For somebody who loves dressing up, parties and great music, I find it incredible it has taken me 29 years to get to the Napier Art Deco Festival. However, now I’ve found it, this four day celebration of Napier’s unique history will be a regular event on my calendar.
The entire town embraces the festival and streets are closed off for partying– there is a different fun activity around every corner and something for revellers of every age to enjoy.
Napier’s reputation as an Art Deco mecca was the result of the Napier earthquake. At 10.47am on the 3rd of February 1931, a devastating earthquake struck the city and the damage from the quake, and the resulting fire, destroyed all but six buildings. The townspeople set about rebuilding their city and over the next few years, some of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the world emerged from the rubble.
One of the best ways of getting a potted history of Napier is by booking a tour with Hooters Car Hire. Hooters have lovingly restored a fleet of priceless vintage cars. Hop in and be transported back in time as your chauffeur entertains you with stories from Napier’s past. The drivers are as passionate about Napier as they are about their beautiful vehicles and for me, the tour was one of the highlights of the festival. But really, there were so many highlights.
To think the inaugural Art Deco weekend was held in 1988 and there were just five events on the programme; now you can take your pick of more than 450 activities, many of them free. Dance under the stars at Napier’s Sound Shell where the sound of the sea is drowned out by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band playing swing songs from yesteryear. Take your seat at one of the many brilliant cafes along Tennyson Street and watch young daredevils, dressed in period costume, race each other in homemade trollies vying for the honour of being the Soap Box Derby champion. If you want to take it up a notch, put on your glad rags and head along to the Prohibition Party – modelled on one of the underground parties of the thirties, with ‘bootleg’ liquor, gambling at ‘illegal’ casino tables, non-stop music and wicked flappers – all the while never knowing when the party will be raided by the police. The police are actors of course, but this party really does evoke the illicit wickedness of the era.
The legendary Masonic Hotel is party central. You’ll have to be quick if you want to stay there– many people book years in advance and rumour has it that rooms are bequeathed to family members in wills – but you never know your luck.
Another highlight is the Vintage Car Parade – 250 of the most beautiful and immaculately presented vehicles sweep through the city – gorgeous examples of engineering at a time when beauty was never ever sacrificed for performance. You will be able to view the cars at your leisure at different times throughout the weekend – when they’re not being driven round the streets, many of the owners will park them outside the Masonic and along Marine Parade.
It’s impossible to get to all of the events you’ll want to attend – although heaven’s knows, I tried! Which is why so many of the attendees are regulars.
If you don’t want to dress up in the spirit of the era, you can still enjoy yourself. But I guarantee you will have so much more fun if you join in. There are numerous shops that can help you kit yourself out, either with costumes from their stores, or they can help you accessorise what you already have.
It was an elegant era, a fun era – an incredible historical period. And thanks to the Art Deco Trust, you can be transported back in time to be a part of it. Get a group of friends together, start hunting out costumes in op shops – and see you at the Masonic Hotel for a cocktail in February 2019.
Kerre's Top Tips
Best spot for people and car watching:
Grab a table out in front of the Masonic, order a cocktail and settle in.
Charleston Chic, Decorum and Napier Antique and Jewellery Centre – the girls there will kit you out in style.
Best free events:
The Royal New Zealand Navy Band concert at the Sound Shell, the Vintage Car Parade and strolling the incredible tableau vivant tents of the Gatsby Picnic.
Book early! Flights and accommodation book out in double quick time.
The wonderful Napier volunteers and ambassadors who make the festival so special.