Purely by chance, my travel buddy and I ended up in Napier during their busiest annual festival: Art Deco.
It all started at 10:47am on February 3rd 1931, with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake severely damaging central Napier. As a result, the city was rebuilt largely in the Art Deco style. And so the Art Deco festival, started in 1989 as a weekend event to celebrate this integral aspect of the city.
Driving into Napier on this particular weekend was something special. At first, one or two people in 1930’s era dress. Then some fancy old school cars driving in front of us. Then the sound of roaring engines overhead, as old planes whizzed through the sky. Then we arrived in the city and in a different era completely.
Everyone was dressed up, down to the children running around in suspenders and collared shirts. Big bands playing in the Soundscape and performers by shop doorways. Alfresco meals with old friends set up along the water or in the grass. Children of all ages riding penny-farthings. Old age cars for all to adore lining the road side. Loud engine trolley rides down the main strip. Vintage washing machines and ocean search lights. Marquees decorated to the nines for themed parties and spontaneous dance parties on the street to live music.
The city was alive with friendly faces, everyone enjoying the nostalgia of times passed and the energy of the parties surrounding them.
It was on our first night in Napier that we met Dena. Dressed to the nines herself, she was welcoming guests into a marquee where a party was set to start soon. Chatting with her for a short while, she soon discovered our plan to sleep in our car that night, as we hadn’t planned well before arriving and the town was fully booked. And so, Dena invited us to sleep at her place. We stayed at Dena’s for two nights, enjoying her company and that of her son, his friend, and a German exchange student living with them. Her generosity and kindness extended beyond the comfy bed and delicious breakfasts we shared. Dena and her family welcomed Simon and I into their home with genuine warmth, hospitality, and intriguing stories.
One story Dena shared with me was the Maori creation story for Hawke’s Bay. The North Island of New Zealand is called Te Ika-a-Māui, meaning “the fish of Māui”, where Māui is the explorer of the Maori people. The South Island of New Zealand is called Te Waka a Māui, meaning “the canoe of Māui”. And Hawke’s Bay is the Matau a Māui, “the fish hook of Māui” used to pull the North Island out of the water.
It was through sharing these stories, discussing current events, explaining her artwork, offering advice, breaking bread together, and so much more, that Dena truly welcomed us into Napier and into her home. How lucky we were to meet her!