Sunday, 21 February 2010

Art Deco in Napier

I pick up this post after two weeks in Adelaide about which I hope to write later. For complicated IT reasons I have been unable to post earlier. So this is what I wrote earlier.

I am writing this on the plane flying from Wellington in New Zealand to Melbourne Australia en route to Adelaide after a very pleasant visit to NZ. I leave it to my readers to look up in Wikipedia the geography, history and politics of a country which is the antipodes of Spain and closer to the Equator than Britain though I shall add a few details.

For the benefit of new readers I should explain that I say little about the kind relations and hosts who look after me. This is a public document and people do not always want their personal and family details broadcast.

I arrived in Napier in Hawkes Bay a fortnight ago. Napier was in 1931 was largely destroyed by an earthquake and fire. The town was rebuilt in the current Art Deco style and thus has many interesting buildings in a well laid-out town centre. The sea-front has attractive gardens and the beach looks out towards South America. Hence the claim of the town to be the Art Deco capital of the world. It is certainly one of New Zealand's most attractive towns.

I went to see some friends there, people whom I have met on previous visits, at their house several miles outside the town in a valley with some of the vineyards of which there many in Hawkes Bay. The house is in a riudge and here I am with the river and valley scenery lookingh toward the mountains of the central sdpine of the island which lie to the west some forty miles.

One place I visited was the Trelinnoe Gardens some twenty-five miles inland on the one road which finds it way through the hills and over the forested plain to Taupo with it great volcanic crater lake. There are few alternative routes in New Zealand. If this road is closed by say a landslip one has to drive seventy miles south before striking north again. The railway never attempted to penetrate the jagged hills of the central mountain spine though the hills are much lower there than in the volcanic mountains to the south.

One strikes from the main road forsome three miles along a very minor road, partly a track to the gardens. These are extensive and landscaped with trees, shrubs and lake though few flowers. They surround an attractive house and the whole is a surprise in the mkiddle of a forest. There is a large working farm attached. I chose a damp morning – everything was very green and had the place almost to myself but I was able to get a cup of coffee in the cafĂ©.

Coffee is a new phenomenon in NZ. A few years ago I described NZ as the country of pale toast and weak coffee – tea was the universal drink, many times day. Now espresso coffee is on sale everywhere in roadside and small town cafes while in Napier there is a proliferation of coffee shops. NZ has indeed within my experience changed dramatically to a much more sophisticated society with all the latest technology. There are many signs of affluence such as the handsome houses to be seen on prominent sites all round Napier. One suspects that the affluence is not shared by all.

The cultivated New Zealand landscape in the North Island is reminiscent of England but subtly different. There are no hedges – just wire fences. The trees whether of native or introduced species seem a different shape.

Here is a vineyard just outside Napier:

The roads are straighter and parking is easier – in towns most roads have a wide enough border marked off for cars to be parked on both sides without obstructing traffic. The parked car lined streets of English towns are unknown. Apartment blocks are few and the single-story houses almost invariably detached though often on a tiny plot. The houses and buildings look strangely insubstantial. Brick or stone is rare – earthquakes do not encourage their use in many parts – and timber has always been cheap. The older houses and large buildings are all in timber. The typical small town has one story shops with an arcaded canopy in front with a few more pretentious buildings at the centre. Auckland and Wellington have of course grander architecture in their centres.

My Kiwi friends are invited to comment and disagree with my observations.

In Napier I attended the Art Deco Weekend Celebrations as I did last year. The 1932 architecture provides an ambience where people can adopy what they hope to be the costumes of the 20’s and 30’s. On the Saturday and Sunday the Marine Parade and principal streets are full of people exotically dressed. Many indeed ist of the participants are of mature years though there are some very convincing flappers with short waistless dresses and a bandeau perhaps with feather around the head.

I myself again took my genuine blazer and with a cravat, a boater (locally sourced – no known school) and a borrowed stick felt I looked the part. Here is a picture:

My companions, complete strangers, in this picture were not though up to the level some of you may recall from last year.

The parade of some 250 vintage cars was impressive. When I subsequently drove from Napier to Taupo I had the company of two impressive classic touring Bentleys dutifully adhering to the 100kph (60mph) speed limit except for occasional overtaking with a throaty roar. This is a more modest MG.

I paused briefly in Taupo a holiday town on the border of the lake and pressed on through pastoral country – arable areas are few – to the west coast where I followed a good road up and down and round about through gorges and over river estuaries to reach New Plymouth and my hosts. New Plymouth is in Taranaki, a peninsula about twenty-five miles across – see your atlas – centred on a dramatic mountain, formerly Mount Egmont now known as Mount Taranaki.

There is off-shore oil and the area is popular for retirement.

After a couple of nights with family I was back to the east to more cousins at Palmerton North

And now I am in Adelaide in South Australia my last stop before home.


  1. Thank you John for another interesting report from down under. I recall spending a night in a lodge by Lake Taupo and the following day visiting the nearish-by glow worm caves(very exciting). You looked very smart in your boater, blazer and cane. It sounds as though New Zealand shop architecture hasn't changed all that much. Apart from the timber construction the shop fronts reminded me of small town provincial UK in the 1950s (Eastleigh?).
    Its getting a little warmer in the UK. In fact I recorded a first of the year-my automatic greenhouse window-opener operated for the first time this year (Don't tell me- I need to get out more).

    John F

  2. That's a beautiful shot of Mt Taranaki, John. It makes me feel very homesick.