The area has been settled since around the 12th century and was known to Maori as Ahuriri. By the time James Cook eyeballed it in October 1769, Ngati Kuhungunu was the dominant tribe, controlling the coast to Wellington.
In the 1830s whalers malingered around Ahuriri, establishing a trading base in 1839. By the 1850s the Crown had purchased – by often dubious means – 1.4-million-acres of Hawkes Bay land, leaving Ngati Kuhungunu with less than 4000 acres. The town of Napier was planned in 1854 and obsequiously named after the British general and colonial administrator Charles Napier.
At 10.46am on February 3 1931, the city was levelled by a catastrophic earthquake (7.9 on the Richter scale). Fatalities in Napier and nearby Hastings numbered 258. Napier suddenly found itself 40 sq km larger, as the earthquake heaved sections of what was once a lagoon 2m above sea level (Napier Airport was once more ‘port’, less ‘air’). The government claimed the extra land, also taking (without compensation) six former Ngati Kuhungunu islands. A fevered rebuilding programme ensued, constructing one of the world’s most uniformly Art-Deco cities.