A city that seems almost fictional.

The city of Napier

Far from the world’s great population centres and from the European and American cities where 20th Century design evolved lays a small city that is unique.

Napier is a city located in Hawke’s Bay, East Coast, North Island, New Zealand.

Before European settlement, the area where Napier is situated was home to the Māori people of the Ngāti Kahungunu iwi (tribe). They inhabited the region for centuries and relied on the land and sea for sustenance and trade.

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 the region began in the 1840s, following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which established British sovereignty over New Zealand.

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.

Napier’s Art Deco Architecture is unique, with Maori motifs and the buildings of Louis Hay, admirer of the great Frank Lloyd Wright.

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 one of the World’s Great Wine Capitals.

For more information about travelling to the region, visit:

Art Deco Napier

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.

Art Deco Napier Inventory

Art Deco Trust in association with the Napier City Council commissioned and produced the full inventory of Napier’s Art Deco buildings. This was complied by Amanda Bilman and Tom Gill. The inventory can be accessed online via the Napier City Council website or by clicking here.

(Please note that this link will take you to an e-book which may take a minute or two to download.)

For more specific information on individual buildings within the City of Napier, please do contact the Art Deco Trust by clicking here.

The 1931 Earthquake

46 minutes and 46.3 seconds after 10.00 am on Tuesday February 3, 1931.

7.8 on the Richter Scale.
10-11 on the Modified Mercalli Scale of felt intensity in the Napier/ Hastings 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

A cream and grey/blue art deco building with modern cars parked in front
The Daily Telegraph Building, Tennyson Street

Learn about Art Deco

Step into the timeless allure of Art Deco. Delve into its history, iconic designs, and artistic marvels. Discover more on our captivating Art Deco page today!