for export for New Zealand’s world-renowned Merino wool.
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Napier’s biggest tourist attraction is the incredibly distinctive Art Deco style of architecture emblazoned across most of the city’s low-rise buildings. The seaport underwent most of its development during the 1920s, during which time the retro, Gatsby-esque style of architecture was in vogue and influenced much of the buildings’ design.
The Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931 laid waste to much of Napier and the nearby town of Hastings and killed more than 200 people. Most of the buildings were restored afterwards, keeping the Art Deco style they were built in firmly in mind, reviving the city and breathing new life into it.
Napier is also famed for its wineries and produces some of the best wine in New Zealand. A thriving wine culture is also paired with a vibrant culinary scene that makes Napier synonymous with good food and drink.
Napier Art Deco Festival- The month of February marks the busiest period in Napier’s tourist season as the city plays host to the Napier Art Deco Festival. Throngs of tourists flock to Napier during the second week of February to revel in the splendour of the Napier Art Deco Festival. The city transforms into a snapshot of the roaring 20s in America with vintage cars line the streets and people decked out in the garb of the times, looking like a scene out of the Great Gatsby. Pencilled in to be held on the 19th - 23rd of February, Napier becomes flooded with tourists to see the world’s biggest and best-preserved Art Deco city.
FAWC! - Food and Wine Classic- The bi-annual Food and Wine Classic festival is held once each during the New Zealand winter and summer, usually during the month of June and November. The festival celebrates Napier’s reputation for being one of New Zealand’s finest wine-producing regions. Pairing the complex notes of the wines with gastronomic delights that consists of classic and contemporary New Zealand fare, the Food and Wine Classic promises to be a culinary extravaganza not to be missed.
MTG Hawke’s Bay- The sleek, resplendently white MTG building, which stands for ‘Museum Theatre Gallery’, is one of Napier’s enduring symbols. Consisting of three separate buildings, the MTG was first erected in 1865 and was renovated in 1936 after it was reduced to rubble after the 1931 earthquake. Open every day of the week from 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, the MTG provides a platform for different media of art to be showcased and expressed and is a landmark building of Napier. Free entrey ensures that this is an experience that is open for anybody to go and enjoy.
National Tobacco Building Company- The bright blue steps that lead up to the rose-pink arches of the National Tobacco Building, along with its cubist-inspired architecture and retro lettering scream Art Deco. The National Tobacco Building Company is one of the finest examples of the architectural style in Napier. Once the headquarters where Rothman’s cigarettes were manufactured, the building has now been turned into one of Napier’s most significant tourist attractions.
Napier Urban Farmer’s Market- Buy local and enrich the local economy by going on Sundays to the Napier Urban Farmer’s Market for some fresh produce and a great morning. Perk your senses up with some of the best dark or light roast coffee found in the country, and complement it with some boulangerie classics. Located on Emerson Street on Saturdays, get a true taste for the Napier flavour by taking home some of the freshest and organically sourced vegetables and meats here.
Napier Prison- New Zealand’s first prison, Napier Prison has now been converted into a historical facility that offers both guided and unguided tours of the site. Established in 1862 on Napier Hill, the prison had a reputation for containing some of New Zealand’s most notorious criminals at the time and is even known for paranormal activity that occurs around its premises.
Pania of the Reef- One of the most iconic sights in Napier is of the bronze Pania of the Reef statue that adorns the Marine Parade. The story behind the statue is one of lovelorn and love lost. The legend goes that a beautiful maiden, Pania that used to swim in the waters during the day and went to meet her lover during the night. She had to go back to where she was from as dawn broke each day otherwise she would not survive. Frustrated by this, her lover fed her some cooked food while she was asleep, which would not allow her to go back to the sea. Heartbroken by this act of betrayal that endangered her life, Pania went back to the sea, never to be seen again. The bronze statue is a manifestation of the many sightings of Pania out at sea, arms outstretched, imploring her lover for an explanation on his betrayal.
Tom Parker Fountain- An evening walk down Marine Parade road in Napier would not be complete unless visitors walk past the vibrantly lit Tom Parker fountain. The kaleidoscopically vibrant fountain, named after a gentleman’s tailor of the time that donated significantly to the city of Napier, is a sight to behold after the sun sets. What better way to cap off a long day of walking through the city, marvelling at Art Deco buildings, than by taking in the colourful sights of the Tom Parker fountain.
Emporium Eatery and Bar- Napier is also known for its thriving culinary culture with the Art Deco movement and its proclivity for wine-making and tasting spilling over into its food. The Emporium Eatery and Bar is one of Napier’s landmark locations and has been a mainstay of the Napier food scene for some time now. It’s lovely retro setting within the Masonic Hotel, paired with its eclectic menu that features gourmet options and fine wines and coffees, ensures that it is the place to go, no matter what time of day it is.
MINT Restaurant- One of the few establishments in Napier that isn’t housed inside an Art Deco building, the MINT Restaurant serves up some classic Kiwi fare featuring menu items like slow-braised lamb, and mussels from a Victorian-era building.
Mission Estate Winery Restaurant- The Mission Estate Winery Restaurant is one of the longest-standing establishments in Napier and is one of its most highly-reputed wineries. The restaurant's mains of pan-fried fish is a local favourite and is sure to pair well with the fantastic options of their in-house wines.
Since Napier is a coastal city, it is largely characterized by temperate weather. The best time to visit Napier would be during the summer season from December to February. This period allows for great weather and the major art deco festivals of Napier are held during this season. Be aware that this is also the peak tourist time for Napiers and flight tickets and accommodation options will be more expensive unless booked well in advance.
The months of September to November is the low-season and tickets and lodging options would be more affordable during this season. The weather is still very nice during this time and visitors can enjoy the cool springtime weather.