The Art Deco Capital of the World!

Napier, a brief history

Māori settled in Hawke’s Bay around 1250–1300 AD. Over time settlements were established on the coast from Māhia in the north, down to Pōrangahau in the south, and along rivers and waterways inland. Heretaunga and Te Whanganui-a-Orotū (Napier’s inner harbour) were two important early settlement areas.

The people who became known as Ngāti Kahungunu arrived in the region sometime during the 16th century. Kahungunu, whose grandfather captained the Takitimu waka (canoe) from Hawaiki to New Zealand, was in born in Ōrongotea (Kaitāia) and grew up in Tauranga. He later travelled down the east coast, making a series of marriage alliances with high-born women as he went. He finally settled at Nukutaurua (Māhia Peninsula), the home of his fourth wife, Rongomaiwahine.

Ngāti Kahungunu became the dominant tribal group in Hawke’s Bay through a combination of warfare and strategic marriage. However, existing hapū (sub-tribes) maintained distinct identities, and later Ngāti Kahungunu descendants claimed kinship links with them as well. In fact, the people did not think of themselves as belonging to a singular, united tribe called Ngāti Kahungunu until the late 18th century. Before this, Māori society in the region was based around hapū containing a chief and his immediate community. This changed through power struggles over land with other tribes, combined with the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, eventually creating unity through adversity.

In 1769, British explorer Captain James Cook sailed along the east coast of New Zealand and named the area Hawke’s Bay after Admiral Edward Hawke.

European settlement in Hawke’s Bay began in the early 1800s, following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which established British sovereignty over New Zealand.

Māori who acquired European weapons had a distinctive advantage over those who did not. Despite modifying pā (fortified villages) to defend against muskets, Hawke’s Bay Māori were unable to protect their lands against armed invasions from the west and north during the 1820s. Most went to Māhia, leaving much of the central and southern region empty of inhabitants until the late 1830s, when they began to return.

Tribal populations declined sharply in the wake of the invasions. However, these troubles prompted Hawke’s Bay Māori to work together, which reinforced the idea of Ngāti Kahungunu as a tribal identity.*

The town of Napier was established in 1851 as a small port settlement. It was named after Sir Charles Napier, a British military officer. The port played a crucial role in the economic development of the region, facilitating the export of wool, timber, and agricultural products.

On February 3, 1931, Napier and the surrounding region were struck by a devastating earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. The earthquake and subsequent fires resulted in significant damage and loss of life. The city was largely destroyed, with many buildings reduced to rubble.

Following the earthquake, Napier underwent a massive reconstruction effort. The city was rebuilt in the prevailing architectural style of the time, Art Deco. This style, characterized by its geometric shapes, bright colors, and decorative motifs, became synonymous with Napier. Today, the city boasts one of the world’s most extensive collections of Art Deco buildings and is a popular tourist destination.

In addition to the architectural legacy, Napier is known for its wine industry. The region’s warm climate and fertile soil have made it ideal for vineyards, and Hawke’s Bay has become one of New Zealand’s leading wine-producing regions.

Over the years, Napier has continued to grow and thrive. It is known for its beautiful coastline, vibrant cultural scene, and annual events such as the Art Deco Festival, which celebrates the city’s unique heritage. Napier and the wider Hawke’s Bay region have become popular tourist destinations, attracting visitors from around the world.

Napier’s history is a fascinating story of resilience, rebirth, and cultural heritage, making it a significant part of New Zealand’s historical and cultural fabric.

Enhanced by palms and the angular Norfolk Island pines which are its trademark, and surrounded by fertile fruit and grape growing plains, dramatic hills and the shores of the South Pacific, beautiful Napier is the centre of Hawke’s Bay, recently named a World’s Great Wine Capitals.

Art Deco Napier book

A history and guidebook to Art Deco Napier. Text by Peter Shaw, photographs by Bruce Jenkins. Art Deco Napier is available from the Art Deco Centre, 7 Tennyson Street, Napier or by clicking here.

1931 Earthquake

10.46am, Tuesday February 3, 1931.

7.8 on the Richter Scale (10-11 on the Modified Mercalli Scale of felt intensity) across Hawke’s Bay area.

(Estimated) 20Kms north-north-east of Napier just off the coast near Tangoio and Waipatiki.

Shallow, at approximately 16 kilometres.

2.5 minutes, with a 30 second lull in the middle.

Approximately 150 in the 12 hours post earthquake. 525 in the 14 days post earthquake.

Napier 157
Hastings 101
Wairoa 3
Total: 261

1931 Population:
Napier 16,025
Hastings 10,850
Taradale / Havelock North 3125
Total: 30,000

Discover Napier with the Trust

Explore the charm of Napier – New Zealand’s Art Deco gem! Unearth its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture.