Seaside NAPIER is an easy place to warm to, thanks to its Mediterranean climate, affordable prices and the world's best-preserved collection of Art Deco architecture. With its laid-back population of 54,000, Napier is Hawke's Bay's largest city, and the jumping-off point for trips out to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers as well as the barrel-load of world-class wineries on the surrounding plains.
Having been almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, Napier rebuilt in line with the times. Although Art Deco embraced modernity, glorifying progress, the machine age and the Gatsby-style high life, the onset of the Great Depression pared down these excesses, and Napier's version was informed by the privations of an austere era. What emerged was a palimpsest of early-twentieth-century design, combining elements of the Arts and Crafts movement, the Californian Spanish Mission style, Egyptian and Mayan motifs, stylized floral designs and even Maori imagery. For the best part of half a century, the city's residents merely daubed the buildings in grey or muted blue paint. Fortunately, this meant that when a few visionaries recognized the city's potential in the mid-1980s and formed the Art Deco Trust, everything was still intact. The trust continues to promote the preservation of buildings and provides funding for shopkeepers to pick out distinctive architectural detail in pastel colours similar to those originally used.
You can get a sense of Art Deco Napier by wandering along the half-dozen streets of the city centre, notably Emerson Street. Worth special attention here is the ASB Bank, on the corner of Hastings Street. Its exterior is adorned with fern shoots and a mask from the head of a taiaha (a long fighting club), while its interior has a fine Maori rafter design. On Tennyson Street, look for the flamboyant Daily Telegraph building, with stylized fountains, and the Municipal Theatre, built in the late 1930s in a strikingly geometric form.