t's Hollywood. It's South Beach. It's
Napier. Napier? Yes, Napier, which is a small coastal city
(population: 50,000) but a major dot on the art deco map.
Fortuitously, it also sits smack-dab in the midst of New
Zealand's important Hawke's Bay wine-growing area, making it a fine
base from which to follow one or more wine trails.
And, like frosting on a cake, it also offers ready access to
Maori cultural experiences and plenty of New Zealand's rightly
Art deco story
In 1931, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale
flattened much of Napier. After the town buried its dead (162), it
dove into a rebuilding project that saw the heart of town ready for
business in two years.
The near-total reconstruction of Napier as part of a coordinated
plan produced something unique in the world, an almost all art deco
city, and most of those buildings have been well preserved. Even
the McDonald's -- called McDonald's McDeco -- located in a former
hotel in a suburb, is gorgeous.
The Art Deco Trust offers twice-daily walking tours (at about $4
and $6) through the compact downtown area.
But there is more. Decked out in a stylish black cloche and fox
fur wrap in the best 1930s tradition, I tooled about town in a
bright-red 1934 Buick.
My host was Clarence Bertram St.
John Fitz Montague (I'm not kidding). Known as Bertie, he is the
town's "art deco ambassador" and operates Deco Affair Tours (e-mail
[email protected]; visit www.decoaffair.com), which offers -- in vintage
vehicles with costumed guides -- "jolly jaunts," "deco dawdles" or
longer tours that include tea or cocktails.
Bertie provides 1930s costumes to customers who want to wear
them. Tour prices, listed on the Web site, are commissionable at
10%; the operator also can quote net rates.
Our tea was served in the appropriately furnished home of
Bertie's partner, Penelope Partington-ffyes, in Marewa, the suburb
where streets lined with art deco homes gave the strongest
impression of any Napier neighborhood that we had driven into
Marewa -- Maori for "gift from the sea" -- has its name for good
reason: The 1931 quake lifted the Napier area more than six feet
and raised about 6,000 acres of its inner harbor, ironically
meeting the growing town's need for space. The airport now occupies
some of that land.
Nearby towns like Hastings and Havelock North, damaged to lesser
degrees, boast notable collections of art deco buildings, as
Napier's Art Deco Trust (e-mail [email protected]; visit www.artdeconapier.com) sponsors an annual Art Deco
Weekend -- set for Feb. 19 to 22 in 2004 -- a "not-too-serious
celebration" that can include a vintage car rally, Busby Berkeley
movies, a costume and coiffure competition, a "Gatsby picnic," lots
of jazz and a "Depression dinner."
Many locals take this seriously enough, however, to spend the
weekend dressed for the era, and visitors do the same.
There are more than 30 wineries open for tastings around Hawke's
Bay on New Zealand's North Island, and there are plenty of
critically acclaimed whites and reds to try.
Before hitting the Hawke's Bay wine trail, I visited Lindauer
Cellars in Gisborne, New Zealand's easternmost town, which is
dubbed "the first city in the world to see the sun each day."
The cellars showcase Montana Wines' specialties. The product
line is labeled Brancott in the U.S. because research showed a wine
called Montana would not sell well in the States.
The Hawke's Bay itinerary fittingly began with New Zealand's
oldest winery, Mission Estate, founded by French missionaries in
The main building, dating from 1880, housed the missionaries and
their seminary. The seminary was cut into 11 pieces and moved from
a flood-plagued valley to its current hilltop site in 1910.
The most memorable of several wineries visited was Sileni
Estates, partly because of the lunch -- aptly dubbed gourmet --
served in one of two restaurants there.
Located not far from Hastings, this winery also boasts a gourmet
cellar store and cheese larder, both stuffed with tempting goods,
plus a demonstration kitchen, site of a cooking school described as
unique to Hawke's Bay wineries. The education center and a library
buttress these offerings.
