I’d slept maybe three fitful hours on the flight from Perth to Auckland, thanks to a constantly screaming baby. My next flight, from Auckland to the seaside town of Napier, was less than an hour, leaving little time for a snooze. When I arrived, I felt haggard but excited about the start of my adventure in Hawke’s Bay, one of New Zealand’s top food and wine regions, located on the east coast of North Island. I was here courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.
I hauled my suitcase off the baggage trolley and looked around me. A woman in a crisp white shirt, polka-dotted braces, pinstriped trousers and a feathered hat stepped forward. “Are you Cynthia?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Welcome to Napier!” She said with a grin.
Her name was Tery and she was here to take me on a mini Art Deco vintage car tour of Napier. Tery’s lived in New Zealand for years, but was originally from Mexico, a survivor of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that killed over 10,000 people. As we drove, Tery told me the remarkable story of Napier, and the earthquake that changed the city forever.
On 3 February 1931 Hawke’s Bay was struck by a massive earthquake that centred 15km North of Napier, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and lasting 2.5 minutes. There was damage throughout the region, and in Napier, nearly all the buildings in the town centre were leveled by the quake. Many people were killed by collapsing buildings or in fires that broke out shortly afterwards – some of the buildings had withstood the earthquake only to be destroyed by fire. 261 people died across the region, with 157 in Napier city. Napier’s landscape changed dramatically, including some 4,000 hectares of seabed lifted by the quake to permanently become dry land. Hawke’s Bay Airport, where my plane landed in Napier, is located on land that didn’t exist before the earthquake.
The town was rebuilt in the styles of the time, including Classical Moderne, Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission, and predominantly Art Deco. Today, Napier is famous for its distinctive Art Deco architecture, which is treasured, protected and promoted by an Art Deco Trust passionately committed to its preservation and celebration.
We drove around town and visited one of Napier’s most famous buildings, the National Tobacco Company building, designed by prominent New Zealand architect Louis Hay, commissioned by a wealthy Swiss-German tobacco grower and industrialist named Johann Gerhard Husheer who lived in Napier with his family. The building combines Art Deco with Art Nouveau floral details such as the rose motif that features throughout. The interior exudes opulence, constructed using the finest materials, with an extravagance quite unheard of during the Depression, but Husheer was a philanthropist as well as a tycoon, known in the community for his generosity. He supplied free milk to the schoolchildren of Napier and helped families in need, with food donations and financial assistance.
We also visited the Napier Municipal Theatre, a popular concert, show and event venue in the Hawke’s Bay region. First built in 1912, the building was destroyed by the 1931 earthquake, rebuilt in 1937 and in the 1990s, carefully updated and restored to ensure the preservation of its Art Deco architecture and detail.
As we drove through the town, Tery pointed out the elements of Art Deco in the shops and office buildings and on the street corners. I began to see Art Deco everywhere – its signature elements such as geometric shapes, sunbursts, chevrons and zig-zags including Egyptian “ziggurat” (stepped pyramid). Napier’s not just a town for architecture and history buffs – I’m neither of those, and still found the tour fascinating. Every place has a story, and Tery told Napier’s tale very vividly.
At the conclusion of our tour, we stopped by the Art Deco Society Shop, where I was met by my lunch date and host for the afternoon, Jane, manager of the Napier i-SITE Visitor Centre.
The Art Deco Trust
Vintage Deco car tour – 75 minutes, NZ$150 for up to 4 passengers.
Other tours, including bike and walking options are available – check the Art Deco Trust website (link above) for details.
Art Deco Shop
7 Tennyson Street
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: +64 (06) 835 0022
Open daily 9am to 5pm except Christmas day
Every year, Napier hosts an Art Deco weekend featuring dinner dances and picnics and free outdoor concerts. The streets come alive with vintage cars and Art Deco enthusiasts, locals and visitors all dressed in 1930s garb. The next Art Deco Weekend will be on 20-23 February 2014.
Jane and I set off on foot and stopped by Chantal Wholefoods, a gourmet grocery with a Wholefood Kitchen which serves vegetarian meals, coffee and cake.
45 Hastings St
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: 64 (06) 8358036
For lunch, Jane took me to Mister D. A new cafe that describes itself as “a little bit country, a little rock & roll”, Mister D had scooped the pool at the Hawke’s Bay Hospitality Awards the night before, voted by its peers to win the awards for Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Cafe Experience and Best Ambience/Style.
Jane ordered the potato gnocchi, cheese sauce, coffee grounds (NZ$12). This has to be the most unusual presentation for gnocchi I’ve seen – silly or spectacular, I couldn’t decide – the gnocchi on skewers bobbing like bullrushes, served with a dish of cheesy sauce sprinkled with coffee grounds. I’ll admit to feeling dubious about the coffee grounds – I can’t stand gritty food. But clearly the grind was fine enough that the grit effect was barely evident. The hint of coffee in the cheese sauce was surprisingly good – I say don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
I ordered the Yorkshire pudding, bone marrow, horseradish cream (NZ$12). Our waiter explained the pudding mix has the bone marrow mixed through, giving it a rich savoury flavour. These were fantastic little mouthfuls.
