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Exploring New Zealand

Napier Area Guide

Millennium Sculpture marking where
the sun broke the horizon
year 2000 - ©
The pretty port city of Napier is defined as much by Marine Parade, its seafront boulevard lined with Norfolk Island pine trees, as by the signature Art Deco buildings, which have brought the city its share of international fame.

Napier's future was shaped by a devastating earthquake which struck in 1931 and which, along with the fires which followed, all but flattened the city. In a spirit of pure optimism, the entire city centre was rebuilt in two years in Art Deco style, with pastel facades embellished with lightning flashes, geometric shapes, fountains, rising suns and Maori motifs, leaving one of the world's best collections of Art Deco architecture. The Napier Art Deco Trust runs guided walks through the town daily, or you can guide yourself around using the Art Deco Walk leaflet.

Napier has plenty of attractions to offer aside from the Art Deco experience. The beach alongside Marine Parade is unsafe for swimming but there are a raft of oceanic attractions located alongside.

The glorious Ocean Spa is at the northern end of Marine Parade, with open-air hot pools and outdoor spa pools raised high enough so you can gaze at the Pacific Ocean as you bathe.

Continue south on Marine Parade to see the much-loved bronze statue of Pania of the Reef, which memorialises the tale of Pania, a young Maori maiden who, separated from her true love, was lured out to sea, and transformed into the Pania Reef, which lies off the coast.

Find the Hawke's Bay Museum opposite Pania on the landward side of Marine Parade. The museum has a good exhibition on the 1931 earthquake, including a photo display of the damage. The museum also has a permanent exhibition on the work of local amateur palaeontologist Joan Wiffen, who discovered the only terrestrial dinosaur remains ever found in New Zealand in a valley north of Napier.

Head further south along Marine Parade to Marineland, New Zealand's only marine zoo, with its performing dolphins and seals. Book ahead to swim with the dolphins, or turn up on the day for tickets to a show, or to tour the complex.

Continue along the parade to the modern National Aquarium building, the roof of which was inspired by the wings of the stingray. The ocean tank with its Perspex walk-through tunnel gives intimate views of the sea life within. You can swim with sharks here if you really want to, but you'll need to be a qualified scuba diver.

For views of the busy Napier container port, and the town's beaches at Perfume Point and Westshore, drive or walk up to the Bluff Hill Domain Lookout.

Napier plays host to a number of interesting events through the year, the most notable of which is the outdoor concert at the Mission Estate Winery in February. Previous stars have been diverse, and have included Rod Stewart, Kiri Te Kanawa, Dionne Warwick, Cliff Richard, and the Beach Boys. Also in February is the Art Deco Weekend, a celebration of all things Art Deco, when classic cars of the era buzz round town, the townspeople dress in 1930s style costume and host a range of events, including open house tours and a grand ball at which formal Art Deco dress is compulsory. Or attend the Great Long Lunch in March when 700 people sit down to lunch at an almost 300-metre long table in the Marine Parade Gardens, or the Winter Solstice Fire Festival in June.