Story: Hawke’s Bay places

Page 1. Napier

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Napier, one of Hawke’s Bay’s two cities, had a 2013 population of 57,240. It is noted for its art deco architecture and sunshine, and is home to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

The city runs south from Bluff Hill, a small promontory jutting into Hawke Bay, along the coast and inland towards Hastings. The central business district (CBD) is close to the Marine Parade foreshore reserve and gardens. Rebuilt in an art deco style after the 1931 earthquake, the CBD is a bustling place, with many boutique fashion stores, galleries, restaurants and bars. Napier is separated from Hastings, its neighbour and rival, by orchards and vineyards, and by Napierites’ strongly held attitudes about their identity.


Founded in 1855 by the government, Napier (formerly known as Ahuriri) is Hawke’s Bay’s oldest town. Like Hastings and Havelock North, Napier is named after a prominent figure in British India. Its earliest streets commemorate military men, scientists and writers.

The new town was in an unprepossessing location – a small semi-island between the sea and an inner harbour, which was prone to flooding. Road access to the ‘mainland’ was limited. An early account described it as ‘a hopeless spot for a town site’.1 However, it was an ideal location for a port, which was why Napier became the leading town of the region and the centre of government, business, social and leisure activities.

Earthquake testing

The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake showed in no uncertain terms that some building materials survive earthquakes better than others. In Napier older timber buildings performed well during the quake because they were relatively flexible – although some were destroyed by the subsequent fire that ripped through the town. Most of the destroyed buildings were made of unreinforced masonry (brick or stone). Many deaths were caused by parapets and ornamentation falling from masonry buildings.

Lack of space remained a problem until 1931, when the Hawke’s Bay earthquake raised the inner harbour. Many buildings were ruined, and the central city was rebuilt in an art deco style, which – along with fine food and wine – became the focus of the city’s tourism industry from the 1980s. The port remained an important economic asset.


In 2013 fewer Napier residents had post-school qualifications and they earned slightly less than the national average. However, Napier was higher than the regional average on both those measures. Sharp contrasts within the city were evident – those living in the elevated suburbs of Bluff Hill and Hospital Hill were significantly better educated and earned substantially more than those in Maraenui, where 45.3% had no qualifications and the median income was $17,900 (compared to $28,500 nationally).


South-western suburb of Napier, and once a town in its own right. Ōtātara in Taradale was an important early site of Māori occupation. It was taken over by Ngāti Kahungunu when they settled in the district in the 16th century. William Colenso purchased land in the district in 1857 and leased the site of modern day Taradale to Henry Allen, who named it after his birthplace, Tara, in Ireland.

The township developed in a piecemeal, unplanned fashion. It was self-governing until amalgamation with Napier city in 1968. It is home to the Eastern Institute of Technology, and major vineyards are located in nearby Missionview. With a 2013 population of 10,659, Taradale is Napier’s largest suburb.


Part of the inner harbour until it was lifted above sea level by the 1931 earthquake. Its name means ‘gift from the sea’. The suburb was developed from 1934 and most of the houses were built in an art deco style. Marewa has been on the art deco tourist trail since the late 1980s. Nearby Maraenui is a state (public) housing area.


Port suburb Ahuriri was an important site of Māori occupation. The inner harbour (Te Whanganui-a-Orotū) was a valued source of food.

After Napier was founded in 1855 the inner harbour was used as a port until the sea floor was raised by the 1931 earthquake. Ahuriri also developed as an industrial zone. In the 2000s many of the warehouses were turned into cafés and bars. Large apartment buildings have been constructed on or near the waterfront.

Westshore and Bayview

Coastal suburbs north of Napier city, with a 2013 population of 2,979. The first European settlers built houses on Westshore in 1850, when it was little more than a sandspit. In the 2000s there were many motels in Westshore. Bay View, further to the north, was previously known as Pētane.

  1. Quoted in M. D. N. Campbell, Story of Napier 1874–1974: footprints along the shore. Napier: Napier City Council, 1975, p. 7. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay places - Napier', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 13 Aug 2009, updated 30 Nov 2015