New Zealand is better known for its landscapes, nature, and outdoor pursuits than it is for its cities. And truth be told, most Kiwi cities are rather dull. But Napier is different.

Located in the southeastern part of the North Island, five hours by road from the capital Wellington, it is often skipped in favour of better known cities such as Rotorura, Taupo, and Wellington itself, which is puzzling really, given how charming this town is!

Here are seven reasons why you should go to Napier.

1. The art deco architecture

On February 3, 1931, an earthquake, followed by a raging fire, almost completely destroyed Napier Out of its ashes grew a city built in Art Deco style (popular at the time) with some elements of Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical mixed in. The roads were widened, and the electrical cables buried, giving it the clean open appearance that it has today. Street signs written in a vintage font now complete the look. Some historical towns bring to mind the word “quaint’, but Napier isn’t quaint. Napier is “cute”.

Art Deco architecture (Napier, New Zealand)

Spanish Mission and Art Deco style architecture

To learn more about the art deco architecture and history of the town, you can join a walking tour. Three different guided tours run teach day, costing NZ$18-20, which includes a 20-minute movie. The price is a little stiff, but within a couple of hours, you’ll learn a lot about the earthquake, the buildings, and the art deco style. And remember that you’re not expected to tip in New Zealand.

For a lot more dough, you can also tour the town in a vintage car (with driver or self-drive). If you’re feeling frugal, the cheapest option is the Art Deco Self-Guided Walks booklet that you can purchase at the i-SITE (tourist office) for NZ$7.90.

Walking tour guide (Napier, New Zealand)

Walking tour guide

2. The old fashion atmosphere

Not only does the architecture make you feel like you’re back in the 1930s, but the town feels pleasantly old fashion as well.

On my first morning, I came across a choir of old men wearing Christmas hats and singing oldies such as “A Wonderful World”. Another group of seniors nearby entoned Christmas carols accompanied by guitars. Next to a giant Christmas tree, a band of young musicians played Garfunkel songs. I think the most modern song I heard all day was “La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin (circa 1999)!

Men choir in downtown Napier (new Zealand)

Men choir in downtown Napier

Little kids were standing around collecting money for Christmas charities, and people were actually stopping to give them some coins.

On the Sunday night, the Botanical Gardens were filled with people sitting on blankets on the grass and singing along to Christmas carols while holding candles.

The only thing giving away the fact that this is 2015 and not 1935 are the modern fashions and cars. But even this disappears during the annual Art Deco Festival held in February: five days of festivities and hundreds of events where people go “vintage” with their dress, cars, and activities.

Scene from the 1930s? (Napier, New Zealand)

Scene from the 1930s?

3. One of the sunniest places in New Zealand

My hosts told me that they had picked Napier to live because it is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand. Sure enough, the sky was blue and the sun was shining during the almost entirety of my two-and-a-half-day stay. If you’ve spent any time in New Zealand, you know that wind and clouds are a lot more common than sun in this maritime climate.

4. The long waterfont

Napier is surrounded by water on two sides, which are lined by a wide concrete path that can accommodate walkers, joggers, and cyclists.

Seaside pathway (Napier, New Zealand)

Seaside pathway

Besides endless views of the turquoise surf, you’ll come across the National Aquarium of New Zealand, exercise machines, fountains, statues, gardens, and the Napier Port (below the Bluff Hill Lookout). Continuing around the bend you’ll come to some pebble and black sand beaches, and then West Quay, an area of high-end bars and restaurants with a view over the Napier Sailing Club. The path goes on for several kilometres.

5. Hawke’s Bay wines

Hawke’s Bay, the region that Napier belongs to, is home to several wineries that produce white, red, rose, and even dessert wines. You can sample several of those without leaving the city, by making a stop at the New Zealand Wine Centre in downtown Napier. For NZ$13 I got to sample three premium wines of my choice. There are several other pricier options as well, involving more samples and even some small food bites matching the wines.

You can also buy wine from several wineries right on the premises.

New Zealand Wine Centre (Napier)

New Zealand Wine Centre

6. Off the beaten path

Although Napier is far from undiscovered, it doesn’t draw the crowds of first-time tourists that Auckland, Rotorura, and Queenstown do. One has to wonder why though, given its unique architecture, seascapes, wines, and sunny weather.

All the better then, as you will feel like you’re visiting a real town, and not just a Disney-esque kind of place crawling with visitors. I always love making these little discoveries off the beaten path.

Art Deco detail (Napier, New Zealand)

Art Deco detail

There are direct buses to Napier from both Auckland and Wellington, and it also makes a good stopover between them if you’re coming by road.

7. The variety of food

Napier offers a great variety of cuisines, from affordable cafes to various ethnic restaurants such as Italian, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, and even Indonesian. Napier has attracted a good number of immigrants, including Europeans. The hosts at my AirBnB accommodation were originally from Germany.

Couscous with lamb stew at Emporium (Napier, New Zealand)

Couscous with lamb stew at Emporium

The street markets (on week-ends) also offer various foods and treats, from Fish & Chips to Thai food, and of course local products like honey, chutneys, breads, fruits, and vegetables.

These are my seven best reasons to visit Napier. So if you ever get fed up with the tourist crowds of Queenstown or the overcast blustery weather of Wellington, make sure you add Napier to your itinerary.

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