Napier 3: Digging in the dirt

When Maurice visited Napier, his described Marine Parade like this: “Marine Parade, lined with Norfolk pines, has three km of seafront attractions including an illuminated fountain, war memorial hall, dolphin pool, soundshell, skating rink, boating lake and putting green.” This is a fairly thorough list, so I decided to compare this with the Marine Parade of today.

I don’t know where that 3km comes from (or indeed the even longer 2 miles in the earlier pre-metric editions). At a stretch, it could be a little over 2km, unless perhaps Maurice was so taken by the stretch of barren coast further south that he just had to include that too.

The Norfolk pines are still there, running along both the central median strip of the road as well the beachfront areas. It seems like a clever trick – the wintery pines always make the sunny Hawke’s Bay weather seem much more summery than it really is.

The illuminated fountain is still there, along with the neighbouring Pania of the Reef statue. Pania was unveiled in 1954, but evidently she wasn’t considered significant enough for Maurice to give her a mention in any edition of the Shell Guide. Perhaps her patina wasn’t green enough.

The war memorial hall is still there, only it’s been expanded and renamed. It’s now the Napier War Memorial Conference Centre. Yes.

War Memorial Conference Centre

After the World War I, most New Zealand towns erected war memorials to honour the dead – these were typically cenotaphs. After World War II, war memorials tended to be community buildings, typically war memorial halls, but also things like Lower Hutt’s war memorial library.

So while a war memorial conference centre isn’t entirely out of place, it just seems a bit sad. Is this how we honour Napier’s war dead – with bowls of individually wrapped mints, flip charts and breakaway brainstorming groups? Well, I guess our forefathers fought for freedom for all and you have to take the dull with the good.

The soundshell is still there, though the concrete in front of the stage is a bit cracked. While I was there, a number of maintenance workers were discussing the different shapes of their poo. I’m sure it all comes alive on Art Deco Weekend, though.

As for the putting green, from what I can tell it used to be a large grassed area, but now it’s been divided off into the information centre and a minigolf course. Minigolf is so much more fun than a putting green, though I’d easily recommend the Shell Guide over a fistful of brochures from the information centre.

The skating rink is still there, with little structurally changed from Maurice’s time. The big difference is that the concrete rink is now covered in ramps and the is now open to all sorts of wheels – rollerskates, rollerblades, skateboards, scooters and bikes. It seems that no matter the era, there’ll always be something with wheels on it that the kids want to ride, so the rink just tweaks itself to accommodate the radical-dude-action needs of the day.


Maurice’s dolphin pool is, of course, sad old Marineland. The idea of dolphins being held in captivity and being forced to perform tricks in exchange for food now seems so archaic, though there are still people who’d like to see the dolphins return to Marineland.

But we’ve seen The Cove, we know that dolphins are smart, that it’s not so great for them to be kept in small pools instead of the endless ocean. So it’s unlikely that Marineland will reopen as a marine amusement centre.

But the closure of Marineland has created a vast expanse of nothing along Marine Parade. Between the skating rink and the National Aquarium, there’s almost one kilometre of emptiness.

The park across the road from my motel was mostly empty, apart from some public art and a few Norfolk pines. At one stage some tents were erected in the park and I got all excited thinking some gypsies had come to town, but disappointingly it turned out to be a one-day trade show for painting supplies.

I was intrigued by Maurice’s mention of a boating lake because despite walking along Marine Parade many times, I couldn’t find anything that looked like a boating lake.

So back at my motel, I hit the googles. It turns out that indeed there used to be a little boating lake. It was kidney-shaped with a mini lighthouse in the indent. People could hire little pedalo boats and go for a hoon around the lake. It actually looked like fun, and if it was still around, I’d have gladly hired a boat.

But what happened to it? Well, by the ’90s it was all a bit run down and probably all the grunge kids of Napier were like, “Ugh, that’s so lame.” Unloved, it was pulled out, along with a few similarly naff amusements nearby.

I was surprised to realise that the boating lake would have just across the road from my motel – the loss of the boating lake meant the gain of uninterrupted sea views for the motels of Marine Parade. There’s a slight indentation where the boating lake used to be, a ghostly reminder of leisure time past.

1990s screen saver

Something that didn’t make it into the Shell Guide was the National Aquarium of New Zealand, first opened in 1976. It’s a decent enough aquarium, complete with a conveyor-belt walk-through acrylic tunnel.

But despite all the fish and other marine life there, I found myself more captivated by the kiwi house. One kiwi was scratching around by the window at the front of his enclosure. He poked around with his long beak, running it along the join between the bottom of the glass and the floor of the enclosure. It was as if he was on the verge of having a “Truman Show” moment, where he was about to realise that his reality of a bushland habitat was actually totally fake; that not even the sun in the sky was real.

But he gave up and went up the back where a female kiwi was rooting around in the dirt. The male did similar and seemed to accidentally bump into her. They both quickly moved away from each other, doing the old “Oh, I’m not even all that interested in you” move. But, of course, secretly they were both hot for each other and within seconds they were engaged in a different kind of rooting.

I stood there watching the two kiwis going at it and I felt quite proud to be a New Zealander.

But still I had to follow another of Maurice’s recommendations – and this time he was nudging me in the direction of wine country.

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