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NZ, not just mountains and rings: Gatsby’s Napier

February 1, 2009

Imagine sitting on the beach or at an outdoor cafe, in a quiet idyllic town where it seldom rains and the summers are long and hot. Add hiking in the hills, surfing the waves, watching grapes ripen, and you have arrived at one of New Zealand’s not so secret secrets – Napier.

Celebrating Art Deco

What makes this town more idyllic is its architecture and story behind it. Napier has laid claim to be one of the most complete towns in Art Deco design, in the world. In the era of Art Deco, the town suffered a devastating earthquake (1931) demolishing most of its buildings. Luckily the global depression left many talented architects unemployed. Modern day Napier resplendent in Art Deco resulted.

Phillip Capper

Phillip Capper

Napier sits on the east coast of the North Island and has a  Mediterranean climate welcomed throughout the year.  Vineyards grow around the region, and cafes overflow, spilling people onto the streets. In summertime, surfers and families play in the golden sands and warm waters. It isn’t a crowded town, no-where in New Zealand ever is. There is always space to wander, lay on the beach or people watch in a cafe.

Festival of Decadence

Every February Gatsbians come dressed in their wingtip shoes with flapper clad gals on their arms. Here they come to live it up at the “Art Deco Festival”. Napier’s streets transform themselves back to the 1930s, jazz bands belt out Charlestons, trumpets perform Armstongesque solos. Amongst it all are small time antique dealers buying and selling genuine deco-ware. There is a buzz around town throughout the festival, a nostalgic hype of remembering the decadence once enjoyed all those years ago.

Chris McLennan @

Chris McLennan @

Art Deco is high on my list of all time loves. With every visit back to Napier I find more new old buildings to appreciate.  The town’s history is rich in design and flair, even today. There is a level of sophistication amongst the locals here that you cannot see in other towns of this size. It is an affluent place but it isn’t pretentious, people in Napier know what lifestyle is all about and they want to share it with visitors.

Gatsby may have felt at home in this town, but you don’t have to be a Gatsbian to melt into the Deco scene. In fact you don’t need to love this style. There is much more on offer here than you could imagine: beaches, sun, sports, food; Art Deco just adds to it.

imagesnz - Rob O'Neill

imagesnz - Rob O'Neill

Festival details

Napier’s Art Deco festival falls between 17-22nd February when the sun is at its hottest. Take plenty of uv protection. Check out the Art Deco Festival website for more information or you can ask me, send me an email or leave a comment.

Note for foodies -Cafes and restaurants serve up some of the best tasting food and drink around. The coffee in Napier is good with a capital G and an extra o.

If you have been wondering who Gatsby is: he is a character in E. Scott Fitzgeralds novel “The Great Gatsby”.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. Bear permalink
    February 1, 2009 12:05 pm

    Jazz and Art Deco in one place — now that would be a happening to attend! It also sounds too cool about folks dressing up in the style of the time. I don’t live too far from Miami Beach with its Art Deco section called South Beach but the more hip call it SoBe (said like sew-bee). It is a nice place to visit as well — seasonally frequented by foreign visitors and at other times college crowds. Except for the summer it is almost always crowded, unlike your New Zealand. Many folks go there to be seen as well see people. I hear it is also a party central but that facet of society is unknown to me as I can’t stay up until dawn! Nontheless, it is quite nice to go to SoBe and enjoy the restored architecture, eating places and beach.

  2. February 2, 2009 11:59 pm

    I have heard about South Beach and its crowds. thankfully Napier doesn’t have that problem – yet. It is much more relaxing. When I go to the US in June I will try and make a trip there. Perhaps you could act as my tour guide.

    Thanks for the info.It adds to the post 🙂

  3. Bear permalink
    February 3, 2009 3:21 am

    I’d be happy to serve as guide. First stop would be the News Cafe for cafe Cubanos 🙂

  4. February 24, 2010 12:45 am

    Just back from 2010 festival and what a great weekend especially Sat. It’s like being dropped into a 1930 film set but in a vibrant 2010 setting if that makes sense. The combination of a beachside setting, impressive CBD with great architecture, lanes and malls… surely all building everywhere should have a 2 or 3 storey limit like Napier.

    Sat morning you have a vintage car parade through the main shopping street. About 230 cars this year and some gems you’d struggle to see even in the USA. Gorgeous Packards, Buicks, Studebakers, Auburns, a beautiful ice blue metallic 1946 Cadillac Coupe and to top it all off a fly past by 4 WW2 vintage planes at about 400 feet, a navy brass band. It was like being in 1940!

    Sat afternoon favourites were the judging of the period costumes at the Sound Shell on the beach. Hats off to Bretts New International band (1930s style 11 piece band from Auckland) with the bandleader doing male vocals and Kirsty or Kristy doing fabulous female vocals.
    Now normally Bertie whose Napier based and does Deco tours in his 1934 Buick does the mc-ing but this year they had a guy from Auckland doing it…. I’d love to know his name if anyone who was there knows.

    • February 24, 2010 9:38 pm

      Hi John and welcome Sounds like it was a success. Thanks for the detailed account. I haven’t been there in a while and would love to revisit. Like you said it’s like stepping back into the 30’s.


  5. Anonymous permalink
    February 24, 2010 9:53 pm

    Cheers Kate! Did I leave off some other weekend highlights? The Soap Box Derby (Billy Cart races) Sun morning around 10.30am?

    This takes place from the Marine Parade end of Tennyson St over 2 blocks running down the hill. Wow some of the billycarts are quite spectacular. Favourites included the “Wine Bottle” which looked a bit like Professor Fates machine from the Great Race. The Keg was another beauty where you could just see the kids head driving appear through a hole in the top. Most of the fast machine had bicycle wheels, steering and brakes. Some 3 wheel, some 4.

    The Bathing belle and bathing blokes comp on Sat afternoon had a field of about 4 each. The winning woman really got into character with her parasol doing the Charleston and a few other 1920 type dances with MC Berties stand in Frederick Forsythe-Smyth.

    All very good fun!

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