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|Touring New Zealand 2005 - part 7|
Napier now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English seaside resort. It is reknowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawke's Bay and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town was gone and England offered no inspiration to the re-builders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It is also an excellent centre for the Hawke's Bay area, famous for its wines. There are references to an excellent book on Art Deco Napier and links to web sites on our site - search for Napier or Art Deco.
This year we arranged our visit to coincide with their Art Deco Weekend - this is a major event with visitors coming from all over the world as well as New Zealand.
Arriving early gave us a chance to make an early visit to perhaps our favourite vineyard for red wines - Esk Valley. Unlike many of the New Zealand vineyards we buy from, Esk Valley exports to the UK. We have normally bought their various red wines, Merlot in various blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and sometimes Cabernet Franc. We were greeted as old fiends and had a long chat with their sales manager Sue who had recently been to England for a long holiday - her daughter is living in Henley, only a few miles away from us.
We have spoken at length about the wines in the past and all we will say is that we bought half a case for the next part of the holiday. We tried many wines including the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2002 we had liked so much last year and the 2003 which also has some Malbec. Both are award winners and the 2002 was regarded as the best normal production red to date by their winemaker George Russell who we spoke to briefly last visit. All the pressing and fermentation and maturing in a variety of French and American oak barrels is done at the Esk Valley site and on a previous visit we had a fascinating exposition about the various oaks used and degrees of toasting employed to get the best from every batch and parcel of ground. Esk Valley is now part of a group with Villa Maria and Vidal and the bottling and shipping is jointly organised providing economies of scale without any sacrifice of quality or style by the partners.
On the Friday evening we attended our initial function of the Art Deco Weekend - the Opening Soiree which officially opens each Art Deco Weekend. Deco dress was de rigueur and everyone was showing off their finery. There was a complimentary glass of wine and, after a number of speeches by the organisers, the local MP, the navy and the mayor, there was an auction of the picture on which the advertising posters were based ($2,800 raise in 2005). Then it was open house for a light meal - good value for $20 and an indication of the real enthusiasm of locals and visitors and the scale of the event. We booked the function months before we left the UK, and some are fully booked within days.
The first evening continued for us with a rush to get to the 'Century Cinema Silver Screen' for 'De-Lovely', the recent musical biography depicting the life of song writing genius Cole Porter set in the Art Deco era. It was a parade of Art Deco clothes, Mansions and Deco Decadence with many of the romantic songs of the time with which everyone is familiar without knowledge of their context.
After the film had finished we watched the last of the free 'Big Sounds Tonight' concert in the Sound Shell featuring 1930 hits from the Hawkes's bay Jazz Club Big Band and the 10th Avenue bard from the USA - again everyone was dressed up and after it had finished one could stroll down the Marine Parade and meander through the many vintage cars now parked along the Parade.
This year we chose the trip on the Hast Huff'n'Puff - a two hour vintage steam train to Hastings and back drawn by steam locomotive Ja 1271. This was another trip booked solid months before and the 8 carriages were almost full of people who were entering into spirit of the weekend in Art Deco dress. 4 of the carriages including ours were from 1909 and made of wood. The seats were interesting as they had cast iron frames and were reversible to allow one to face forwards or to form groups of facing seats. The other four carriages were from the early thirties, the ones we looked at were 1932 and 1933. The ride was an authentic bone shaking ride on the NZ narrow-seeming rails, especially viewed from the open platforms at the ends of the older carriages and the black smoke was as thick as we have ever seen.
As soon as the train was back it was time to rush downtown for the Vintage car parade through the centre of town. It was here that one really begins to understand the scale of the weekend. This year there were 178 cars from the 1920s and 1930s all in> showroom condition as well as being in full on-the-road condition. There were also another 60 or so vintage cars from a latter period, many brought from England, which did not qualify for the parade but still added character to the town - everywhere one walked there were old cars gleaming in the sun. The parade was led by the Royal New Zealand Navy band. The navy takes their relationship with Hawke's Bay very seriously because of the presence of HMS Veronica in the port when the earthquake struck and the important and courageous work done by the navy in the days that followed. We had seen the two ships, HMNZS Resolution and the smaller HMNZS Manawanui moored at the Port. HMAS Melville was also visiting.
