07 July 2016


Today, I'm in Napier, a bustling port town of about 60,000 at the juncture of Hawke's Bay with the Pacific Ocean.  This part of the country has some of the fairest weather, so the port is quite busy, exporting wool, fruit, wine and wood products.  I've driven by lots of orchards, most of which are dormant for the winter, but I've seen trees full of mandarins in between the apple and pear farms. 

In 1931, Napier was at the epicenter of the country's largest earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, and leveled the town.  What few buildings didn't fall down ended up burning down in the fires that consumed the downtown after the hundreds of aftershocks.  The town was determined to rebuild, and owing to the timeline, much of the city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of architecture, much of which remains intact.  After 50 years, though, some of the older buildings started to be torn down and replaced, and some local community members deduced that if they didn't do something, the city's unique architecture would eventually disappear.

A preservation trust was set up, and now the town has the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, behind South Beach in Miami.  I had arranged for a bus tour of the sights outside of the central district, and was surprised to be the only guest on the tour, so Yvonne, a native of the town whose parents both (obviously) survived the earthquake, drove me around and explained how the landscape was altered so dramatically after the earthquake shoved up the land along the coast by at least 6 feet, reclaiming hundreds of acres of land in just a few seconds.

My favorite part of the tour was going out to the suburbs where pre-quake wooden housing (survived because wood sways well during quakes) is mixed with the classic 1930s and 1940s Art Deco style of houses, of which there are many different types, including California Mission, the austere unornamented International style, and some Art Nouveau samples as well.  I also watched an interesting movie at the Art Deco center, with quite a bit of archival footage from the town from just before the earthquake.

After the tour, I drove south along the coast into the fruit-growing regions, and headed to Elephant Hill winery, a relatively new vintner and did a tasting of their white wines, which were all nice, but on the dryer side. 

The clouds continued to build, and it began to get a bit blustery, but it still managed to make it to nearly 60 degrees.  I returned to town and did the first of two walks around town to see and read about some of the buildings and learn about the different styles of architecture presented here.  This walk concentrated on the buildings right along the coastal road, called Marine Parade, lined with pre-quake stately Norfolk Pines that held steady during the quake.  Only a couple buildings incorporated local Maori motifs in the building, but the rest would have fit in perfectly with The Great Gatsby.

Yvonne told me there was a nice pub around the corner from the hotel and that I might get a free drink if I went this evening.  I popped 'round to the Union, and ordered a draft cider, and the bartender asked if I wanted 'evens' or 'odds', and I selected 'evens'.  He spun a large wooden wheel, which landed on 16, which meant my drink was free!  The crowd was hardscrabble and all knew each other.  I kept seeing people disappear down the hallway and kept hearing money clinking, so I wandered back to find a few "charity" slot machines.  10 minutes later, I walked away with about $10 in coins, making the trip around the corner well worth my time.

Tomorrow, I'll take the other walking tour around the oldest core of town before I hit the road for my five hour drive back to Auckland.  I'm trying to figure out if there's a casino en route with the luck I'm having.