Napier Travel Guide

History

Māori history

Napier has well-documented Māori history. When the Ngāti Kahungunu party of Taraia reached the district many centuries ago, the Whatumamoa, Rangitane and the Ngāti Awa and elements of the Ngāti Tara iwi existed in the nearby areas of Petane, Te Whanganui-a-Orotu and Waiohiki. Later, the Ngāti Kahungunu became the dominant force from Poverty Bay to Wellington. They were one of the first Māori tribes to come in contact with European settlers.

Chief Te Ahuriri cut a channel into the lagoon space at Ahuriri because the Westshore entrance had become blocked, threatening cultivations surrounding the lagoon and the fishing villages on the islands in the lagoon. The rivers were continually feeding freshwater into the area.

European settlers' history

The first European to see the future site of Napier was Captain James Cook, who sailed down the east coast in October 1769. He commented: "On each side of this bluff head is a low, narrow sand or stone beach, between these beaches and the mainland is a pretty large lake of salt water I suppose." He said the harbour entrance was at the Westshore end of the shingle beach. The site was subsequently visited and later settled by European traders, whalers and missionaries. By the 1850s, farmers and hotel-keepers arrived.

The Crown purchased the Ahuriri block (including the site of Napier) in 1851. In 1854 Alfred Domett, a future Prime Minister of New Zealand, was appointed as the Commissioner of Crown Lands and the resident magistrate at the village of Ahuriri. It was decided to place a planned town here, its streets and avenues were laid out, and the new town named for Sir Charles Napier, a military leader during the "Battle of Meeanee" fought in the province of Sindh, India. Mr. Domett named many streets in Napier to commemorate the colonial era of the British Indian Empire.

Napier was designated as a borough in 1874, but the development of the surrounding marshlands and reclamation proceeded slowly. Between 1858 and 1876 Napier was the administrative centre for the Hawke's Bay Province, but in 1876 the "Abolition of Provinces Act", an act of the Parliament of New Zealand, dissolved all provincial governments in New Zealand.

Development was generally confined to the hill and to the port area of Ahuriri. In the early years, Napier covered almost exclusively an oblong group of hills (the Scinde Island) which was nearly entirely surrounded by the ocean, but from which ran out two single spits, one to the north and one to the south. There was a swamp between the now Hastings Street and Wellesley Road and the sea extended to "Clive Square".

1931 earthquake

On 3 February 1931, most of Napier was levelled by an earthquake. The collapses of buildings and the ensuing fires killed 256 people. The centre of the town was destroyed by the earthquake, and later rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at that time. Some 4000 hectares of today's Napier were undersea before the earthquake raised it above sea level.

Although a few Art Deco buildings were replaced with contemporary structures during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, most of the centre remained intact for long enough to become recognised as architecturally important, and beginning in the 1990s it had been protected and restored. Napier and the area of South Beach, Miami, Florida, are considered to be the two best-preserved Art Deco towns (with the town of Miami Beach, Florida, being mostly decorated in the somewhat later Streamline Moderne style of Art Deco.)

Beginning in 2007, Napier was nominated as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO. This is the first cultural site in New Zealand to be so nominated.

Modern history

In January 1945, the German Kriegsmarine U-boat (submarine) U-862 entered and departed from the port of Napier undetected. This event became the basis of a widely circulated postwar tall tale that the captain of this U-boat, Heinrich Timm, had led crewmen ashore near Napier to milk cows in order to supplement their meagre rations.

Napier was the scene of an armed attack by cannabis dealer Jan Molenaar on three police officers searching his home in May 2009. He killed one officer, and wounded two others and a civilian. He continued to fire shots from his house, which police besieged until he committed suicide 40 hours later.

source: Wikipedia

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