I couldn’t help making happy noises as I ate my main course, which was a whole lot of phwoar. Tender pulled pork on a creamy bed of white polenta, with fresh apple and fennel salad, and crunchy roasted walnuts (NZ$26.50). It was rich and hearty, yet not overwhelmingly heavy; a wonderful winter lunch dish.
There was no way we could leave without trying Mister D’s famous housemade doughnuts. They’re served warm and come with a choice of fillings – chocolate, custard or jelly. Jane chose jelly; I chose custard AND jelly (our waiter wickedly offered all three fillings, if we wished). What I didn’t realise is that the fillings come in syringes and it’s up to you to inject your doughnut. Even if you don’t end up with sugar-encrusted fingers during the injection process, you’ll have a naughty sugary face after your first bite. The doughnuts aren’t just dusted in cinnamon sugar – they’re heavily coated with it. They’re lumpy and bumpy like asteroids, which only adds to their beauty and satisfying texture. And yes, it’s also tempting to just ‘inject’ those fillings straight into your mouth. This could get deliciously messy! Don’t take this the wrong way, but I left Mister D with a slightly stickier camera.
47 Tennyson Street
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: 64 (06) 8355022
Sunday to Wednesday 7.30am to 4.30pm
Thursday to Saturday 7.30am till late – bookings recommended
After lunch, we had a peek in the Photographers’ Gallery, an interesting space I felt quite at home in. The gallery hosts workshops and showcases photography from around New Zealand.
Attached to the Photographers’ Gallery is the Kitchen Table Cafe, where the coffee machine was cranking and the knitting needles were clacking.
Photographers’ Gallery and Kitchen Table Cafe
138 Tennyson Street
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: 64+ (06) 835 8142
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to 3pm
Closed Sundays and public holidays
Next stop: Bonnie Cakes, a cupcake shop by Bonnie Berkett, runner-up in Season 3 of Hell’s Kitchen USA with aggro judge Chef Gordon Ramsay. I watched that series of Hell’s Kitchen and remembered Bonnie – I was surprised to discover she now lives in New Zealand. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Bonnie moved to Hawke’s Bay with her Kiwi husband Shane in 2010.
Bonnie was overseas the day we visited, but we enjoyed a taste of some of her creations.
A selection of flavours is made from scratch and baked fresh each day, including gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free options. Bonnie Cakes uses New Zealand butter, local fruit, and free range eggs from Humming Hill Farm in Havelock North in the Hawke’s Bay region. In addition to cupcakes, classic American treats are on the menu: brownies, twinkies, s’mores, whoopie pies and more.
We sampled the red velvet, key lime pie and a new flavour, margarita. They were beautifully soft and moist, each topped with a generous blob of fluffy frosting. The key lime pie cupcake with a tangy lime curd centre was my favourite.
Bonnie Cakes offers delivery to Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. If you BYO box or re-use one of their boxes you’ll get a 5% discount on your purchase.
Shop 3, 91 Bridge Street
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: 64 (06) 835 3491
Open daily 10am to 4pm
There’s a second Bonnie Cakes store at 17 Napier Road, Havelock North, open 7 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday (coffee from 7am, cupcakes from 10am)
Jane dropped me off at Navigate Seaside Accommodation, where I’d be staying that night. I was in a Beachfront Studio room, across the road from the beach, with a view of the Norfolk pine trees from my private balcony.
The TV was positioned so I could watch from bed, which is something I really like in a hotel room. I set the room temperature to 23C and even as the sun dipped lower, I was comfy and toasty. Wi-fi is available at Navigate and free for the first hour’s use per day, but I had a prepaid Telecom NZ sim card purchased at Auckland International Airport from my previous trip and was all sorted for internet access while in Hawke’s Bay. There is free wifi available in the Napier CBD too.
Navigate Seaside Accommodation
50 Waghorne Street
Napier, New Zealand
Telephone: +64 (06) 831 0077
Beachfront Studio room costs NZ$190 per night (higher rate may apply during special events)
I was tired, but not content to stay in my room; I went for a walk before dinner. There’s a lovely walking trail that takes you along the waterfront. Despite the big lunch and cupcakes, I was really looking forward to dinner. A nice bit of seafood, I think…
I travelled to Hawke’s Bay in May 2013 as a guest of Tourism New Zealand. There are more stories to come from the trip. Jac didn’t come with me on this occasion.
I flew with Air New Zealand on a The Works ticket (includes 1 checked bag up to 23kg, up to 7kg carry-on baggage, seat request and in-flight meal) from Perth to Auckland. I then flew via Mount Cook Airlines from Auckland to Napier. Mount Cook Airlines is one of three regional airlines that are part of Air New Zealand Link, connecting New Zealand’s regional centres and main international airports.