Story: Hawke’s Bay region

Page 11. Arts, culture and built heritage

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Institutions and groups

In the 19th century the Hawke’s Bay Philosophical Institute, local athenaeums (libraries) and mechanics’ institutes provided cultural and learning opportunities. Some towns later had amateur operatic and theatrical societies. Small-town and rural people had to make their own cultural fun. Groups such as the Taradale Community Players (started in 1957) were founded throughout the 20th century.

Organised women


The first New Zealand branch of the Women’s Institute, an organisation that promoted women’s activities outside the home and in the community, was set up in Rissington (north-west of Napier), in 1921 by Bessie Spencer and her sister Amy Hutchinson. By 1925 there were six institutes in Hawke’s Bay and together they formed the first provincial federation. In 2018 there were 245 local institutes and 38 district federations nationwide.


The region’s major cultural institution is the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery (now MTG Hawke’s Bay) in Napier, which opened in 1936 on the site of the old athenaeum.

Māori heritage

There are 75 Ngāti Kahungunu and 11 Rangitāne marae in Hawke’s Bay. Waipapa a Iwi marae in Mōhaka is distinguished by its historic round meeting house, Rongomaiwahine. The Tākitimu meeting house in Wairoa was unveiled in 1938 as a memorial to Sir James Carroll, a distinguished Ngāti Kahungunu politician.

Ōtātara in Taradale, which dates from the 16th century, is one of the most important pā sites in New Zealand. Ngāti Paarau hapū of Waiohiki are kaitiaki (guardians) of the site.

Unusual treasures


The Hawke’s Bay region is well populated with conventional museums, but these are joined by some more unusual establishments, including the Silky Oak Chocolate Museum near Napier, the Beatles Museum in Hastings and the Woodville Reed Organ Museum. The Woodville Pioneer Museum is reputed to have the largest teapot collection in New Zealand – approximately 800.


Early European heritage

Grand houses were built for the owners of large pastoral stations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many survived into the 2000s. A house built in 1875, associated with the Williams missionary family, is near Te Aute College in Central Hawke’s Bay. Part of missionary William Colenso’s house survives in Napier. Huts built from the 1870s to the 1940s are found in the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges.

Art deco

Art deco architecture is the most celebrated part of Hawke’s Bay’s built heritage. Napier, and to a lesser extent the wider region, has constructed its branding around this architectural style, which was current from the 1920s to the Second World War. The Art Deco Festival in February is a popular annual event.

Earthquake opportunity


After the 1931 earthquake many architectural graduates from Auckland University College were employed to draft plans for the new buildings and design the decorative motifs that are a central feature of art deco buildings. New Zealand was in the midst of an economic depression at the time, and this work meant they could avoid joining the ranks of the unemployed alongside graduates in other disciplines.


Most of these buildings were constructed after the destructive 1931 earthquake, though some pre-date this event. Napier is known as the art deco capital, but this and other styles of the era can also be seen in Hastings, Havelock North and Wairoa.


Painter Gottfried Lindauer lived and worked in Napier (1885–89) and Woodville (1889–1926). He is best known for his portraits of Māori, including Ngāti Kahungunu men and women. Photographer Samuel Carnell took many photographs of iwi members, leaving an invaluable visual record of Ngāti Kahungunu in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Painter Rita Angus was born in Hastings in 1908. She left to attend Canterbury College of Art, but during return visits she painted the region’s landscape and buildings, including the ruins of the 1931 earthquake.

Other notable artists associated with Hawke’s Bay are Sandy Adsett, Jenny Campbell, Dick Frizzell, Roland Hipkins, Allan Maddox, Bruce and Estell Martin, Para Matchitt and Martin Poppelwell.


In 1921 Herbert Guthrie-Smith published Tutira: the story of a New Zealand sheep station, an internationally acclaimed natural and cultural history of his sheep station at Tūtira.

Other writers connected to the region include Barbara Anderson, Alan Duff, Lauris Edmond, Maurice Gee, Noel Hilliard, Louis Johnson, Sue McCauley, Peter Wells and Mere Whaanga.


James Chapman-Taylor designed a number of buildings (mainly houses) in Hawke’s Bay in the 1910s and early 1920s. His most unusual commission was a combined house and temple, called Whare Ra (1915), for a spiritualist group connected to the Havelock Work, an arts and literary society based in Havelock North.

Louis Hay designed many of the buildings constructed after the 1931 earthquake, including the well-known National Tobacco Company building in Ahuriri, Napier.

John Scott – best known for Futuna Chapel in Karori, Wellington – spent most of his life in Hawke’s Bay. Most of his buildings in the region are private houses, though he also designed the Our Lady of Lourdes church in the centre of Havelock North. A public commission of national importance was the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre (1975–76) for the former Urewera National Park.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay region - Arts, culture and built heritage', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 13 Aug 2009, updated 1 Jul 2015