John Ellison stands beside a gleaming dark red vintage car in front of an art deco building in Napier, New Zealand

The purr of the engine. The wind in your hair. Nostalgia flowing through your veins. To ride in a vintage car is to step back to a bygone era of chauffeur-driven luxury. A memorable way to discover any destination, it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in the fascinating Art Deco city of Napier, New Zealand. And you can experience this for yourself on our luxury small group journey The Long White Cloud.

Few know this fascinating city better than Local Expert and Chauffeur John Ellison from Napier’s Art Deco Trust. We had the pleasure of speaking to him to learn more about the experience, the city, and why by vintage car is the only way to ride.

For travel inspiration: New Zealand destination guide

Welcome to Napier

A view from the ground of a white art deco building with agree domed tower and a sight saying city centre in front.

Located on New Zealand’s North Island, Napier is a charming coastal city renowned for its Art Deco architecture, extensive vineyards, and the natural beauty and beaches of Hawkes Bay. The city’s Marine Parade promenade offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, while its lively cafes, boutique shops, and galleries showcase the region’s artistic flair. Napier also hosts several annual events, including the renowned Art Deco Festival, attracting visitors from around the world.

A day forever etched in the town’s history, on Tuesday 3 February 1931 Napier suffered a disastrous earthquake. Almost totally levelling all buildings in the inner city, it claimed over 250 lives. As a result, extensive rebuilding that took place in the 1930’s and by the end of the decade Napier was the newest city on the globe. And it was this rebuild that gave the town its distinctive Art Deco moniker.

 You may also enjoy reading: Rugged luxury: Why a Trip to New Zealand Might Surprise You

A living testament to the 1930s

John and colleague stand beside two vintage cars, one green and one dark red under the shade of a tree in Napier, New Zealand

“Napier is a snapshot in time. Its special to me as my family roots are here,” explains John. “In 1861 my family emigrated from England and played significant leadership roles in Napier’s growth. They were rewarded with street names in their honour. Many experienced the 1931 earthquake and I enjoy relating their stories as they were told to me.”

With an emphasis on the use of geometric forms, sleek lines, and manmade materials, Napier is an architecture lover’s dream. Nowhere else in the world can you see such a variety of buildings in the styles of the 1930s – Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission, and above all Art Deco, the style of the 20th Century.

A piece of living history, there’s a sight and a story around every corner, and there’s no better way to uncover the highlights of this world-famous town’s 140 art deco buildings and sculptures from the comfort of your luxurious vehicle.

Discover this on: The Long White Cloud

Bookmark for later: 11 of the Best Sustainable Fine-Dining Restaurants in the World

The lure of the vintage car

“When we drive, we take on the 1930’s persona, it’s a joy to be part of,” John says. “Both our dress and our cars represent that era. I enjoy being back driving the type of car I learnt to drive in – changing gears, a manual clutch, no power steering and perfecting the handbrake hill start.

“In our fleet we have four hardtop Packards,  one Packard convertible coupe vehicle and one hardtop Pontiac. The cars are in incredible condition with lots of room inside.

“When taking such a personal tour we quickly develop a rapport and shape the experience around guests’ interests. There’s a lot of fun and good banter on the way.”

A great read for all car lovers: Classic Car Admirers Will Love These Timeless Drives

 My favorite building

“One of my favorite spots in the town is The Public Trust Building,” says John. Arguably the most distinctive building in Napier, New Zealand, it was built in the early 1920’s in the Classical Revival Style. “It wouldn’t be out of place as part of ancient Greece.

“The Public Trust Building defied the earthquake of 1931 coming through unscathed, a testament to its build. Its construction was reinforced with copious quantities of steel, decorated with Latin lettering, bolt patterns, shields, fern fronds and geometric shapes.

“Thrust up approx. 1.5 meters and settled perfectly level, it set the example to reconstruct town and the nearly 93 years since. Though the town didn’t want to replicate this building, they adapted the architectural style to Stripped Classical used extensively in the rebuild for strength.”

Bookmark for later: These Hotels and Experiences Echo Old-World Glamor

Why New Zealand?

Birds Eye view of Queenstown in New Zealand with mountains, lakes and islands in the background.

“New Zealand is a land of variety,” says John. “Easy to navigate, its a small but sensational country. You’ll enjoy staggering variety of jaw dropping landscapes that change from the North of the North right down to the deep South. Not to mention the friendly, helpful welcome you will get from the locals.”

To complete the picture: This New Zealand Forest Retreat Combines 5-Star Luxury with Sustainability

Each ride in Napier, New Zealand gives something back

Art Deco Trust’s vintage car journeys not only offer a unique Art Deco experience, but each ride contributes to the replanting of some of New Zealand’s most stunning spots, in association with Trees that Count.

Committed to the preservation of New Zealand’s wild places, streamside and retired land plantings are a key focus, assisting against soil erosion and absorbing run off into streams and waterways.

Read more about sustainability initiatives: How We’re Setting the Gold Standard for Sustainable Luxury Travel

The land of The Long White Cloud awaits

Wide view of a long bridge leading to Auckland, with the sun setting over the water. 

If you’re dreaming of seeing the Land of the Long White Cloud (the most common translation of Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand) for yourself, we invite you to be inspired and awed during a 19-day guided tour of New Zealand, The Long White Cloud. Explore Napier in a vintage car, take an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, dine with a former All Black and stay in exquisite forest retreats.