The Napier area has been settled since around the 12th century and was known to Māori as Ahuriri (now the name of a suburb of Napier). By the time James Cook eyeballed the scene in October 1769, Ngāti Kahungunu was the dominant tribe, controlling the whole coast down to Wellington.
In the 1830s whalers hung around Ahuriri, establishing a trading base in 1839. By the 1850s the Crown had purchased – often by dubious means – 1.4 million acres of Hawke’s Bay land, leaving Ngāti Kahungunu 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 3 February 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’). A fevered rebuilding program ensued, resulting in one of the world’s most uniformly art-deco cities.