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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Napier is situated on Port Ahuriri, once an extensive inlet on Hawke Bay but now greatly modified by the effects of the earthquake in 1931. The Heretaunga Plains stretch to the south, while in the west the land rises to the Ruahine Range. North of the city is the country formed by the foothills of the Ruahine Range. Westshore, Hills, Marewa, and Maraenui are the residential suburbs; Ahuriri and Onekawa are partly zoned for industry, and Napier South is chiefly residential, with a few commercial activities. The east coast railway line, which formerly ended at Napier, was extended to Gisborne in 1942. A line also runs to Napier through the Manawatu Gorge, linking the city with Palmerston North. By road Napier is 95½ miles south-east of Taupo, 139½ miles south-west of Gisborne (132 miles by rail), and 13 miles north of Hastings. Port Ahuriri, half a mile from the city, exports wool, frozen meat, dairy produce, hides, skins, tallow, and fruit. Tonnage handled in 1964 was 699,992 tons. It is New Zealand's third largest exporting port. A number of commercial fishing trawlers are based here. Beacons Airport is 3 miles from the city and is used by passenger and aerial-topdressing aircraft.

Rural activities of the district include sheep farming, dairying, the growing of ryegrass and clover for seed, and vegetable growing (cabbages, tomatoes, beans, peas, asparagus, etc.). The bulk of these go to factories in Hastings. On the low slopes of the downland near Petane and Green-meadows there are vineyards. To the south, around Hastings, is an important orcharding district, apples and pears being the main fruits grown. Napier is a holiday resort and chief port and servicing centre for the Hawke's Bay district. It is the largest wool centre in New Zealand and has regular wool sales. Secondary industries include woollen mills, fertiliser works, tobacco and cigarette manufacturing, freezing works, fell-mongeries, foundries, breweries, and soapworks. Paint is manufactured and there is an umbrella factory. Smaller industries are timber works, motor-coach body building, engineering, wineries, and the manufacture of canvas goods. At Port Ahuriri fish are canned for local markets. Napier, with its 2-mile long esplanade, is a popular tourist centre. At the Hawke's Bay Acclimatisation Society's game farm at Greenmeadows (5 miles west), kiwis are bred in captivity.

The first white settlers in the district were whalers from Australia who established themselves along the coast at the beginning of last century. With the increased shipping and greater activity in the Bay, the whales and, later, the whalers, moved on. They were followed by William Colenso, Church of England missionary, who arrived in 1844 and settled at Waitangi, a few miles from Napier. He was renowned as Hawke's Bay's first explorer and organised many expeditions into the ranges. Other settlers came to Napier, some following in Colenso's footsteps along the overland route from Wellington, others arriving in sailing vessels. Most of these early settlers proceeded inland, where they cleared the bush, erected primitive dwellings, and lived off the land. There were 343 settlers in Napier by 1858. The area was then administered by the Wellington Provincial Government. Disgruntled by neglect and the delay in issuing land licences, the settlers broke away from the Wellington administration. In 1855 the first Hawke's Bay Provincial Council was elected, with its seat of Government at Napier. The city was laid out in 1865 by Alfred Domett, then Commissioner of Crown Lands. Although Napier was not directly affected by the Maori Wars, it was often a base for military operations further afield. In 1866, however, the town became the objective of attack by two parties of hostile Maoris. They were defeated before they reached the outskirts of the settlement.

On 3 February 1931 Napier, in common with most of the Hawke's Bay district, suffered a disastrous earthquake. The shake threw down or damaged nearly every building, and raging fires added to the havoc. Although a considerable amount of reclamation has taken place on the swampy areas behind Napier for many years, one of the remarkable results brought about by the great earthquake was the raising of the harbour bed and the consequent disappearance of much of the inner harbour. In its place were 7,500 acres of new land. Napier was rebuilt on the most modern lines and its buildings are designed to resist the effects of any similar up-heaval. Napier was constituted a borough in 1874 and became a city in March 1950. It is named after Sir Charles Napier, the hero of Scinde and the leader of the expedition to Magdala in Abyssinia.

POPULATION: 1951 census, 24,538; 1956 census, 27,507; 1961 census, 32,716.

by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.


Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.