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)

Archive for the ‘Napier’ Category

New Zealand Day 8: arrival in Auckland

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 13, 2019

Well, it’s taken nearly all day, but we’re here in Auckland.  Our plans to enjoy a last minute stroll around Napier in the morning were thwarted by rain, but we did manage a short walk along the foreshore.  On the right you can see the Napier equivalent of the Myer Music Bowl, and on the left you can see a colonnade – every column has a memorial plaque…

There is also this rather moving plaque – it’s not credited to anyone, but it’s an important reminder to those of us who visit Napier and are charmed by its architecture and ambience, that we should never forget that the city was rebuilt with courage, by people who had lost everything.

So, off to the Napier airport and the inescapable early check-in and hanging around till take-off, but that was all fine and as we expected.  It was when we landed in Auckland and took the SuperShuttle airport bus that we’d pre-booked and paid for that things went tiresomely wrong.

My advice is that if you are contemplating using this shuttle service, #Travellers’Tip, just don’t.   First there was a lengthy diversion to an industrial area to pick up a passenger who didn’t turn up, the bus then turned around and went all the way back to the airport to pick up another passenger, then we went meandering through the suburbs of Auckland to drop off first one of the passengers, and then another couple somewhere else, and by the time we got to our hotel in the CBD, a 20 minute journey had taken an hour and a quarter.  There was no explanation for any of this from the driver, who didn’t even bother to announce our stop—I suppose we were just supposed to know where we were by some kind of osmosis.  We were really fed up by the whole performance, but I felt really sorry for a young mother sitting behind us, nursing a baby for all that time, and still hadn’t got to her destination when we got off the bus.  Here’s another tip: the word ‘Sorry’ goes a very long way with me.  That’s all it takes for me to shrug my shoulders and put shoddy service behind me.  But we didn’t hear a ‘sorry’ at all.

However, now that we are comfortably ensconced in the Scenic Hotel, we are starting to unwind, helped along by a nice G&T and a very belated lunch of fish and chips in the bar.  There are heaps of cafés and take-away shops nearby and so he’s going to have Japanese and I’m going to have Indian, and we’re going to watch some telly!

Tomorrow we will venture out and be proper tourists again:)

Posted in Auckland, Napier, Travellers' tips | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

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!

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Dining out, Libraries, Museums, Napier | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

New Zealand Day 7: Napier, Vintage Car Tour

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 12, 2019

Today we enjoyed a most informative vintage car tour, with John from the Art Deco Trust.  The car is a beautifully maintained Packard Six, described apparently as the Rolls Royce of America.  Certainly it’s a very comfortable way to cruise around Napier to see the sights.

The tour complemented our walking tour nicely.  As you could see from yesterday’s post, walking is better for photographing the upper stories of the Art Deco buildings, though you need to be on the opposite side of the road to get the best shots.  But from the windows of the car we could see details of Art Deco motifs and leadlight windows, and John’s commentary told us all kinds of interesting details about the buildings.

The tour begins with a short video that explains the history of Napier and its rebuilding after the 1931 earthquake.  The guide who introduced it started off by telling us about her personal experience with a quake magnitude of 5.2 and how her anxiety grew over the 20 seconds so that just as she was about to get out of her warm bed to drop, cover and hold, it stopped.  So that was a vivid illustration of how terrifying the 1931 quake must have been.  It lasted for two-and-a-half minutes, and it not only caused the destruction we’ve heard about, it also completely reshaped the land….

Prior to the quake, Napier was a very small town, hemmed in by the absence of any flat land.  The town was needed as a port on this side of the North Island, but there was a massive lagoon to its west, and swampland to the south.  There just wasn’t anywhere to expand.  But when the plates crashed together, they pushed the land up by two-and-a-half metres, obliterating the lagoon and the swamp.  So along with the tragedy came the opportunity for the town to grow, and under the leadership of a two-man commission rebuilding began in an orderly way, replacing the Victorian buildings with their perilous ornamentation and brickwork vulnerable to collapse with the prevailing architectural style: Art Deco in reinforced concrete.  The smooth facades and decorations mean that the buildings are sturdier, and with all the electricity and phone poles underground, there is less risk of residents being hit by falling objects.

From the CBD, John drove us up a narrow winding road into the hills overlooking the city.  These houses largely survived the quake, so there are charming Victoria era houses, with carved wooden fretwork replacing the iron lacework that you see on Melbourne houses of the same era. There wasn’t really anywhere to stop so I don’t have photos—when I am more confident about the stability of the internet I’ll Google to see what I can find, but I do have a photo from the lookout over the port.

On the left you can see vast quantities of (plantation) timber awaiting shipment to China, and on the right you are looking at the land which rose up after the quake.  All the land you can see, up to the edge of the mountains in the far distance, was where the lagoon was.

After the lookout we stopped at the eccentric National Tobacco Company building.  The company was owned by a prominent businessman and philanthropist, but he preferred art nouveau motifs to art deco.  Since he was the one with the money, he got the design he wanted.  John said that it takes two men to hold the bronze lamps when the bulbs need replacing.

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From there we drove through some postwar housing that puts our Melbourne postwar housing to shame.  Napier also had a critical shortage of building materials, but their solution was to put up a timber frame, cover it with chicken  wire, and then use plaster!  They paint these houses in the typical 1930s sage green, pale blue and dusky pinks, and add decorative Art Deco elements, and apparently they are highly valued and sell for a premium price.  I don’t think anyone would pay a premium price for Melbourne’s 1950s suburban housing: everyone these days alters them just as we have. Here’s a picture through the window of the Packard.

We went back to the Ajuna Cafe again for lunch because it is excellent.  They have a really appealing menu, the service is friendly and prompt and they serve delicious fresh juices and you can have a glass of wine or a beer if you like.  After that we visited the Napier Museum, but I’ll do that as a separate post because I’ll upload this one now while the internet access is behaving itself.

Posted in 2019 New Zealand, Napier | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

New Zealand 2019 Day 6: Napier

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 11, 2019

A nice breakfast (with very good coffee!) at the Copthorne Hotel in Palmerston North, and then we were off to the bus station for the coach to Napier.  Even while we were waiting, there were interesting things to see.  This edifice is the usual ego-booster for the town councillors of the time, but the memorial fountain was erected to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII.  And it made me think, should the worst happen and #shudder Charles becomes king of Australia, will there be a rash of commemorative edifices?

In the same park, there is an information centre, which is the usual ordinary sort of building… until you go round to the other side of it and realise that it is an annex to these beautiful Art Deco restrooms!

But when the coach finally brought us to Napier, well, breathtaking is the only word to describe the Art Deco treasures here.  Napier was flattened in an earthquake in 1931, with a loss of 256 lives.  The town was rebuilt in the architecture of the era, and it is absolutely stunning.  Here’s the slideshow from our afternoon walk:

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Tomorrow we’re going on a guided tour in a vintage car, so I shall have more to say in due course…

Posted in Napier | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »