In the early morning February 3, 1931, Napier, a bustling port town on New Zealand’s west coast, was rocked by a tremendous earthquake. The majority of the town’s wooden buildings were reduced to rubble. Those that stood were subsequently burned to the ground thanks to a fire that started in a chemist shop. 256 lives were lost making it the worst natural disaster to ever hit New Zealand.
The result of this massive earthquake was not just death and destruction. The land around Napier rose 2 meters, making previously unusable swamp land ideal for farming and rebuilding. “It’s known as the gift,” said our Art Deco Vintage Car Tour guide Sally Buggers. Dressed in 1930’s attire and holding before-and-after aerial images of the land, Sally went on to explain this phenomenon. The “gift” made the rebuild of Napier that much easier and that much more worthwhile.
Why Art Deco?
Cruising down Tennyson Street, Sally pointed out the Public Trust Building – one of only a few that withstood the earthquake and fires. Its concrete exterior led city planners to rebuild in the same fashion. Art Deco being the in-vogue style of the time fit perfectly into these plans. This style was also ideal for mass production which helped speed up the rebuild and keep costs down. 80+ years later and much of it still stands making Napier the Art Deco Capital of the world – and I got to experience it on an Art Deco Vintage Car Tour, the best (and most unique) way to see it all.
The Art Deco Trust
This preservation hasn’t always been seen as “cool.” As we drove through town Sally pointed out that there used to be much more Art Deco buildings in Napier. “People didn’t appreciate what we had.” That’s when the Art Deco trust came in. This group saw the unique history and potential in Napier’s Art Deco buildings. Once this group got going others saw the potential ($$$) and started to change their mindset. In 1985, it started out with 10 volunteers. Today that number is north of 150 and includes 12 staff members. With that comes summertime festivals and activities like Art Deco Vintage Car Tour. It’s easy to see why. People from all over head to Napier to take part in these time capsuled events. Vintage cars, costumes, and entertainment from an era that has put Napier on the map are yours to experience.
Our Art Deco Vintage Car Tour ride was a 1938 forest green Packard. This beauty comes complete with no AC, no power steering, and bouncy bench seating. Amazing. Our Art Deco Vintage Car Tour guide and chauffeur for the day gave us a run down of what to expect. In full 1930’s getup, Sally opened the doors and we were off.
Not Just a Sweet Ride
Along our Art Deco Vintage Car Tour, we made several stops. At the Napier Municipal Theatre, we got to enjoy a tour inside and a detailed explanation on the artistic influences of the time. Highlights included the original light fixtures, seating, and zig-zag lines – something that gives it a futuristic feel. Odd as the building is over 70 years old.
At Mount Bluff Hill we took in the views. There, Sally showed us photos of how “The Gift” really did change the landscape of Napier.
Before our Art Deco Vintage Car Tour wrapped up we took a peek at the historic residential buildings and made a stop at the former National Tabacco Company. This immaculate and posh building has been well preserved and shows the splurging of German tycoon Gerhard Husheer in a time where all other Art Deco buildings were quick and economical.
No Better Way to Experience Napier
Taking an Art Deco Vintage Car Tour showed off Napier and its uniquely cool side in the best way possible. Sally’s local knowledge and love for the Art Deco of Napier only adds to this great tour. At the end of the day, this Art Deco Vintage Car Tour was so much more then seeing grey boxes with zig-zag patterns from an old car. It was a lesson in history, art, and geology – all from the comforts of 77-year-old bench seats.
Where else can you do that?
Experiencing Napier via Art Deco Vintage Car Tour Good to Know
Art Deco Tour Cost: $175 per car, for up to 4 passengers
Includes: Guide and a sweet ride.
Don’t Miss: Inside the municipal theatre and the 1930’s costumes!
What say you?
Thoughts on Experiencing Napier with an Art Deco Vintage Car Tour?
Let’s hear it!
Although I was provided a discounted Art Deco vintage car tour around Napier thanks to the Art Deco Trust,
the experience, opinions, and history lesson were my own.