There’s a reason why we have chosen to visit Napier. I was last here as a teenager and remembered small parts of my time here, but wanted to revisit as an adult so that I could really learn more about the city.
It’s especially relevent that we arrive now, shortly after having been in large earthquakes in Christchurch, because the biggest reason that Napier is world famous because of an earthquake.
I want to do one of the guided walking tours that are available here but realise that of course “walking” isn’t my strong point at the moment so have to work out if this is going to be feasable.
Once our kids caught sight of a playground and a mini-golf establishment, they and Himself decided that that was more their cup of tea than information on city architecture and historical events and so we arranged to meet up some hours later and went temporarily on our seperate ways.
The only good thing about having been on on crutches for a year now, is that my arms sport some decent muscles and are now no longer just rubbery apendages and I can stand on my right foot for ages if I have to.
I descide to do the walking tour for several reasons… first is that the cental area of Napier is surprisingly small, second: all I want to do at first is to keep up and listen to the guide, I intend to have a rest afterwards and then retrace my steps slowly taking photos, so I don’t need to do both at once.
The tour mostly involves moving very short distances to the next place our guide next want to talk about, a pause whilst she does so, this means I can stand on one leg whilst still and use my arms whilst moving and my foot isn’t going to touch the ground at all during this exercise.
(This kind of movement is what my physiotherapist calls “sneaking” as it involves no real work for my foot and so she wouldn’t approve of this, but in this case I think she would conceed that it will be the only way I will be able to manage.) It’s still hard work and tiring, but do-able for once or twice every now and again.
After the tour I will be sitting in the van and the extra space means I can put my foot up and rest, rest, rest…
The reason that Napier is a tourist attraction these days is largely down to the fact that it is one of the most beautiful Art Deco cities in the world.
The reason for that happening was that the city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style in the rebuild after the Tuesday February 3rd, 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake (also known as the Napier Earthquake).
The 7.8 magnitude quake had many profound effects … not least of course the deaths of 256 people but in today’s post I want to talk about one of the most geographically noticable effects.
Our guide showed us into an exhibition at the Deco heritage centre, where we saw a film and photo’s of before and after the quake.
Until now, I never realised that Napier used to be situated on a large lagoon called the Ahuriri Lagoon which was in effect a natural harbour, fishing and recreational area.
The quake shook the area for two and a half minutes and lifted 2230 hectares of land up ( 5 510.450 acres) more than 2.7 meters ( 8.8 feet) , resulting in the sea water rushing out of the lagoon, which was left as a new landmass complete with many poor surprised fish doomed to flounder on sea floor mud that was now dry land.
This area is today Napier’s airport, a light industrial area, an area of housing and farmland.
Apparently there had been a large regatta the days prevous to the quake on Ahuriri Lagoon, an event that had involved many of the town’s inhabitants and there were still many small boats from the regatta left moored there.
These were all left high and dry when the land rose up and people were amazed to see the very place where in the weekend they had raced their boats, now a large expanse of dry land.
Just as shocked as the floundering fish were the sailors aboard the New Zealand Royal Navy ship HMS Veronica, who also found their ship instantly dry-docked by Mother Nature, but their presence saved many many lives because the ship had independent radio equipment which undamaged, was used to radio for help within minutes of the quake.
Cargo ships and two cruisers were immediately diverted to assist and bought doctors, nurses, rescue equipment, food and tents.
The Veronica‘s sailors were also instrumental in helping the towns survivors to fight the many fires that broke out, rescue trapped people and treat the injured.
Personally, even in spite of having recent experience with large earthquakes, I find it really hard to comprehend just what it must have been like to be in a quake that within minutes, lifts you and the ground you are on, about three meters higher than your previous position. I’m not sure it’s if gobsmackingly amazing and I should be in awe or if it’s just downright scary.
It’s also more than a tad ironic that the Dutch half of my heritage represents a nation who are famous for building up large areas of their own country through land reclamation…
The Dutch spend decades and centuries lifting land out of the sea… but in Napier Mother Nature did it in two and a half minutes.
Sadly her price tag for this feat of natural engineering was that the city also fell, claiming lives. Efficient? Most certainly, but to my mind (sigh, if there was ever there was a choice)… definitely far too high a price to pay.