Napier can't help but be touristy. With its Mediterranean climate, Napier sits just in front of the sea with a 2km marine boulevard lined with Norfolk pine trees. The streets are broad, the perfect setting for cafe life-stylers to sample a bottle of some of the fine wines grown in the region. However, Napier's main distinguishing characteristic is its architecture - it has one of the largest Art Deco collections of buildings in the world. What with the stretch of sandy beach just in front of the town and all the attractions which cater for kids, this is one busy touristy town frequented by both foreigners and local tourists alike. If possible try and avoid the December/January rush over the school holidays when accommodation is likely to be expensive or booked out.
Napier was formerly known as Ahuriri to the Maori who lived in the bay. While Cook noted Napier's bay he ended up anchoring off Cape Kidnappers which he so named after his unfortunate encounter with the Ngati Kahungunu Iwi or tribe. By the time the French explorer D'Urville, sailed into the bay with the help of Cook's charts, the Ngati Kahungunu people were no longer a strong force, their numbers having dwindled with the recently introduced muskets that European settlers traded with the Maori for land. Whalers started to arrive in the 1830 and the town has never looked back. In 1854, the town was given its name in tribute to Charles Napier a British general. Unlike other towns in the area, Napier did not suffer too much during the 1860's New Zealand Wars and started to thrive. On February 3, 1931 peaceful, Napier was shaken like nothing before. It had been hit by a massive earthquake which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale - the largest ever recorded in New Zealand. The central city was reduced to a heap of rubble and dust. Whatever was left in the form of wooden buildings was soon ablaze with a fire that was fanned by a strong sea wind. Within the next couple of weeks the city rescue efforts were hampered by over 600 aftershocks. 162 people lost their lives in Napier alone. As the land heaved and churned it rose a couple of metres leaving boats and fish washed up on the beach. Enough new land was wrested from the sea to create more farms as well as the Napier airport (between 3 and 4 hundred square kilometres).
With a total of 258 dead in the Hawke's Bay region, new laws followed which sought to make buildings more quake resistant. Napier made the best from the tragedy. The town was replanned with new laws and almost everything was built in Art Deco style, the trendiest one around during the Great Depression. Napier is subsequently a planned and cohesively styled city which makes it unique.