Napier, with its front yard of the Pacific Ocean and grand sweeping views of the bay was identified as having potential for tourism from the late 1870s.

In 1886, James Inglis, a visitor from Australia, said Napier was "the Malta of the southern seas".

High on the qualifications for a successful tourism location was fresh air, and James praised the "clear, crisp, glorious fresh air" of Napier.

He also mentioned the "garden crowned, villa bestrewn, precipitous bluff land".


Dr Spencer, a local doctor, thought Napier would be "pre-eminently suitable" as a resort for invalids and tourists, and especially those who had incipient lung diseases (Morris Spence, a prominent Napier chartered accountant and community leader immigrated from Scotland for this very reason).

The development of Marine Parade during George Swan's mayoralty in the 1880s was part of Napier's earliest strategy for tourism.

A brisk walk in the fresh sea air, or sitting on a park bench admiring the views to Cape Kidnappers, was 1880s tourists' idea of a good time.

And Napier had some famous admirers, including the American writer Mark Twain, who upon his visit in 1896 wrote: "I think it was a good stroke of luck that knocked me on my back in Napier.

"Here we have the smooth and placidly complaining sea at our door, with nothing between us but 20 yards of shingle.

"Away down here, 55 degrees south of the Equator, this sea seems to murmur in an unfamiliar tongue - a foreign tongue - bred among the ice fields of the Antarctic - a murmur with a note of melancholy in it proper to the vast unvisited solitude it has come from.

"It was very delicious and solacing to wake in the night and find it still pulsing there."

Napier from the 1880s onwards was visited by photographers whose photos would be turned into postcards.

The Bluff Hill was a perfect spot to take photographs of the Marine Parade vista.

One particular photographer visiting Napier, Daniel Loder, set up his camera in Hastings St in September 1886 and was arrested for taking photographs on a Sunday - then illegal in the city.

His plea of ignorance went unheeded by the judge and he was fined two shillings (2017: $20) plus costs.

The Daily Telegraph took a dim view of this "offence" and "foolish law" and wondered why in London the fine for doing the same thing was about 20 times cheaper.

Rotorua was, of course, a major tourist attraction, and Napier realised it could become a starting point for trips to Taupo and the "Hot lakes".

One obstacle was the poor condition of the Napier-Taupo Rd.

Much lobbying aided by local newspapers had some success in this regard, but nothing significant came from the government in the 1800s and early 1900s to improve the road.

Napier, therefore, began to advertise its own attractions, and gained some praise in 1905 from M Thomson's report on Napier - which he said was "probably the least known and least appreciated city in the colony".

Mr Thomson's glowing review appeared first in the Dunedin Star newspaper and in particular he made reference to "the long main street" (Hastings St), "beautifully clean streets", "well stocked shops" and Napier had much to please visitors with an interest in scenery and sport.

"Visitors", he said, "could cycle to vineyards and tea gardens in the Greenmeadows area. If the visitor preferred swimming, there was a beach close at hand."

Shooting ducks and pukeko in the Napier South swamp was also listed as an activity.

Naturally loving these comments, Napier's Daily Telegraph reproduced the report and a booklet - which was likely the first tourism brochure produced.

A 1908 brochure produced by the Napier Carnival Committee advertised Napier as "a charming city", "an ideal holiday resort" with "fine weather almost a certainty for the visitor in search of change and rest".

Attractions such as the Marine Parade, municipal gardens, bathing on the Marine Parade or at Westshore, Napier Park horse races or golf were promoted. And there was plenty to do for the "wheeling enthusiast" to visit the wineries at the Mission or Greenmeadows Vineyard.

When Napier's Thirty Thousand Club was established in 1912, one of its aims was to promote tourism in the city.

Over the next 50 or so years of its very successful existence (past Napier's reaching of a 30,000 population) it did just that, especially in regard to the Marine Parade where it put most of its efforts, including lighting it in 1913.

After the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake, the increased land on the Marine Parade foreshore created gardens and some areas with an emphasis on health and fitness, such as an outdoor skating rink (soundshell), tennis courses and putting green.

The tennis court was replaced in the 1960s when Napier under mayor Sir Peter Tait began to revitalise the Marine Parade and reinvent Napier as a tourism destination, with more tourist activities and areas, such as Marineland, and the Sunken Gardens,

In 1962, with tourism booming, the Napier City Council established motel flats at Kennedy Park.

Sixteen were originally built from a special rate, and financed also by park revenue.

The initial success came to somewhat of a crisis when local accommodation providers objected and took them to court after the council refused to cease operating.

The council, however, lost the Supreme Court case in March 1964, with unfair competition to local motel and hotels cited.

Local MP J G Edwards, however, introduced a bill in September 1964 to Parliament which was passed and enabled the council to legally run the motels.

This result, claimed the Daily Telegraph, "ensured visitors could retain their access to comfortable, relatively inexpensive holiday accommodation".

Today Napier, of course, is known for its Art Deco prowess, and its effect on the city is palpable - but Napier over the years has also remained true to the original visions of its founders and service groups with other attractions, especially with the development of the Marine Parade.

• Michael Fowler ( is an EIT accounting lecturer, and in his spare time a recorder of Hawke's Bay's history.