There's debate as to why art deco was chosen as the style in which to rebuild Napier after the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. Some say it's because it was fashionable; others claim it's because it was quick and easy to build. Either way, out of the ashes of New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster rose a jewel of a city that contains one of the world's finest collections of art deco and Spanish mission architecture. Located in the heart of Hawke's Bay, halfway up the east coast of the North Island, it's ideally situated for exploring the region's superb vineyards and local producers.
Housed in a striking building on Napier's waterfront, MTG Hawke's Bay is not only an excellent free museum, with exhibits on the area's history and the 1931 earthquake, but it's also a theatre and gallery, too (hence the initials). Highlights from the permanent collection include examples of early New Zealand modernism plus more than 6000 carvings, clothes and pieces of jewellery from the local Maori culture. See mtghawkesbay.com
For a town with a population of only about 63,000 people, Napier has an unexpectedly sophisticated dining scene. Top of the pile is Pacifica, which last year was named Restaurant of the Year in the prestigious Cuisine Good Food Awards. Housed in a cute weathered blue bungalow on Marine Parade, the restaurant serves two variants of a five-course degustation menu with a focus on local seafood. See pacificarestaurant.co.nz
While the town's art deco charms are plain to see, it's worth joining one of the Art Deco Trust's excellent guided tours for a more in-depth appreciation. Choose between a range of walking and bus tours, most of which include a 20-minute film about the earthquake at the trust's headquarters. For the full art deco experience, sign up for a private tour in one of its glorious vintage American Packard cars or visit during the town's annual art deco festival in February. See artdeconapier.com
You'd be crazy to visit Napier and not explore the vineyards and farms of the surrounding region. For an active option that utilises the area's extensive bike path network, check out Takaro Trails' cycle tours. For a trip with a focus on local produce, sign up for one of cheese expert Juliet Harbutt's informative and entertaining Hunter Gatherer tours. See takarotrails.co.nz; thecheeseweb.com
Ideally positioned opposite MTG Hawke's Bay, the historic Art Deco Masonic Hotel has 42 individually designed rooms with art deco furnishings and decoration. Start your evening with an old fashioned in the hotel's intimate lounge bar before gliding next door to the excellent all-day Emporium restaurant. Featuring tiled columns, retro light fittings and cabinets of vintage curios, it serves contemporary classics in stylish surrounds. See masonic.co.nz
Visit over a weekend so you can check out the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market on Sunday in nearby Hastings (there's also a smaller version in Napier on Saturdays). As one of the oldest and largest farmers' markets in the country, it's a great opportunity to meet local producers and sample their wares. You'll find everything from olives to figs to handmade chocolate plus delicious snacks and live entertainment. See hawkesbayfarmersmarket.co.nz
Rob McFarland travelled as a guest of Hawke's Bay Tourism and Air New Zealand.