Art Deco city

An unexpected gem in the Hawke’s Bay wine region on North Island, Napier is a small must-visit coastal city that was re-built from scratch after a devastating earthquake in the 1930s. Not only does it have the most complete collection of Art Deco buildings in one place, it is also the most important. But it’s not just about the architecture: there are museums and antique shops, fantastic restaurants and bars and one of the most photographed attractions in the country – Pania of the Reef, a statue on the waterfront of a mythical Maori maiden.

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What to do and see in Napier

It’s the beautifully preserved Art Deco and Spanish Mission buildings that make Napier so special. Often compared to a 1930s film set (you almost expect a flapper to appear and start dancing the Charleston any minute), key landmarks worth seeing include the former Daily Telegraph offices which have a splendid symmetrically patterned façade and lotus flower toped columns; the 1937 Municipal Theatre with original chrome and neon fittings and a cubist carpet; and the National Tobacco Company Building for its decorative roses that adorn the entrance and Art Nouveau geometric forms.

When you’ve worked up an appetite strolling the streets, stop for lunch at excellent chef owned Bistronomy. The look is simple: wooden jenga-like shelving with glass jars of pickled plums and grapes, brass lights and an open kitchen at the back. Expect comfort food with a twist, from a fried chicken bucket with butter-chicken mayonnaise to James’ eggs bene with house cured pork belly and beet hollandaise. Or try Pacifica, a Napier institution that specialises in fine dining seafood served in a relaxed, weathered beach bungalow setting. And for a sugar fix, make a beeline for Mister D – the doughnuts are legendary and served with ‘adult syringes’ of dark rum and chocolate or Hennessey cognac custard.

To sample some of New Zealand’s renowned grapes, pop into the Church Road Winery. Founded in 1897, it is one of the country’s oldest (and has won plenty of accolades): sign up for a Cellar Door wine tasting and museum tour. If you fancy a cocktail instead, look out for the Monica Loves bar, tucked away down an alley in the centre of town. Blue wine barrels are used as outside tables, there’s a neon ‘who shot the barman’ sign on the walls and live music on a Sunday.

If you’d rather a culture hit, the gleaming white MTG Hawke’s Bay, a museum, gallery and theatre that teaches visitors about Napier history and Maori culture alongside its displays of contemporary art. Or why not hire a vintage classic car to explore town. The Art Deco Centre is the spot for all kinds of themed memorabilia, from posters to homeware (you can also buy tickets for guided Art Deco walks here too). To really make the most of your Art Deco surroundings, time your trip with the annual February festival where there are around 125 events including dinners and dances, all in Gatsby-esque fancy dress.

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