Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

New Zealand 2019 Day 7: Napier Museum

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 12, 2019

Actually, the Napier Museum is also an art gallery and a library!

There are only three floors, but it’s still a very interesting museum.  Alas, I had a Senior’s Moment and left my camera on the desk in the hotel so we have only a few photos on Tim’s phone…


We started off on the ground floor with a display about the 1931 Earthquake.  We had already read about this, and seen the informative video at the Art Deco Trust, but this museum exhibition rounded out the historical facts with personal stories.  There were stories from people who lived through it, including some poignant ones from people who were small children at the time, and there were some treasured trinkets that had been salvaged.  There was also a digital display on a banner, that had voices of the people superimposed over diagrams that showed the transitions as the land rose up and changed the landscape while below it the Richter Scale was climbing.  It was very vivid.  There were replicas of press reports and telegrams, and also photos of the naval ship HMAS Veronica that was anchored in the bay when the quake struck. The ship was thrown right up out of the water and then back down again, coming to rest in newly exposed mudflats when the ocean retreated.  They had to wait until a high tide before it could be re-floated, but they had radio and they sent an SOS to Auckland by Morse Code.  The next day two naval ships arrived with medical help and supplies, and the city has never forgotten the navy and how it managed the relief effort.

There was a lovely display of local silverware, and not all of it was owned by the rich and privileged.  We were both captivated by trophies awarded to two fire stations competing in fire drills.  Tim liked the rooster, and I liked the one with the water cannon!

There was also a display of Maori carvings and whatnot but we’ve seen a lot of that by now (and I think you need to be a bit of an expert to see the difference between them) and the same was true of the exhibition about a pioneering family called Webb.

However we loved the display of architectural drawings by the architect J A Louis Hay.  He was in his fifties and already a notable architect influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright when the earthquake struck and Napier needed rebuilding.  He joined the Napier Reconstruction Committee and ensured that local architects who had the interests of Napier at heart were those who controlled the massive rebuilding task.

There were framed drawings of his proposed buildings, many of which we’ve seen realised as buildings in the CBD, and there was signage that explained that he was a meticulous man who was intolerant of shoddy workmanship.  But it was from Wikipedia that I discovered that his wife was severely injured in the disaster.  I think these architects are real heroes, who restored a ruined city into a truly beautiful place, and I suspect that the local people who had suffered so much must have been delighted to see their new city arising from the disaster.

We also took the opportunity to admire the Napier Library.  It is a beautiful space, quiet and calm, and nicely organised with a spacious feel and what looks like a good contemporary collection.  They also had a clever initiative to encourage borrowing: you can borrow a ‘pot luck’ bookbag of five books, which are tagged ‘romance’, ‘thriller’, ‘paranormal romance’ (what’s that??) or ‘crime’.  You simply scan the bag, take it home and embark on a voyage of discovery!

We rounded off our two days in Napier with a wonderful meal at Bistronomy.  If you like fine food in a creative contemporary style, this is a restaurant you must not miss.  They make excellent cocktails (I had a Sour Tart, made with gin, elderflowers and feijoas (in season now); and Tim had a Lady Marmalade which was made with charred citrus, aniseed and Cointreau.  What we particularly liked was that the cocktails came before the first course as they should, because the whole point of a cocktail is that it’s a pre-dinner drink, and very rarely is it compatible with an entrée.  In a best-forgotten place we went to in Wellington, the bartender took so long to finish his theatrical performance—prancing around, waggling his pony-tail and thrusting his biceps about, that by the time the cocktails arrived #EpicFail we had almost finished entrée…

No such problem at Bistronomy.  The service was excellent, and the food was served perfectly.  Here’s the slideshow, and I have added the description from the menu so that you can see the complexity of the dishes:

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One thing we didn’t photograph, though it wouldn’t have conveyed much if we had, was the house-made bread which came with whipped butter flavoured with lemon and horopito.  We had never heard of this flavoursome ingredient, and it tasted sublime.  It’s a kind of bush pepper apparently… and I really hope we can source it at home! I’d like to try using it to flavour muffins:)

Tomorrow we are off to Auckland!

