You know when you play Bioshock, and the whole game has this weird 1930’s feel complete with odd writing and funny hats? Well, walking around Napier or Hastings on New Zealand’s East Coast is very much like that gaming experience, only with less on the ghoulish child front and more on the arty, pretty front.
Of course, there is the distinct possibility that some of you have not played Bioshock, one of my favourite games of the 21st century. This is fine. For you, I have different imagery. It’s called the twenties and thirties, and it’s a look that Napier and Hastings are clinging to with quite some tenacity.
The reason for all this Art Deco (and it really is everywhere, from building architecture to signage to cinema listings) was a devastating earthquake that reduced most of the town of Napier to rubble on February 3rd, 1931. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, and killing 258 people, this has gone down in history as one of New Zealand’s worst natural disasters.
The earthquake wasn’t all bad news though. The force of the quake pushed a 40 square kilometre section of lagoon two metres above sea level, giving the city somewhat more room than it had had previously.
What with all this room and rubble, it was decided that the newly rebuilt Napier was going to have a whole new look to symbolise a new era. Art Deco was chosen to give the city a positive and forward looking vibe, with the added bonus that most buildings would be one storey with flat roofs – more survivable in the event of another quake. The final bonus of course was this was a relatively cheap option.
The end result of all of this disaster and rebuilding are two vibrant and incredibly pretty cities that just makes you want to wander around and sample their delights.
Add to this the fact that this part of New Zealand has more days of sunshine than anywhere else, with a gloriously long black sanded beach to wander along, plus some of the finest wines available in the country, and it’s not hard to see how you could lose more than a few days here.
We spent a happy time wandering the streets of both Napier and Hastings, as well as exploring the surrounding, also rather pretty, countryside. Mountain ranges tower in the distance, the rivers sparkle in the sunlight, and, like much of New Zealand, the people seem to know that they are onto a good thing. I can definitely recommend dropping by, if you happen to be in the area.