People have long been attracted to the Hawkes Bay horticultural region because of its warm, temperate climate. With plentiful sunshine, the region is ideal for growing fruit and vegetables, including grapes. As a result, there are many excellent vineyards making award-winning wines, orchards exporting fruit and a significant agriculture community producing some of New Zealand’s finest lamb and beef.
Hawkes Bay was settled by the indigenous Maori people because of its rich soil and availability of seafood. Captain Cook was the first European to discover Napier in1769. Sailing down the east coast of the North Island he landed in Napier.
The Hawkes Bay region has two cities, Napier and Hastings and a number of delightful smaller towns including Havelock North.
Napier was founded in the early1850’s after the Crown purchased a block of land from the Maoris called Ahuriri. It was decided to create a town and the streets and avenues were laid out. The town was later renamed Napier after Sir Charles Napier, a military leader. In the early days Napier consisted of an oblong mass of hills almost entirely surrounded by water. Being on the coast the town flourished and became a well- established commercial centre with a port.
Hastings was founded some time later in the late 1860’s. Entrepreneur Thomas Tanner leased land from the Maoris and later purchased it. In 1873 the town of Hasting was laid out in a grid pattern with the city centre arranged around a large pedestrian square. The town was soon booming with roads and bridges under construction and in 1874 a railway link was built, connecting Napier to Palmerston North. Over the next few years’ stockyards, showgrounds and racecourses were built attracting more people to the region.
Farming was important and a wool-scouring plant opened, soon followed by the first freezing works in 1884. Horticulture began to expand with orchards, market gardens and vineyards covering much of the rich alluvial soil. The agriculture and horticultural sectors were crucial to Hastings prosperity.
While the region continued to thrive a tragic earthquake hit on the morning of February 3, 1931. The earthquake lasted three minutes and measuring 7.9 on the Richter magnitude scale. It destroyed the vast majority of buildings in the commercial centre of Napier. What was left was ravaged by fires that followed.
The earthquake left 258 people dead. As the tectonic plates moved, areas of land were raised by as much as 2.5 metres with approximately 4,000 hectares of sea bed becoming dry land. Napier’s airport and its surrounding residential and industrial property have now been built on this land.
Rebuilding the city began almost immediately. New buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times, predominately Art Deco. Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of the great Frank Lloyd Wright had his chance to shine. Maori motifs were put on the buildings to give the city a unique New Zealand character. Examples such as the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets features Maori koru and zigzags.
Some of the Art Deco buildings were subsequently replaced with contemporary structures during the 1960s through to the 1980s, including the Art Gallery. However, the Napier and parts of Hastings are now recognized as architecturally unique and since the1990’s the buildings have been protected and restored.
The economic backbone of Hawkes Bay has always been based on horticulture and agriculture with large orchards and vineyards occupying the plains for decades. Marist missionaries planted the first vines in Hawkes Bay in the mid 19th century and their legacy, Taradale’s historic Mission Winery still continues.
The Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s finest wine regions. With over 75 vineyards the area has earned itself a great reputation for food and wine, particularly Cabernet, Merlot blends and Syrah. Many of the vineyards have excellent cellar doors and restaurants.
The Hawkes Bay is also famous for its internationally renowned Art Deco buildings. As a result of the devastating earthquake and fire in 1931, Napier has many examples of Art Deco architecture. Buildings such as the Daily Telegraph Building, the Municipal Theatre in Napier and the Hawke’s Bay Opera House in Hastings are fine specimens of this era.