9 Responses to “New Zealand 2019 Day 7: Napier Museum”

  1. I’ve never heard of horopito either. It’s amazing how many new foods there are that keep coming up isn’t there?

    I was interested in your comments about cocktails. There are some really wonderful ones around now, but I nearly never have them, because I like to drink wine with my meal, and adding a cocktail beforehand (because as you say they don’t usually go with food) usually feels like that one step too far, so I usually pass them up. (But not without longing glances.)

    Oh, and the museum sounded really good too!

    • Lisa Hill said

      I think cocktails have become a bit of a trendy thing, and some places are outdoing themselves with the strange concoctions they make. I like classic martinis and the occasional Bloody Mary, but I only have them in places where the wines come in sensible small glasses. I’ve been to two restaurants here where you could choose between 75nl, 150ml and 225ml (250? can’t remember), and 75 ml is perfect so that you can have a little white with your entrée and a little red with your main. Mind you, this is strictly a treat, you wouldn’t drink that amount of alcohol every day.

      • No, I agree re the trendiness, but some are really delicious. I love a good Margarita. I’ve never seen 75ml pours – though some 60mI in degustation places. But when you add up those wine matches they can add up to too much. So I usually go for 2×150 ml. Some do 125ml which is ideal.

  2. Lisa Hill said

    Yes, 60ml is the norm with degustations, but there’s always some that I skip. If there’s a bubbly, it’s usually too sweet for me, and I don’t like chardonnay so I skip that, and I dislike most dessert wines and ports so I skip those too. I don’t always finish the whole glass either, so all up I end up having a lot less than the menu offers. At the end of the day I’m drinking for the taste, not to relax or (like some people do) to get drunk.
    I think this 75 ml idea is great: one with entrée and the other with main, and that’s just over one standard drink altogether over a couple of hours, you could drive home on that, no problem.

    • I just don’t do the accompanying wines at all, and choose my own two normal-sized glasses. That’s interesting re bubblies because I find most of those offered by restaurants these days are dry. (I don’t like sweet ones either), but I LOVE chardonnay. I dislike Riesling, and am not a fan of Sav Blancs (don’t tell the New Zealanders), but like quite a few other whites. Unfortunately, red wine went 30 years ago when I went on my food intolerance diet. I had to retrain myself at the time to like whites! (BTW Did you know that Chardonnay is often called the “red wine drinker’s white”? Just saying!)

      I just can’t understand drinking to get drunk – and the whole preloading thing is really sad. I have over-imbibed in my life, but the experience is so unpleasant, including the feeling the next day, is so unpleasant that I can’t imagine choosing it.

      • Lisa Hill said

        Ah, the thing with chardonnay is that it has a component in it that is the same one that’s in cabbage. And there are some of us who automatically retch at the taste of it. Like some people can’t abide coriander, which I think is delicious. Strange, isn’t it?

      • Cabbage? I’ve never heard that before Lisa. Most people I know don’t like wooded Chardonnays but like the unwooded ones. 1 much prefer wooded ones.

        BTW I love cabbage (not soggy, boiled cabbage though) and coriander. I can understand dislike of cabbage as it can so often be cooked badly – particularly in the English tradition – but I’m always mystified by the number people who hate coriander.

        BTW I haven’t yet met a vegetable I don’t like, but what makes me retch are sultanas in apple dishes and fruit buns and scones. Can’t eat raisin toast too. And sultana cake. And any light fruitcake. These are the things that if someone puts in front of me I really can’t make myself eat. I either leave it or pick the fruit out which is very embarrassing. Fortunately my gf diet saves me from these things now but as a child? Oh dear.

      • Lisa Hill said

        Yes, sometimes it’s really hard to be polite when something you can’t tolerate is put in front of you!

  3. […] While all this is going on, the call-out for contributions to the commemorative edition results in a flood of stories.  The depiction of memories arising from the quake from a child’s perspective reminded me of an exhibition that we saw in a museum in Napier, a city that was entirely rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake.  To quote from my travel blog: […]

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