The parade finished at 1330 which gave us time for a visit to the airfield and the highlight of the weekend a flight on the vintage Catalina Flying Boat, one of the amphibious versions a PBY5-A (-A for Amphibious). A large number of Catalinas (3200) were built in the war but less than 100 survive and under 20 remain airworthy of which only the one is certificated for passenger flights. We have always been interested in fly boats since our flights in the Grumman Widgeon in the Bay of Islands. We went out of our way in Australia to visit the The Lake Boga Flying boat Museum which has a complete Catalina airframe on display outside as well as a lot of exhibits in a grass covered bunker which used to be the communications centre. The main flying boats at Lake Boga were the RAAF Catalinas and those of the Americans but other aircraft included Sunderlands, Walruses and a few Dorniers, the only aircraft flown by both sides during the war. The Catalinas had many roles, they were thought of by many as intelligence and rescue aircraft but 70% of their missions were offensive against shipping and mine laying. They were painted black for night operations and known as the Black Cats. They were slow with a cruising speed of 112 knots (max 162) but had a long endurance and range carrying out raids and mining as far away as Hong Kong. We spent a long time at the end talking to Graham and some New Zealanders from Nelson who were also interested in vintage aircraft and the discussion alerted us to the Catalina flying in New Zealand. We had heard it sometimes came to Napier and we checked on the Internet and came along with our membership forms already filled in.
distinctive We had seen the shape of the Catalina flying in on Friday evening and originally planned to spend time at the airfield on Sunday but instead we rushed out straight after the parade. We were incredibly fortunate as most other people were still in Napier and there were two spare seats on the next flight which was due to load in ten minutes time. Many but not all of the once hourly flights were booked for the following day. We had over half an hour in the air and as soon as we had left the ground the 16 passengers were organised so that turns were taken to stand behind the pilots and move through the two cabins as well as spending time in the two large observation blisters at the back which have almost as good a view forwards as the pilots and better in every other direction. Only four can go into them at a time otherwise the aircrafts C of G is moved too far aft with dire consequences. The slow low flight took us for a couple of passes over the town before viewing the coast line and over the Vineyards down towards Hastings, we flew beside rather than over the viewpoint we had looked down from last year onto Craggy Range, unfortunately it was the other side of the hill. Pete has flown in many aircraft, some older but nothing approached the flight in the Catalina.
The Catalina in New Zealand is the PBY version used by many allied forces including the RNZAF and RAAF. The RNZAF had 56 of the pure boat versions in the Pacific between 1943 and 1953. The one we flew on was an anphibious version initially built by the Canadian Vickers in March 1944 for the Royal Canadian Airforce where she served for 3 years. There are gaps in the history but it is known she was converted to a civilian aircraft in 1955 in Costa Rico. The flight engineers position was changed from the pylon to the cockpit and the front gun turret removed and a semi-clipper bow added. She served many small airlines before being stored then refurbished for tourists flights down the Nile by the Catalina Safari Company of Zimbabwe. The route proving flight was the subject of the BBC documentary "The last African Flying Boat" for which she was registed Z-CAT her nickname to this day. Political unrest led to the service being discontinued in 1994 when she made an epic 10,000 nm journey in 90 hours over 13 days to her new home in New zealand where she is operated by the Catalina Club of New Zealand ( www.catalina.org.nz )who keep her in beautiful condition operating from fresh water whenever possible and land when not. She does not operate from the sea because of corrosion fears and she needs large lakes as the water run can be up to 3 miles off still water, a few waves help a flying boat unstick. The P&W Twin Wasp 1200 hp 14 cylinder radial air cooled engines still purr and the huge wing (104 foot span and 1400 sq feet) gives a leisurely cruise of 90 - 100 knots, an endurance of 27 hours (with multiple crews) and range of over 3000 miles.
In the evening we dressed up, Pauline a in long dress and fox stole and Pete in his dinner jacket, for the 'Cafe Crawl de Luxe'. For the last decade, cafe society has sallied forth on the Saturday Evening on the 'Cafe Crawl' where one takes a leisurely stoll between three Deco Style cafes partaking of a course at each. This year there were 7 cafes taking part serving parties of 44 plus two hosts with coloured balloons. We started at the Theatre where we were grouped and introduced and provided with a complementary glass of Brookfields Deco wines. The are sponsers of the Art Deco event and have a good range of red and white wines, in particular the gewurtztramminer. The first course was at the Acqua restaurant of the Masonic Hotel which was a little rushed, we then walked down the seafront to Soak where we were early and the restaurant kept us waiting in the cool breeze for too long. One problem at Napier is that there are few large restaurants and a table of 44 is a serious task for a small cafe even for only a fixed main course. Obviously we could not sit down to our main course until the previous group had finished their starters and everything was cleared away. We felt the time between courses could have been better spent strolling through the Twilight Toe Taps, which was what happened as we moved to our final course at a little cafe in Emerson. Their desserts were excellent and huge, the coffee the best we have had for a long time and the service was good and friendly and as we have always come to expect in NZ. It helped make up for indifferent service earlier, probabaly the worst we have ever had in NZ which was sad and took the edge of what should have been a memorable evening. Overall the evening was not good value at $60 a head compared to the other functions we have attended but it was the luck of the draw which cafes one went to and it could have been very different at other places - our hosts were certainly first class. After the sweets we slowly meadered back through the street parties that had been running since 1830 and down to the jazz in the 'Shell' and once more admired the cars - we did not make it to the end at midnight.
