Never one big happy family.

The sometimes stormy relationship between the Bay cities of Napier and Hastings can be traced back over 125 years.

In Napier, the older of the two cities, the main settlement of Europeans beganin the early 1850s, whereas Hastings’ beginnings can be traced to the 1870s, when Thomas Tanner’s Riverslea Estate was subdivided for sale. Most of the buyers of the Hastings land were in fact Napier land speculators.

And while the Napier speculators were keen for their Hastings land values to increase, it appears they did not want Hastings to prosper at the expenseof Napier.

For example, in 1888 when a woollenmill was proposed in Hastings, Napier people would not invest in the project and the required funds were not raised.

A furious Thomas Tanner, the mill’s promoter, lashed out, saying Napier people were “jealous of Hastings getting ahead of Napier”. The Hawke’s Bay Herald disagreed, responding “no, Hastings people were ten times more jealous of Napier”. But the Herald did agree that Napier people would have invested if the woollen mill were situated in Napier.

Some of Hastings’ residents and its surrounding rural landowners had made earlier attempts to prosper Hastings ahead of Napier. In 1879, a group tried to establish a company to build a railway line to Clive Grange (now Haumoana/Te Awanga). This was to be the first stage in a plan to create a new breakwater harbour near Cape Kidnappers – taking business away from the port at Ahuriri, Napier.

However, Napier people, who were aware of the ultimate goal, refused to invest, and the company was not formed.

One of the originators of the Kidnappers breakwater harbour scheme was rural landowner John Harding. He never gave up on the idea of a port at Cape Kidnappers and stated in 1885: “…Napierites might rely on it [a port at Napier], but Kidnappers will be the port, and Hastings the capital of this province and to spend more money at Napier for harbour works is just taxing the people for the benefit of a few Napier shopkeepers.”

The breakwater harbour then became a priority for Napier people as they feared a rival port development. Ahuriri port could not take larger vessels, and it was expensive for shipping companies to use lighters to unload their cargo outside the port. A breakwater port would attract substantial business. While a preliminary Bluff breakwater harbour was completed in 1893, further development stalled as Hastings and rural interests defeated proposals for additional investment at ratepayers’ polls. Hastings’ business interests favoured more investment in the Ahuriri port, not wanting to pay rates on the more expensive breakwater harbour.

This issue was perhaps the most divisive between Hastings and Napier, raging for over 50 years. In the end, nature forced a decision when the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake lifted the sea floor and made Port Ahuriri unsuitable for further development.

As Hastings grew in size, so did its citizens’ desire to have their own public hospital. Napier had a hospital on Scinde Island (now Napier Hill), which served Hastings as well. Napier, with a larger population, was entitled to have more members on the Hawke’s Bay Health Board. Its representatives continually outvoted any attempts by the minority Hastings members to establish a cottage hospital in Hastings. Napier members of the Hawke’s Bay Health Board became skilful at delaying or offering temporary solutions, such as an ambulance, which blocked development of a Hastings hospital. Resources were scarce for public health services, and the Napier members feared a hospital at Hastings would weaken Napier’s health provision.

Hastings finally got a public hospital in 1928, but ended up with only a small maternity hospital, despite being promised an emergency ward as well.

All of these issues bubbled beneath the service until the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake not only unleashed the strain in the earth’s crust, but also the frustrations of Hastings people with Napier – especially over the hospital issue. (Hastings did get their full public hospital in the 1930s … and we know where that story leads!) The actions of some Hastings people towards Napier after the earthquake in attempting to lure business, hospital and the Hawke’s Bay County Council to their town made the situation much worse and did not go unnoticed around New Zealand.

These early sources of disagreement between Napier and Hastings continued into the 20th century, usually relating to arguments over where large infrastructure assets should be situated, with both towns believing their own claim to be superior. The proximity of the two towns, parochial attitudes, and the fact that two of everything could not be afforded meant
conflict inevitably occurred.

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  1. Love the pic, but I'm always concerned that when the words or themes of "Local Government" and "Muppets" are intertwined that it will all end in tears. When a lawsuit for defamation of character via association arrives from the Jim Henson workshop don't say I didn't tell you so!

  2. Baybuzz.

    The historic division of the hospital issue is also illustrated in the past differences in HB racing. Mr Tanner was also initially the owner of the current course before selling it to the A&P Society who then on sold it to HBJC.

    The HBJC later merged with Napier Park and of course the issues surrounding what the new merged clubs would be called gave birth to Hawke's Bay Racing Inc.

    I believe that the current decision makers of Hawke's Bay have not only inherited all this ridiculous rivalry, but indeed are fighting a losing battle. The next generation under 35 – 40 is far more worldly than the current pond life protectionism that seems to exist.

    Indeed why do the leaders of our region simply just ask the next generation how they wish to be governed?

    Or is it that the soon retiring baby boomers are entitled in assuming they know best on deciding our regions future?

  3. Yes Charles, I am currently researching that spat re the racing. I am currently writing a book on Napier vs Hastings, and have identified around 20 significant issues – enough for two volumes. I started this before the current amalgamation debate, which maybe good for sales when it gets released! Cheers, Michael

  4. I like the way in these toe-ing and froe-ing raves on Hastings v Napier etc..that Havelock North simply rises above the whole tedium and just gets on with it :-)

  5. You're right, Rob. I know a lot of Napier people (who probably indulge in this whole parochial argument..) who bypass Hastings altogether and shop in Havelock North. Maybe they consider it "neutral territory"?

    And besides, it's HAWKE'S BAY Anniversary Weekend tomorrow, not Napier vs. Hastings Weekend.

    Michael, how is it that we get a holiday of our own, where other North Island regions get lumped in with "Auckland Anniversary" (read "From Taupo to Cape Reinga Anniversary Weekend") or Wellington Anniversary Weekend?

  6. Hi Andrew,

    New Zealand was divided into six provinces in 1853, from the previous three established in 1841. Hawke's Bay was part of the Wellington province when it was formed in 1853. However due to Wellington spending most of our taxation revenue on their province, and not ours, lobbying resulted, and Hawke's Bay was the first province to leave its parent (Wellington) on 1st November 1858. We celebrate our provincial date in October to get two short normal working weeks when combined with Labour Day. Taupo, for instance, is part of the Auckland province, so they have their provincial holiday on that date.

    The provinces were abolished in 1876 and replaced by a system of local government, such as the Hawke's Bay County Council created that same year.

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