While the past three-and-a-half years have seen us travel the length of New Zealand twice, we still have some parts of the breadth of it to visit. Hawke’s Bay had always been on our ‘must-do’ list; however with our travels for 2020 already planned, it wasn’t about to be any time soon. That all changed in March. When impending lockdown suddenly found us in the Waikato with nowhere to go, some wonderful, kindhearted friends came to the rescue and offered us their holiday home in Napier for as long as we needed.
After travelling all day, we arrived at our destination the evening before Level 4 took effect. It all felt rather surreal as we prepared to hunker down with the rest of the country. Here we were, in a strange, new part of the country, where we didn't know a soul and had no chance to get our bearings, yet it was now our home for – well, who knew how long? Still, the house was beautiful and the view was stunning. I could even see the ocean from my bed.
We couldn't have wished for a more perfect place to be tucked away from the rest of the world.
A beautiful bubble
We woke up on March 25 to the birds singing and the sun streaming in the window. Here we were, in the Art Deco capital of New Zealand. The only thing was, we couldn’t get out and explore it. Not much anyway, but with the ocean calling we decided to go for a walk around our new bubble, to try to find our feet.
Heading down the steep steps to the beach, it felt wonderful to breathe in the sea air. One thing was for sure – between the steps and the gorgeous scenery, we were going to be getting plenty of exercise while we were here. We realised we were in a part of Napier called Ahuriri, and while we had no idea what the rest of the city was like, we decided straight away we liked this part very much.
Aside from our new location, life in Level 4 didn't feel too different. We were still fortunate to have plenty of work, and after nearly four years of being cooped up in a van, we were already used to being together every minute of the day. The Napier weather was incredibly kind and I loved our daily walks. Everyone smiled from a respectful difference and we soon got used to seeing familiar faces as we got our dose of fresh air each day. One friendly, elderly chap in particular would spend the whole day standing at the end of his driveway. I realised he was waiting for someone – anyone – to go past and say hello and, as the days went by, I always looked out for him.
A lesson in history
One afternoon, during Level 3, we were invited to a ‘get-together’ in our street, all stationed by our respective mailboxes. It was lovely to finally ‘meet’ our neighbours and I was fascinated to learn we were staying in the house which had belonged to the man responsible for turning Napier into the Art Deco capital – Robert McGregor. Among many achievements, he was the driving force behind the annual Art Deco weekend, which attracts around 38,000 visitors to the city every year and injects around $11 million into the Hawke’s Bay economy. Thanks to him, many precious original buildings were preserved and restored rather than being pulled down and, without him, Napier would not be the place it is today. McGregor wrote several books, such as The Art Deco City – Napier New Zealand, and even wrote a book on our street. It was fascinating to read all about its history and made us appreciate our special lockdown home even more.
We spent Earth Day (22 April) strolling along Perfume Point. This is a free camping area and is in a prime location, close to Ahuriri Village and right at the edge of the sea. Of course, there was nobody there and we made the most of it. We climbed rocks and as I sat at the edge of the boardwalk I could see fish jumping, the water was so still. With no fishing boats out, it was almost as if they knew nobody could catch them. One memory which will always stay in my mind is the last day of Level 4. I had the whole beach to myself and sat for ages, taking in the view, watching the world go by.
Back to 'normal'
Boy was I in for a shock the next day. As we went for our usual walk along the beach, there were people everywhere, enjoying the sunshine. We realised that until now, we had only ever seen Napier devoid of people. Before we knew it, Level 2 was here. Boats started appearing in the ocean again, fishermen were back at Perfume Point and so were motorhomers and van dwellers, all looking very happy about it too.
Gareth could no longer whiz down the hill to the supermarket without having to stop at the traffic lights, and the man at the end of his driveway disappeared. While we missed the solitude of exploring our bubble, it was lovely to see the businesses and cafes of Ahuriri Village bustling again, and the real character and atmosphere of Napier began to show itself.
We were lucky enough to be able to continue renting our lockdown home, and so that is where we still are now. Work is busier than ever and we have grown so fond of the area, we want to stay and explore the region properly now we can. Plus, after spending the past three winters in the Deep South, the Napier weather is downright tropical! Who wouldn't want to stick around and enjoy that?
Robert McGregor's Legacy
Napier wouldn’t be the booming tourist success story it is today without its reputation as the Art Deco City – and Robert McGregor. What exactly is Art Deco? It originated in Paris in the roaring 1920s and provided some much needed escapism in the grim 1930s. Popular designs and themes include sunbursts and fountains, geometric shapes and symbols of speed, power and flight, all celebrating the exciting new, modern world of the time. Combine all these with bright colours, jazz, bold and stylish dress and joyful dancing and you’ve got yourself a whole recipe for a fantastic city! You simply can’t take a stroll around Napier without smiling, and of course stopping to enjoy the atmosphere. Robert McGregor sadly passed away in 2015 – but what a wonderful legacy he has left for us all.
For more information, visit artdeconapier.com