Located within the idyllic Hawke’s Bay, Napier is a New Zealand city on the eastern coast of North Island. Along with the inland city of Hastings, which is only a short drive away, Napier is known as one of the “Twin Cities” of New Zealand. At about 60,000 people, Napier has a population smaller than Hastings, but is seen as the main centre due to it having both the local seaport and airport.
Together, the total population of the metropolitan area of Napier and Hastings is about 122,600 people, which makes Napier-Hastings the fifth-largest metropolitan area in New Zealand. Napier is about 320 kilometres northeast of the capital city of Wellington.
A part of what makes Napier unique is its well-built structured environment, which was designed in response to the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake – an event that resulted in the deaths of 258 people in the Hawke’s Bay area. That earthquake levelled all the buildings in the inner city, and the fires that followed destroyed most of the commercial heart of Napier. The extensive rebuilding that took place in the 1930’s reflected the style of that era, and is the reason for the Art Deco flavour in the city.
“In 1933, Napier opened as the newest city of the world,” explains Mayor Barbara Arnott. “It opened in the style of Art Deco, which was significantly different than the Victorian city we used to be.”
Today, Napier is known as the Art Deco Capital of the world. There is nowhere else that someone can see such a variety of buildings in the style of the 1930s. Napier’s Art Deco is also regionally unique, with Maori motifs, and buildings inspired by the work of world-renown architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
As a result of their rebirth, Napier now has over 300 significant heritage buildings in their CBD, which adds to its “lovely natural environment,” Arnott says.
“We also have 21 kilometres of sea from the northern boundary to the west, which gives us a fabulous climate within New Zealand,” she adds.
Napier is a tourist city – 90 per cent of their jobs are in the service sector – which make it a great place to visit. The downfall of the flat farming sector in New Zealand in the past has affected Napier, but the city’s tourism has helped stabilise its economy. “People would come here for our Art Deco weekend, which is the third week of February. We have 15,000 people coming into the city just for that particular weekend,” Mayor Arnott says. “The whole city gets into that.”
They also have a lot of tourism facilities that are family-oriented, and being situated in Hawke’s Bay gives Napier a more “natural” appearance. “We don’t have a lot of adventure tourism or anything like that, but we do have some fabulous natural resources,” she says. “Cape Kidnappers has got the only onshore Gannet colony in the world. People can walk up there and look at those fabulous birds.”
Napier is not only a wonderful place to visit, but to live too – people settle down in the area for the wonderful lifestyle they have to offer. They have a comfortable climate, they’re surrounded by wineries and they’ve got plenty of fresh produce for healthy living. “We have access to incredible fresh fruit and vegetables and sea food. All of this can be enjoyed because of our soil and water quality and being perched on the sea,” Arnott says.
Napier also allows people the option of living there while working in their twin city, Hastings, which is only 20 kilometres away. Whether someone is looking for education, business or pleasure, Napier has something to offer.
“We’ve got a fabulous infrastructure in terms of road access and a great port. We have regular traffic here from Auckland and Wellington,” Mayor Arnott says. “It’s easy to get around, yet you’re far enough from the crowd to enjoy a lifestyle that, if you’re in a city, you just can’t take advantage of.”
In terms of industries and businesses, Napier has become an important grape and wine production area – with grapes grown mostly around Hastings and then being sent through the Port of Napier for export. Large amounts of sheep’s wool, frozen meat, wood pulp, and timber also pass through Napier annually for export. “We’ve got full growth and we support businesses in Hawke’s Bay,” Mayor Arnott says.
Hawke’s Bay used to be solely based around farming, crops and agriculture, but the city is far economically stable these days due to tourism and an active port. “To attract businesses here, we’ve got good infrastructure in terms of transport network,” Mayor Arnott says. “If they want to keep employees here, they come here for the lifestyle.”
In terms of sustainability, Napier is dedicated to preserving their natural surroundings. “It’s a pretty natural environment,” Mayor Arnott says. The Council supports green-focused industries, all of which have to go through a New Zealand ratification process on environmentally efficiency and effectiveness. “We support them to try to get most of our industries up to that significant sustainable standard,” she says.
The city’s ability to manage sustainability has a lot to do with the people that are in charge. According to Mayor Arnott, that is one of the reasons why residents love places like Napier and Hawke’s Bay – because the Council works with industries that recognize the value in being green. “We pay a lot of attention the environment and sustainable development and what it means for people.”
Napier has two major challenges to overcome, Arnott says. The first challenge – which not only applies to Napier, but New Zealand as a whole – is the regulations for earthquake-prone buildings.
The Earthquake Commission recently put out an interim report on earthquake buildings, with a second report due later this year. That report stipulates that buildings over one storey high need to be built to a certain standard in terms of earthquake preparedness – a mandate that presents a challenge to Napier’s business community.
“You would find that everywhere in New Zealand with heritage buildings that have survived earthquakes won’t meet the new standards,” Mayor Arnott says. “We’re finding out we need to partner with our business community to make sure we can help them to reach those standards.”
The second challenge Napier has had to overcome is the global financial crisis. Fortunately, Napier City Council was – and still is – financially prudent, and had funding set-aside during the crisis which they could access at any time of need.
“We think this is a time of need. The next three years we will be putting $75 million into the city in terms of facilities, amenities and infrastructure,” Mayor Arnott says. “The Regional Council is also currently investigating funding $240 million into a dam project, which could irrigate thousands of hectares for intensive diversified farming and food production.”
As for what lies ahead for Napier in the long-term, Mayor Arnott says the future is bright. One of the things she would like to see the city expand on in 10 to 15 years is their tourism sector, where she thinks they have opportunities that have not yet been fully developed. “We’ve really got two places for recreation – one in the CBD and one in the coastal area by the fishing port called Port Ahuriri, which in itself is a heritage area from the 1900’s,” she says. “I still think we have a lot of potential for tourism.”
One method Mayor Arnott suggests for reaching that potential is increasing the number of programs and packages offered to people visiting Napier and Hawke’s Bay. “We’re not making it easy enough for people either nationally or internationally to come here and to know what there is to do,” she says. “We see ourselves connected to the region really strongly.”