We toured the wine-making facilities and then tasted wines,
cheeses and chocolate; a hostess distributed take-away tip sheets
on the art of wine tasting and pointers on judging chocolate and
olive oils. The tasting area is used for wine classes, as well.
Thus, Sileni has fodder for a half- or full-day's activities
that would include -- besides a winery tour and the de rigueur wine
tasting -- a cooking class in the demo kitchen plus tasting and
discussion sessions featuring cheeses, olive oils and chocolate. It
also is an event site.
Rates to agents are net; interested retailers should make e-mail
inquiries to [email protected]; the Web site is www.sileni.co.nz.
I spent a day with Brigid Ormond, owner of Long Island Tours in
Havelock North, an operator of custom itineraries for independent
travelers or groups. She promises visitors will meet "authentic
Hawke's Bay characters."
Maori account for about half the population in Hawke's Bay, so
itineraries can focus on various aspects of Maori culture
(performances, bush walks, spiritual tours).
Ormond also operates itineraries that include station life
(farming), gardens, wineries or activities like kayaking, rafting,
fishing and horse-trekking.
My lead character was Robert, a Maori chief at the Waimarama
marae (fortified village), who was eager for ideas on how the Maori
can be more effective players in the tourism business "without
being merely the performers in a spectacle."
Orine Gillies, the Maori culture tourism project manager for the
marae (www.waimarama.maori.nz), led a walk over Maori
farmlands that include potential dig sites where long-ago ancestors
made their homes and fought battles. She advised that the Maori
word for tourist, te hunga to poi, translates as "people who go
around being amazed at what they see."
Long Island Tours quotes rates commissionable at 20%; for
details, call (011) 64-6 877-0977, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.longislandtoursnz.com.
Visitors get an idea of country life by staying at a station.
New Zealanders use the word interchangeably with farm, but I'd call
it a ranch.
My station experience was at Tunanui (e-mail [email protected];
visit www.tuanui.co.nz) in northern Hawke's Bay, a
remarkably vertical, 5,000-acre spread with glorious views where
the owners run cattle, sheep and goats and maintain a handful of
kenneled dogs and horses to muster the livestock.
Here, visitors, who stay in one of two houses apart from the
main home, need to provide transportation to the property and are
expected to tend to their own meals, though they may be invited to
the main house for a drink and socializing.
Rates run about $100 per couple. To search for a station, go to
Commissions and/or net pricing plans vary by property.
Finally, not to be overlooked, Hawke's Bay provides a coastal
haven, at Cape Kidnappers, for one of the largest, most accessible
gannet colonies in the world.
These birds, with wingspans at six feet or more, are in
residence between September and late April; the best viewing time
is early November to late February.
Room key: McHardy House
Address: 11 Bracken St., Napier; on a hill overlooking
Telephone: (011) 64-6 835-0605; fax: (011) 64-6
Co-owners: Brenda Robins, Markus Burkhard
To book: Web site, above; via Availability at www.availability.co.nz.
Number of units: Six
History: Built in the 1890s as a home; converted
to other uses, including a maternity hospital; totally renovated as
a B&B by current owners four years ago.
Daily rates: About $375 for deluxe room; $450 for
a suite; covers breakfast and four-course dinner for two, but not
taxes; no children under 14.
Room highlights: Bathrobe, hair dryer, towel
heater, space heater (but no central heating reflecting a mild
climate); no phones or TVs in rooms.
Services highlights: Full bar services; gourmet
dinners, with Hawke's Bay wines, by co-owner and Swiss-born chef
Markus Burkhard, but must book dinners in advance; heated swimming
pool; billiards room; health and beauty therapy (must book ahead);
e-mail and Internet access, telephone and fax; laundry.
Noteworthy: Grand old house with big rooms, high
ceilings, broad verandas, native timber floors, original tin
ceilings; "magic" hall lights that come on after sensing you are
Not worthy: Room lighting not the best for
You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].