Vintage glamour in a charm-filled town

17:00, Apr 12 2014
VINTAGE: A 1938 Packard offers a great way to see the sights of Napier.
SISTERHOOD: On Marine Parade this row of Victorian double-storey villas, known as the Six Sisters, survived the 1931 earthquake and fire that followed.
STILL SMOKING: The National Tobacco Company building is among Napier's many heritage charms.

Flying to Napier for a weekend break wasn't something we had really considered, as we usually follow the great Kiwi tradition of driving holidays. But for a weekend getaway, a plane was the perfect vehicle for saving time and energy.

Everyone knows the brief story of Napier, with its devastating 1931 earthquake and subsequent reinvention as art deco capital. But in just 48 hours in the seaside city, you can learn so much more.

A hosted driving tour in a 1938 Packard is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to its charms, not to mention how glamorous and romantic it is to be chauffeured around in a vintage car.

Our guide Tony was on the board of the Art Deco Trust and gave a detailed and personal commentary. We learnt that the rebuilding of Napier after the quakes was basically handed over to three architects who were told to just get on with it. Twenty-two months after the event, the city was able to celebrate its rebirth.

History lessons aside, you see that Napier really is a beautiful spot, from the views up Bluff Hill, the deco sophistication of the National Tobacco Company's 1933 offices, to the modern city with its port-side apartments.

The trust's Art Deco Centre has plenty of information and self-guided tours to send you off exploring the architectural delights of the Napier CBD. You can while away a very pleasant hour or two wandering the city streets and end your stroll with a romantic promenade down Marine Pde to view the Six Sisters, a row of Victorian double-storey villas that survived the quake and fire that followed. Wander back through the sunken gardens.


For a memorable evening, it's well worth the $50 taxi ride to visit the stunning Elephant Hill vineyard and restaurant 20 kilometres out of the city on the way to Cape Kidnappers. This luxurious spot offers fine dining and a stunning wine list, paired with impeccable service and knowledge. It's best to arrive in the late afternoon to take advantage of the view from the modern, largely glass building and see the rows of vineyards heading down to the sea.

Back in town at the County Hotel, where we were staying, a nightcap in the balmy air was a perfect end to the evening.

Just a block from the town centre and beachfront, it is handily placed for a weekend getaway. Originally the county council offices, it has 18 boutique rooms, a snug bar and its own restaurant. If you get on the right side of owner Chris Barons, he will indulge any royal aspirations you may have by letting you sit in the Bentley limousine owned by the Queen and brought to New Zealand for a royal tour in the 1970s. Also used by Charles and Diana on their New Zealand visit, you can perch and practise your best royal wave.

A Sunday morning visit to the Hawke's Bay Farmers Market on the outskirts of Hastings is an easy way to sample some of the best local tastes. It proved a great place for a lazy brunch with pizza from a mobile wood-fired pizza oven and washed down with a fruit smoothie made from local produce. A beautiful setting among the trees offers ample room for walking around and lazing on the grass.

Back in town is the New Zealand Wine Museum where you learn about the varietals of wine and can book tastings and wine education sessions including playing in the wine aroma awareness rooms. It also books and runs wine tours for those visitors, like us, who choose to fly in for a weekend break.

To get your culture fix, head to MTG, Napier's refurbished and extended museum, theatre and gallery space. A welcome air-conditioned haven on a hot afternoon, the $15 entry fee seems a bit steep but the MTG offers an accessible glimpse into Napier's history.

A short break in Napier lets you chose as little or as much as you want to do and you can't help but come back refreshed from the romance of a gentle pace of life and the glamour of the art deco age.

Slow down, relax and fall in love with Napier. Mission accomplished.

Ellen Read travelled with the assistance of Hawke's Bay Tourism.

Sunday Star Times