Last year Sunday morning was occupied with a visit to the National Tobacco Building, one of the best-known buildings that is a little way from the centre of town in the port area. This was one of the buildings featured on the Ahuriri District Art Deco Walks, one of a series of walks that are documented on sheets available from the Art Deco Centre.
This year we had nothing booked for the Sunday as we had intended to spend much of it at the airfield, so we had a leisurely stroll through town stopping to watch the Soap Box Derby where home-made carts whizz down Tennyson Street - we had wondered why the pictures showed big crash barriers but we understood when we saw the speeds some of the carts achieved. Many had quite sophisticated designs and had clearly taken many hundreds of hours to construct. There were many classes most with a strong family theme. We continued along Marine Parade looking in at the local market and gypsy market before returning to indulge in the 'Traction Trundle" - a ride in an open cart behind a turn of the century traction engine. This was free (coin donation box available) and gave a great view as we were high above the ground as well as having a good view of the engine itself in action which was much more impressive than watching from a distance or seeing them operating without load. We toke a leisurely ten minute trip down Marine Parade giving us a view of the preparations which were in full swing for the Gatsby Picnic
We then settled on the front to watch the flying display including aerobatics from the vampire and the RNZAF dispay team, the Red Checkers who put on a nice display with their 5 trainers including many of the set piece close passes and formation aerobatics with smoke - it was a perfect day with little wind or convection to destroy their writing in the sky.
We stolled through the Gatsby Picnic which is to many the highlight and archetypal event of the Art Deco Weekend. Every area of grass from the War memorial centre to the Sound Shell is filled with elegantly laid out picnics many under gazebos and taking many hours to set up. Some look more as if an elegant period living room has been transplanted to the shoreline complete with period furniture and wind up gramaphones. The owners of the elegant displays finally settle at about 1430 in full 1930s attire to sip their tea from delicate china or more often indulge in a glass of champagne from cut glass and indulge in a few of the tiny sandwiches and little cakes and delicacies displayed on the multitiered cake stands and curved gleaming crome tea trolleys. The Jazz band strikes up in the Sound Shell and vintage cars pull up bringing more guests to the picnic. As the afternoon progresses there are strolling groups of players mixing with television cameras and judges. The day was perfect without a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind to disturb the elegant arrays - parasols were essential. An unforgetable experince and Pete has great fears Pauline will start gathering up more than clothing for next year!
The Veronica Bell, from the HMS Veronica, is installed in the Veronica Sun Bay on the Marine parade for the afternoon. We missed the initial ceremony but were present when it left with a military band escorting it to go to the Cathedral for the memorial service. By now it seemed hat it was time to join the celebrations and have a glass of wine so we went over to the Brookfields stand - Brookfields have been supplying specially bottled/labelled wine for the festival and we had already enjoyed their Gewurtztramminer at various functions. We spent a while chatting to the staff on the stand and learned at lot as well as ending up with two nearly half bottles which were left over for $10. We may try the Jazz evening at Brookfields next year instead of the Cafe Crawl de Luxe which had been somewhat short on the 'de Luxe'. We then carried our glasses round and chatted to a number of the regulars at the Gatsby Picnic before returning to a quiet final evening. We will be back.
In the morning we returned to a bookshop we had noted where we bought three books, one of which "The Gumdiggers, The story of Kauri Gum" by A H Reed published 1972 by Reed ISBN 0 589 00732 7 - Personal Recollections by A H Reed of his return to the Gum Fields we had been looking for for a long time. Even more fortunate we not only paid a low price compaired to most copies we had seen but on examination we found it was a signed and numbered First Edition (306 of 2500) which in good condition is probably a bargain investment at $30. We also bought "Span of the Wheel, the Autobiography of a Driver" by Temple Sutherland, published Hodder and Stoughton, 1973 ISBN 0 340 17741 1 - The six (and last) in the series of Temple Sutherland's books which we have enjoyed greatly. (First Edition good with slight fading of cover $15). The last was "Footslogger" by A H Reed published by A H and A W Reed in 1966 the story of his walk from Sydney to Melbourne at the age of 90 (First edition but printed in Australia? in fair condition at $18)
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 7th August, 2005