I used to think the east coast city of Napier was boring. We had a holiday there when I was a child. As far as I was concerned, the only things to recommend it were a beach – hardly unique in New Zealand – and a dolphin show. (I know. Don’t worry: that particular attraction has long since ceased to exist.) I was wholly unappreciative of Napier’s main draw, an abundance of beautiful Art Deco buildings.
You see, Napier was devastated by an earthquake in 1931. It was, in fact, the most devastating earthquake in New Zealand’s history. Despite this, they did a much better job of rebuilding it than has so far been done of rebuilding Christchurch. Of course, it was rebuilt in the style of the time, so I suppose we can be thankful that the earthquake happened in the ’30s instead of, say, the ’60s. The result is an Art Deco paradise, a situation of which the city takes full advantage.
From vintage car tours to Art Deco festivals, Napier is the place to go if you like to party like it’s… well, actually, maybe not 1939.
It also has a science museum, a Victorian prison and a chocolate museum, which is why my partner and I decided to spend a day there on our recent campervan trip. As it turned out, we didn’t end up visiting any of those places – I got too distracted shopping! I hadn’t been to Napier since that childhood holiday and, apparently, the intervening years were time enough for me to develop an interest in 1930s fashion.
There were antiques shops, vintage clothes shops, costume shops, and, naturally, Art Deco souvenir shops galore – and all encased within gorgeous façades! There was even a sword shop. If only it hadn’t been raining, we could have strolled along Napier’s famous Marine Parade, an extensive seafront stretch of pleasant gardens and decadent architecture. Even before we’d left, we’d decided we had to return one day.
The other main draw of Napier is its abundance of nearby wineries. We ended up having dinner at an extremely posh establishment called Elephant Hill, only because it was right next to a fantastic free camping spot. The restaurant’s atmosphere was surprisingly cosy for such a modern-looking place and the food was divine. I had beef tartar with mustard ice-cream, which was as weird as you’d expect, but an utter taste sensation.
As for the free camping spot, I highly recommend seeking it out. It was right on a stony beach, wonderfully peaceful, and had a nice toilet block. We parked our campervan so the back doors faced directly onto the Pacific Ocean, the theory being that we would open them in the morning for a glorious sunrise. But it was winter and, predictably, cloudy. The site is called Clifton Road Reserve and you can find it using this free camping map.
I can’t believe I ever thought Napier was boring. Now I can’t wait to go back!