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A town called Napier

The last major town of note we stopped at on the north island was Napier, a town of 55,000 people on the south east coast. Originally a whaling town it was apparently purchased from the Maori somewhat dubiously by the British Crown in 1850 and renamed to Napier, after the colonial administrator Charles Napier. In 1931 it suffered a major earthquake then four days of fire and was totally destroyed. That was the biggest earthquake until Christchurch a month ago, 258 people died back then. I read that during the quake 40 square kilometres of new land emerged out of the sea and was subsequently built on as the town was reconstructed.

Pavement decoration in the main street

The town was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, that style being at it’s zenith about that time. It seems to have been lovingly preserved since then, and now trades on being an art deco icon,  drawing people in with it’s town planning and architecture. I have to say in the deco stakes it can’t be compared to South Beach Miami or parts of New York but it is a wonderful town nonetheless. The design is part of its success, the deco angles and contrasting flourishes of the lavishly styled buildings, and the open peaceful streets make it a beautiful spot. Uncrowded streets, light traffic and a slow pace, aided by the perfect climate would make this the town I’d most want to live in here, from what I’ve seen of NZ so far. On top of that it’s right on the coast and there is a perfectly manicured marine esplanade with fountains and a floral clock amongst other things. None of the flaking paint and kick me quick of UK seaside towns, this place hasn’t faded.

The fountain on the esplanade

We wandered up on to Bluff Hill which sits above town overlooking the ocean. The streets are leafy and green, sporting literary names (Tennyson, Wordsworth, Priestley), and the houses are in the colonial style with veranda’s and orchards protruding. Up there on the hill it could have been 1920, with high tea on the lawn and Bertie in his plus fours listening to the gramaphone in the summer house.

Shakespeare Terrace on Bluff Hill

If you have seen the film Truman Show Napier felt exactly as that town looks in the film. The perfect seaside town packed full of perfectly nice people all living ideal lives, never a cloud on the horizon. I’m sure it’s not like that in reality, but that’s how I’ll remember it. It also shows what an impact good design and town planning can have on the ambience of a place. Combining that with the ongoing sense of civic pride clearly evident by the people and the council, gives you a town you really want to be in. A place that’s easy on the eye, where getting things done is not beset by problems like parking and traffic queues. Unlike my town, they can even manage to make use of their stylised poster booths by having them covered with…posters! Sounds simple, if only the powers that be in my town could manage to do the same with our long derelict poster booths.

Typical deco building and poster booth

Yes, I’d say Napier is my kind of town, it also happens to be sitting at the heart of the Hawkes Bay wine region and the wine section at the supermarket had the biggest selection of wine I’d ever seen A plus-point more appreciated by Candice Marie than myself I suspect. Funny though how NZ and Australian wines such as Rosemount are a lot cheaper in my local Morrisons than they are here in NZ. We also found the best fish and chips we’ve had so far, at the harbour and probably as fresh as you can get.

Below are a few more pictures from around the town, a place that makes it onto my mental list of most liveable small towns.

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