That Southern California Feel

The city of Napier (population 54,000) feels like Southern California in miniature – while we were in town, it was all beaches and breezes and blue sky and palm trees. We had a wonderful night’s stay with our Airbnb hosts, Carolyn and Kevin, who shared their hot tub on the beach, fed us fruit cake (actually yummy fruit cake), and – most importantly – let us do laundry. They have a beautiful front yard that looks out over the sea…



… and a back garden with veggies and flowers:


Prescott and I took a walk on the beach …



… but our walk was cut short when we realized that the beach was entirely made up of small rocks instead of sand.



As we’re learning, this kind of beach seems to be fairly common along a lot of New Zealand’s coast.

We had a great chat over a cup of tea with Carolyn and Kevin. The Kiwis we have met and interacted with thus far have been extremely open and friendly, and everyone seems to have a terrific sense of humor. There are a lot more smiling, joking people here than we tend to find in Singapore.

Carolyn does a lot of canning and preserving, and she’d just finished a batch of apricots. She recommended a farm stand to us about five minutes from their house. Napier has beach to the east and orchards and vineyards to the south and west…


… so it’s not hard to find places with fresh fruit for sale. We stopped at one orchard to buy fruit: apricots, plums, peaches, and nectarines. I am so happy to have fresh stone fruit again — it’s almost impossible to find in Singapore, and there is nothing like biting into a perfectly ripe peach.



Once our laundry dried, we went into Napier’s town center to see the sights. Napier was the victim of a huge earthquake in 1931, which toppled most of the town’s buildings (those that weren’t felled by the earthquake soon burned down in the subsequent fire). So Napier brought in lots of cheap labor – easy to find during the Great Depression – and rebuilt itself all at once in the Art Deco style. This means that Napier is now has the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings outside of Miami. You find buildings like these:



IMG_6407.jpgThe facades of the second stories of many of the buildings are striking:





An average street might look like this:


Napier tries to celebrate its 1930s heritage, so you can walk down the street and see old cars and people dressed circa 1932:


By the way, that arch in the background says “Without Vision the People Perish.”

The taxis in town come in a variety of historic makes and models, but I particularly liked this one:


When they rebuilt the town in the 1930s, the good people of Napier did an excellent job of taking advantage of their location. They developed a 2-kilometer Marina Parade along the beach, complete with a pier …


… a fountain …


… formal gardens …


… and this cool clock tower:


Prescott and I went out on the pier to hear the waves smash against the small beach pebbles.


Someone in Napier’s government long ago thought that it would be fun to name the major streets in the city center after famous authors, so we walked back to the car on streets with names such as Emerson, Tennyson, and Dickens:


After a good deal of strolling, we hopped in the car for the four-hour drive south to Wellington. Along the way, we made a stop at Norsewood, a Scandinavian settlement that was developed when the New Zealand government was trying to bring in more people in the 1880s. The people of tiny Norsewood are doing a good job of playing up their Norse heritage: they have a Pioneer Museum, a walking trail past old, well-signed buildings, and a store with more wool socks than you can possibly imagine. There’s also an odd little park called Johanna’s World, where you can see things like a small Norwegian stave church …


… and a troll house, with this out front:


Norsewood also has a road called Thor Street, which I think is wonderfully exciting. I would love to live on Thor Street!

The rest of our drive took us through miles and miles of sheep-covered hills. We also saw occasional fields of alpacas and cows:


There’s not a lot of variety if you take Route 2 between Napier and Wellington, but the drive is picturesque. And we stopped for a game of Chinese checkers (Prescott beat me by one move) and a fabulous veggie pizza at Cuckoo in Greytown – that was a great dinner.

If you’re eating out, food in New Zealand is not cheap. I thought that it would be less pricey than Singapore, but that has not turned out to be the case. That said, we have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of most of our meals (we weren’t sure what to expect, and I didn’t have high hopes). The Kiwis have a few things that I have especially come to like; they make an apple-blackcurrant juice or soda that is just wonderful, and they have elevated carrot cake to a high art. Yum.


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