Photo: Although I generally disapprove of tobacco-use, this Art Deco building in Napier was beautiful
Driving north from Wellington on Friday morning (January 5th), we made a short detour off Highway 2 after we had passed through the Hutt Valley and crossed the Rimutaka Range of hills. Our "New Zealand Motorhome and Camping Atlas" has labels that indicated sites used in the filming of the trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and the only one that had really caught my attention was for "Rivendell". Many of these sites have nothing to show where the filming location was, so that they are only of interest to true aficionados of the series or to people who have one of the many guidebooks that show photographs of the natural site and the relevant scene from the films.
It was pure luck for us that the Rivendell site (the ancient and protected sanctuary of the elves) had signposts, parking, and several interpretive signs showing the relevant scenes from the films as they appeared with props, actors, and plenty of computer graphics. By noting the trees in the movie-scene and in the actual site, it was possible to imagine how this small area of woodland and merging rivers had been used. Only a few of the Rivendell scenes were actually shot at this site, much of the rest was from Fiordland.
Alison being an elf-nerd under the archway at "Rivendell"
Although none of the original movie props remain, a carved stone archway had been erected at the site and dedicated to all fans of the trilogy. It was only half the size of the archway that was used in the film and from which "Frodo and the Fellowship began their quest to destroy the one ring in the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor". Despite this diminution in size, it was still a perfect place for nerds like us to take a photograph...
The rain of the last couple of nights had filled the rivers, so in lovely sunshine we wandered back and forth across a nearby suspension bridge admiring the thundering cascades of water beneath us. Once we had paid appropriate homage to "Rivendell", we resumed driving northeast towards Napier.
Randall on a suspension bridge over thunderous, swollen rivers at "Rivendell"
This town of 57,240 is located towards the southern end of Hawke Bay, a large half-oval bight about halfway down the east coast of the North Island. The region that includes the bay, Napier, Hastings, and areas inland and south of them, is now rather confusingly called "Hawke's Bay". It had been settled by the Maori since around the 12th century when they called the area Ahuriri. James Cook viewed the area in 1769 and by 1839 a trading base for European and American whalers had been established with the town of Napier planned and established in 1854.
A whimsical mural in Napier perhaps depicting how the town was built on the back of the whaling industry
At 10:46 am on 3rd February 1931, a devastating earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale destroyed the town with 258 fatalities. All of the unsupported-brick buildings fell down and most of the wooden ones burned in ensuing fires that were caused by gases escaping from ruptured pipes. Water mains were also broken and the fire-engines were crushed in their station so there was no large-scale means to put the fires out.
Three of the Six Sisters wooden buildings that survived the 1931 earthquake and fire in Napier
A frenzied period of rebuilding over the next two years resulted in most homes and businesses constructed in the contemporary style of Art Deco. With many of these structures being maintained with their original shapes, ornamentation, and appropriate pastel colors, Napier boasts that it has remained one of the world's most uniformly Art Deco cities. Rather than walk around, tiring Randall's sore knee, we signed-up at the last minute for a 1-hour tour on vintage "bus" (actually a converted old truck). This took us along the seafront, through the Art-Deco-rich central business district (downtown), by the docks, into the oldest part of town, near the old wharf, and through some of the residential Art Deco areas.
The vintage truck/bus we rode during our "Hooters" tour of Napier
Some of the architecture was absolutely marvelous and to enrich the mood, there were several vintage cars and people dressed in the flapper-style of the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, we did not have time to dwell in the Art Deco Center where there is a documentary film about the earthquake and exhibits about the Art Deco style of building, as well as plenty of Art Deco souvenirs and information about various tours.
An example of a house from the Art Deco residential area
A 1930s car and Art Deco office-building in Napier
The reason for our haste was to be sure that we arrived at our next destination before it might close. After winding through various narrow streets to get up onto Bluff Hill, which separates the central business district from the docks, we found that Andrew's helpful directions brought us the old Napier Cemetery of 1855 - 1917. Just as Andrew had described, immediately inside the main gate, on the left, was an area with three tombs.
Alison stands behind her great-grandfather's tomb while her great-great-grandfather's tomb is to the left of the picture
One of these belonged to my great-grandfather, Francis John Fox, who although born in Ireland, had once been a military advisor to New Zealand's Prime Minister from 1893 to 1906, Richard Sneddon. Francis Fox died in Napier of tuberculosis at the age of 44 in 1902. He left behind a wife and three children, one of whom was my New Zealand-born grandfather, John Niall Fox, the father (with different wives) of both my father and my half-uncle, Frank. One of the other graves was of my great-great-grandfather, Sir William Russell, who had been the father-in-law of Francis John Fox, and who from 1894 to 1901 was Leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister Sneddon. While I obviously had not known these men, it was quite moving to see their graves and realize that my strong feeling of connection to New Zealand does have some tangible, not-so-very-distant ancestral roots.
Looking from The Bluff over the old town and wharf towards the former lagoon that is now land
From the cemetery, we found our way to the north side of Bluff Hill where there is a park which overlooks the docks and Hawke Bay. Enjoying the expansive view in the last few minutes of bright weather before the sun disappeared behind thickening clouds, it was very windy at the edge of the overlook and soon felt quite cold.
Maps showing the Napier area before (left) and after the 1931 earthquake with yellow land filling in the white lagoon in the center (land has not been included on the left side of both maps)
The most amazing part of the view was over the old town and modern marina at the mouth of the Ahuriri Estuary, to the west. While the view itself was not so unusual, being mostly pastureland and the Hawke's Bay Airport, the remarkable part was that up until 1931, the area was submerged in a large lagoon. The earthquake that flattened the city, caused about 40 sq km (15 sq miles) of land to be lifted-up to 2 m (7 feet) above sea level which drained the lagoon and left boats high-and-dry. Now there's a potential problem that I had never worried about before...