Down Under: Art Deco Central


An earthquake and fires destroyed the town of Napier in 1931. The central business district was completely leveled and many people were without homes. The impetus to rebuild was strong and within about two years, new buildings were up and businesses active again. It was a monumental effort and the city took advantage of the prevailing architecture of the time and decorated their new buildings in the Art Deco style. Simple block shapes for the most part, the windows and roof lines of the buildings have arrows and scallops or arches adorning them and are frequently painted in Necco wafer colors. Here and there is the occasional Spanish (rounded ceramic roof tiles) or Maori element making for variety and less adherence to purity.


The rain finally stopped (for the most part) on Monday afternoon and we had a good long stroll around the town looking at the architecture and walking the arched Marine Parade. But first we stopped in the Art Deco Center where a very determined woman was determined that we wouldn’t depart without having done a tour or a short film or both! Pleasant and informative, she was definitely on a mission.

Some years ago, but not initially, Napier realized that its architecture was a gem and made it the ideal way to bring tourists to town. Each February, around the anniversary of the earthquake, they hold an Art Deco Festival and participants dress in period clothing, ride in vintage cars, and attend dinners, take guided walks and do all sorts of fun things. Our Auckland airport driver had told us she attended every other year. To answer the unasked question, we stayed at the center and watched the earthquake film (lots of archival footage), which was preceded by a 10-minute introduction by that purposeful woman.


We stayed downtown for dinner at the Emporium, the restaurant in the Masonic Hotel, one of the two classical hotels. The other being the County Hotel. Having eaten several multi-course meals in Waiheke, we opted for a selection of nibbles and smaller plates. Prawn toasts and maple almonds with smoked paprika followed by beef rendang (a dry beef curry with fried curry leaves and served with a few cute little square pillow of rice), and then some Whitestone blue cheese which was accompanied by bread sticks, wafer crackers, a few walnuts, and a fruit paste. Not exactly the most balanced meal, but what we felt like eating. For lunch (and breakfast), we dined in our hotel restaurant, Milk and Honey, and were very pleased with the variety. Lunch of chicken salad was especially good. It wasn’t like American chicken salad, but had some chunks of roasted thigh meat topped with greens, celeriac, and some crunchy little nuts in a tasty dressing.

All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Header photo is the colonnade beyond the Marine Parade in Napier.



2 thoughts to “Down Under: Art Deco Central”

  1. Am a huge fan of Art Deco, so really appreciated seeing these. We missed this when in NZ, so am really enjoying them. As much as I loved NZ, do believe will probably not revisit; too many places have not seen to revisit ( Paris not included,I do love Paris).

    1. This will probably be our only trip to NZ so I know what you mean about too many other places yet to visit. Glad you’re enjoying the Art Deco.

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