Once a year, the pretty seaside town of Napier in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealands North Island, gets its glad rags on to celebrate the Tremains Art Deco Weekend, in serious 1930’s style.
The Tremains Art DecoWeekend has just enjoyed its 28th year, drawing over 40,000 people to the town over the five days it runs, with over 200 events, both free and ticketed, for visitors to enjoy.
Lovingly referred to as ‘An extravaganza of elegance’ by The Art Deco Trust, a charity run by over 170 volunteers that is dedicated to preservation, promotion and celebration of the city, the weekend is a chance for people to get dressed up and truly step back in time to celebrate a wonderfully glamourous bygone era.
If you haven’t visited the area you might well ask ‘Why Art Deco? Why Napier? And of course there’s a story behind it…..
On 12 March 1931 an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale ripped through what was then the very small town of Napier on New Zealand’s North Island, killing over 256 people and flattening many of the towns buildings in the two and a half minutes it shook the ground for.
Any buildings that weren’t destroyed by the quake were quickly ravaged by the fires that spread through the town, and it was not long before Napier, as it had been, completely ceased to exist.
Although a devastating tragedy, the Earthquake did leave a positive mark on the city. As the tectonic plates crashed together they lifted the earth by two metres, and 2000 acres of land emerged from the sea to surround the city, allowing the rebuild to create a much bigger Napier.
Once the initial aftermath had died down, the locals, aided by a very limited amount of financial help for the NZ government, began the job of rebuilding the city, with a remit to ensure that buildings were both safe and modern, and that costs were kept to a minimum.
The style of the times was Art Deco, a style that fit the criteria perfectly with its lack of ornamentation, making it cheap, and much safer than the tall, ornate architecture that was so easily damaged in the quake.
Fast forward 80 odd years, and Napier is now one of the world’s most impressive and well preserved Art Deco capitals in the world. The buildings reflect the sharp, clean lines that the architectural style is so well known for, and theres even a McDeco Macdonalds in the town!
The Tremains Art Deco Festival runs from Thursday to Sunday with a jam packed programme of events running throughout. From guided walking tours around the city, to lessons in how to learn to jitterbug, wonderful steam train rides, and a highlight for many, a vintage car parade through the town.
Visitors can take a great big step back in time, donning some wonderful 1930’s clothes and enjoy a champagne breakfast on the beach, or dress down for the famlous Depression Dinner.
You can learn more about the city from the back seats of a vintage car, chauffer driven by an Art Deco Trust expert, or dust of your dancing shoes and take to the floor to learn to Charleston. The activities are endless!
The Gatsby picnic on the Sunday afternoon is our absolute favourite event – and its free! You can take supplies and find a spot by the ocean to sit back and take in the atmosphere. There’s even a competition with judges choosing the most impressive tea setting and most elegant gazebo!
The Art Deco Trust do a remarkable job of preserving Napiers heritage, and although this event is their biggest of the year, their 170 volunteers who work for them are busy the whole year round, organising various evens including a new mid winter festival , and daily walking tours around the city. their never short of a pair of hands to lead the popular walking tours that take place daily throughout the year.
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, we really recommend adding Hawkes Bay to your ‘must visit’ list, whatever time of year your visiting. Aside from the wonderful Art Deco treat of Napier , the area is a great place to sample some of New Zealands best wines and follow the Hawkes Bay Wine Trail as well as visiting the Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony to see the worlds largest Gannet Colony.