With Napier done we made our way southwest to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington or “Windy Welly” as the locals sometimes refer to it. It gets this reputation from the westerly winds that barrel through off the Roaring Forties and unchecked from South America further afield. This was to be our last stop on North Island for a while and our eventual departure point via the ferry to South Island.
The drive down was long and boring save for a winding switchback road through the mountains to the north of Wellington. This is a great drivers road, full of hairpin bends but constantly climbing with few passing places. The views from the top of the climb back up the valley and forward to Wellington were outstanding, but as Lyn was driving we went straight down the other side without pausing for photos!
Getting to the centre of Wellington was easy, just follow the urban motorway. Finding our hotel, a little more tricky, especially when your Satnav sends you the right way, then gives you immediate directions the wrong way and you end up in a back street dead end on the opposite side of the street you need to be on! We quickly recovered and got where we needed to be.
Wellington is a small city of around 200,000 people but it has much to offer visitors, not least a harbour front area that has been re-developed from a working port to a modern public area with bars, restaurants, museums and art galleries, but no hotels! When exploring this area we always got the impression that the city council were playing catch up with Auckland, who are far further on with their docklands re-development schemes.
Always top of our list in any city is a guided walking tour, free if possible. This one wasn’t, but our guide, Gerald, was very good and knowledgeable, having lived in Wellington for over twenty five years. Over the course of a 2.5 hour amble around his city we saw much to please, such as the “City to the Sea” walkway, the harbour front, many old buildings re-purposed, such as an old clearing bank that has been converted to a modern but compact retail mall, with a rather unusual clock, street art, of which there is much and a couple of telephone boxes, one a traditional red box, the other, a French style box, straight from Paris. Someone had worked out that if you drilled down from the spot where this box sits in Post Office Square, eventually you would come up in the centre of Paris, hence the French Phone Box. The reality is that someone got their sums wrong. If you were to drill, and go right through, the likelihood is that you would end up somewhere in Corsica! Go into the French telephone box, lift the receiver, you will hear recordings of things French, as if from Paris. If you do the same for the red box close by you will hear Wellington! Gerald did say that there is a red phone box in Paris that plays New Zealand sounds………whatever they are.
Clockwise from Top left: Two Stones, a sculpture representing the two Islands of New Zealand: Lyn at the Two Stones; City to the Sea Bridge top; City to the Sea continued
The French Telephone Box – Lift the receiver to hear sounds of Paris (allegedly)
The Clock: Panels unfold when the clock strikes on each hour and reveals pictures of old Wellington.
The City to the Sea walkway is constructed mainly of wood and the carvings resemble a Maori ship. The promenade is a fairly recent project which enables you to walk almost from the Westpac Stadium near the ferry terminal all the way down to the marina, a couple of miles. En route you will pass many old cargo sheds, some still under re-development and others closer to the vibrant centre, which have been re-purposed as restaurants, The Art Gallery, Wellington Museum and The Portrait Gallery. A Lagoon has been created which is now home to the local Rowing and Watersports club adjacent to which is a very popular cafe/bar. Close by is a new building housing Te Papa Tongarewa (our Place) or The Museum of New Zealand. This is an interactive Museum that is very clever (it has an earthquake house that simulates tremors very realistically) but a real assault on the senses if you are not prepared for it!. (We weren’t) It also houses significant Maori artworks and treasures and the National Art Collection.
Warehouses re-purposed: Top: Wellington Museum outside: The old Bond Store inside: Lyn in the Boardroom (again!): Bottom: Outside and inside The Wellington Portrait Gallery.
One of the city’s claims to literary fame is that it is the birthplace of the novelist Katherine Mansfield. The house where she grew up is open to visitors and there is a steel statue of her on Lambton Quay, one of the main commercial streets in Wellington. Born in 1888, she moved to London in 1903 to complete her schooling with her sisters. She returned to New Zealand but quickly grew tired of provincial life and returned to London aged 19. She quickly became a friend of writers such as D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. In 1917, she was diagnosed with extrapulmonary tuberculosis, which led to her death at age 34.
Some of the “Street Art” on show. Clockwise from top left: Katherine Mansfield; Shells, Man and a dog; Solace In The Wind. The figure is perched on the edge of the Marina and depicts a man leaning forward into wind and being supported by the wind; Things that rotate in the wind.
As we progressed through the city we eventually arrived at the “political end” of Wellington. The old Government Building, the brand new High Court Building, Parliamentary Offices (The Beehive) and Parliament itself. The Old Government Building is classical in design but is made entirely of wood which has been preserved. It looks completely like it is built of masonry and stone, but go and tap the outside wall and you hear a dull thud, rather than get a grazed knuckle as you probably would if it were stone. The Beehive houses all the Ministers of State and their staff, the MP’s have an ordinary office block behind and next to this is the Parliament building itself. Gerald explained that about thirty years ago the country voted to change its electoral system and do away with the two “house” system we see in the UK and replace it with a single “house”. They have a system of proportional representation which is designed so that only very rarely could a single party get an overall majority and it forces parties to work together in coalition. It also acts as a check on the more extreme ends of political belief so that most MP’s coalesce around centre left or centre right polices and it forces compromise from all sides to get things done. Sounds like Political utopia!
Clockwise from left: The Beehive – Government Offices; Parliament Building; National War Memorial with MP’s offices behind; The Old Government Buildings, made of wood.
Finally on our walking tour we walked past the Old MOD building, rendered unsafe following an earthquake a couple of years ago, and which is being demolished after only being built twelve years ago (Ooops, who forgot to check it was earthquake proof?) to the Old Wooden Cathedral. This old wooden building has survived earthquake and redevelopment all around it, and stands in a small plot. It is non-denominational, which means whatever your religion, if you want to hire it for any type of service, you can. From the outside it looks small and compact. The inside has a rich warm feel from the lovely old woodsttained structure. Everything is made of wood, even the main pillars – all wood. It has subtle soft lighting which enhances the feel of the place. A lovely end to a very good tour.
Outside and Inside – The Old St Pauls Cathedral – made entirely of wood.
Left to our own devices again, we did the galleries, the museums and ran along the promenade early on Sunday morning and saw traders setting up for their Sunday market, all in glorious sunshine. Early morning Wellington, especially on Sunday morning is a wonderful place to be. No crowds, no litter…..YES, that is no litter. The place is clean and tidy and the folk are very friendly.
More views of Wellington: Clockwise from top left: Relaxation area Waterfront: Gerald, our guide for the walking tour: Post Office Square: En-route to the Waterfront: Us in Post Office Square: Lyn on the Waterfront.
One highlight on Sunday was the Cable Car ride up to the Botanical Gardens which sit atop a hill above the Central Business District. The land for the Gardens was a gift to the city in 1868 and today it is popular for locals and visitors alike to come and walk, admire the trees and visit the observatory there. The many paths lead in the end to the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, with at one end The Begonia House featuring tropical and temperate plants and a lily pond at one end. The cafe is good too. From the gardens it is an easy walk back to the centre of town.
Left: Us in the Rose Garden: Right: Lyn tries out being a human sundial. (You stand on a spot facing North, put your hands in the air and your shadow is cast on to a dial of stones in front of you. This read about 2-30pm which was the time!)
Finally this blog would not be complete without a doggy story. This is Paddy and I will leave you to read his story which accompanied his picture in the Wellington Museum.
Lyn here: I love Paddy!
Our time in this windy city is short. We are shortly to board the Inter-Island ferry for the next stage of our tour, South Island and the promise of more mountains, more rain and definitely more wind!
Cheers from us in Wellington