Time Warp Weekend

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Where I stayed
Havelock North

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Napier has a special Art Deco Weekend in February which we attended. Richard had the onerous task of booking accommodation for us at a late date when nothing was left in Napier itself. However, he managed to find a room in Havelock North, only a fifteen minute drive from the town. The only concern was that the room accommodates ten so we were not sure if we had to share, which would probably have required us to purchase 8 sets of ear plugs for ohers to deaden our snores. Luckily the room was all ours, (complete with ten bunks if we wished) and as we left most bunks folded away, we had lots of space. The campsite itself was reminiscent of the holiday camps at home in the 50's, with crazy golf, an indoor pool and outside shower and toilet block – complete with very strategically placed curtains. Our room reminded us of a scout hut but it was very comfortable and functional once we realised the strange thumps we heard were the sound of golf balls against our wall when people missed their shot on the crazy golf.

A little history is needed to understand why Napier has an Art Deco Weekend. In the early Twentieth Century the town was small, mainly relying on fishing, whaling and finance. Growth was limited as there was very little land available for expansion as the town was on an island and spit between the sea and swampland. Then on the 3 February 1931 disaster struck in the form of an earthquake (7.8 on the Richter Scale) which demolished most of the solid Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Fires soon broke out as a result of the earthquake and these devastated the town. 256 people died and many people lost their homes.

There was no earthquake insurance and those people who were insured against fire soon found out that the companies would not pay out as they decided the fires were a result of the earthquake, (only one company compensated its clients). Help did arrive from the government and it was decided to rebuild quickly. A temporary retail area was set up to enable shops and services to continue and this was knick-named Tin Town.

As this was during the Great Depression, many unemployed men came from other parts of NZ to work on the reconstruction and the majority of the work was completed in about 2 years. This was the period when Art Nouveaux had given way to Art Deco, which reflected, through art and design, the changes taking place in society. It was a time of increased mechanisation, scientific development, a fascination with speed and transport, and the freeing of women from their stereotypical roles of their parents generation, (admittedly this applied mainly to the wealthier women!). It was a forward looking movement which was exactly what the inhabitants of Napier needed to help them rebuild their lives and the town. The architects involved, some of whom were new graduates from Auckland University, as well as more established professionals, were strongly influenced by trends in other parts of the world and in particular by Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie McKintosh. Their energy and enthusiasm for the new fashions in design meant that their buildings all reflected the key characteristics of Art Deco thus producing a new town in a consistent style. Under the general heading of Art Deco there are 3 variations in style, standard Art Deco with decorations such as sunburst, go faster stripes, palm trees etc., Stripped Classic with features such as columns flattened on to the front of a building, and finally Spanish Mission style, which as you might guess replicates some of the features found in Mexico and southern USA missions with features such as terracotta roof tiles.

Despite the horrific reasons for the reconstruction there were some positives that arouse from the new developments. As a result of the earthquake it was decided that buildings would only be built 2 stories high, that bricks would be replaced by reinforced concrete to make them shock proof, all services such as electricity, telephone etc were buried underground (very unusual at that time), and street furniture was minimised, (eg lighting was attached to buildings and street names were embedded in the pavement), and finally, sharp right-angled corners were shaved off buildings so that visibility around the corner was improved.

So Napier arose like the phoenix from the ashes, but the most amazing difference was that as a result of the earthquake the ground was lifted by 2 metres which increased the area of the town by 9000 acres allowing for expansion to create a truly viable town for the future.

As time moved on the fashions changed, and in the late 70s and early 80s some of the Art Deco buildings were replaced with international style office blocks and this process might have continued until the Art Deco influence was eliminated if it had not been for a visiting dignatory who was sufficiently knowledgable to tell the local Council that they did not know what they had and if they didn't start appreciating it they would destroy it. Luckily some people listened and formed the Art Deco Trust which developed awareness and eventually established the Art Deco Weekend and since we were here 3 years ago many more buildings have been restored. Now enthusiasm has increased dramatically as residents realise that their heritage has put them on the map – to the extent that 50 cruise ships have visited the port this year bringing visitors and income to the town

The weekend was fun with a parade of over 300 vintage/veteran cars, old planes flying overhead, steam trains and traction engines on the move, bands and street parties. And perhaps the most entertaining thing was that a large proportion of the residents and visitors dressed in period clothes. Some were well researched and authentic, others just looked old fashioned and a few could only be described as eccentric – but it all added to the entertainment.

The previous weekend we were taken by Beverley and Richard to stay with friends at their bach (pronounced batch) on the Coromandel peninsular. A bach was originally a small hut or basic house in a remote area that people use for holidays and weekends. This description is nothing like Ron and Lynda's bach which is a four bedroomed, fully equipped modern house with superb views of the beach. Ron has a tractor (like most of the handful of residents) to take his boat down to the beach (or passengers in our case as it was too rough to take the boat out but Jim and I snorkelled). It was a lovely weekend and Ron and Lynda were great hosts and pampered us dreadfully with good food and drink.

The weekend of the 20th February we are off to Wellington and then across the ferry to South Island.
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