It doesn’t take long to appreciate why Napier New Zealand is the Art Deco Capital of the World. Simply taking a walk down the main road, we found ourselves surrounded by fun and funky examples of Art Deco. There are 140 Art Deco buildings, doors, sculptures, and more in this town.
Napier is one of a few world cities that was given a chance to reinvent itself. A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed the city in 1931. As New Zealand does, it turned this disaster into an opportunity. With so many people unemployed during the depression era, the rebuilding of Napier attracted skilled and talented workers from around New Zealand.
The result: Napier is an Art Deco city brought alive for us through an Art Deco Walking tour with Napier’s Art Deco Trust. In just 2 hours we learned about various Art Deco elements and Napier history. We walked past classic examples while our passionate volunteer guide highlighted the nuances and finer details. The tour is our top recommendation, a must do for any visitor, and the highlight of our time in Napier. We visited Napier as part of a New Zealand North Island Auckland to Wellington driving tour.
Napier Art Deco Tour Options
|Guided Afternoon Napier Art Deco Walk||Walk the Napier Art Deco district
Earthquake history and Art Deco revival
Access to the interiors of some buildings
Video about the history of Napier
|Private Napier Art Deco Guided Walks||Customized Art Deco walking tour
History of Napier area
Interiors of Napier Art Deco buildings
Insight to the Art Deco era style
|1 to 2 hrs|
|Vintage Car Napier Art Deco Tours||Short Napier Art Deco / history film
Explore Napier in 1930’s vintage car
See Art Deco quarter and suburbs
Photo stops at Napier Art Deco landmarks
|Napier Art Deco Tours by Minivan||Morning or afternoon departure
See and learn about Art Deco landmarks
Explore Marewa and Ahuriri areas of Napier
|Vintage Car Tour and Classic Car Museum||Car tour of architecture and waterfront
Personal tour of classic car showroom
Vintage cars and racing memorabilia
Napier Art Deco Buildings
Art Deco Patterns and Features
The 1920-30s were an age of change with new technology and materials. A faster-paced modern lifestyle included the availability of travel and a new freedom for women. From the Napier Art Deco trust, “Art Deco expressed all the vigour and optimism of the roaring twenties and the idealism and escapism of the grim thirties.”
Art Deco’s worldwide popularity was born in Paris in 1925 at the great Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts).
Once you know what to look for, Art Deco decor is easy to identify. The style radiates optimism, speed, the dawn of a modern age, and a bit of breaking the rules. There are several Art Deco geometric patterns and other shapes that define the era. Primary Art Deco colours are bold, bright, or metallic, yet they often include combinations like black and white; creams, taupes and medium browns; silver, gold, blue, and charcoal grey; or, dandelion yellow, forest green, peacock blue, royal purple, and cherry red. Key Art Deco detail to look for in the architecture include:
- Trapezoids and other geometric shapes
- Sweeping curves including fans and fountain shapes
- Long vertical lines – symbolise skyscrapers
- Horizontal “speed” lines – Symbols of speed, power and flight
- Ancient cultures (mostly civilisations of Egypt and Central America).
Napier Art Deco Buildings with Maori Motif
The integration of Maori motifs with the Art Deco features gives Napier Art Deco a distinctive flavour found nowhere else. It is uniquely New Zealand. Much of this design is the work of local architect Louis Hay.
Napier Art Deco Buildings: A Closer Look at Some of the Features
Art Deco Art Nouveau
Tremains Art Deco Weekend
Like a scene from Back to the Future, Napier’s Art Deco district steps back in time for one weekend each February. It’s a Napier Art Deco festival that attracts over 40,000 people over four days. (In comparison, the town’s population is 57,000.) Visitors and residents don Art Deco costumes all weekend long and enjoy events like vintage car parades, Art Deco fashion shows, outdoor concerts, and Great-Gatsby-themed picnics and dances. If you are thinking about heading to this Napier art deco weekend, you might want to book your hotel now.
Practical Information on Visiting Art Deco Buildings in Napier
- There are 140 Art Deco buildings in Napier. If you are in a hurry and want to see some of the best examples, head to the centre of town and walk along Emerson, Tennyson, and Hastings Streets.
- Many of the building interiors are not open to the public without a tour.
- If you want to know more, visit the Art Deco Trust’s official website.
- If you are interested in the finer details of any of the buildings featured here, download the Napier Architecture Reference page.
- Bring a camera. I shoot with an Olympus OMD em5.
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Disclaimer: As media guests of the Art Deco Trust we were provided with complimentary walking tours to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.