Sitting on the dock of the bay

Wellington Harbour

Wellington is a city that hangs between land and water. Whether looking out from a viewpoint on the steep hills surrounding the downtown area or sitting with your legs dangling over the blue water, one is always aware of the sea and the hills. As with many coastal cities around the globe, Wellington’s growth has necessitated expansion and, whilst some homes here are built on precariously steep slopes above the dowtown area, much of the growth has been out into the bay. On the pavement of Lambton Quay, a thriving shopping street a couple of blocks from the water, brass markers set in the ground mark the shoreline of the original quay during the nineteenth century and show just how much the city has grown. Similarly, Wellington has exploited it’s waterfront in order to provide a wonderful buffer zone where folks can escape the traffic and noise to take in the view and soak up the sun. On a walk along the harbour’s edge the day after I arrived, I was able to get a sense of Wellington, how the hills form a natural arena to the stage of the bay, how the sun always seems to find a way through the ever-present cloud cover and how the water is an every day part of the locals’ life.

Take the school children of Wellington for instance. Whilst my eldest are braving the snow and sleet to battle their way home from school, the young uniformed boys alighting from the Dominion Post ferry sped from the gangplank on their silver scooters like a star burst of clockwork toys, little legs propelling them towards the freedom of the afternoon. Some joined their elder schoolmates on a pontoon where they dived from the stanchions and ‘bombed’ each other in a show of bravado that was half for the tourists but more so for the young girls of the local colleges hereabouts. Mind you, these delicate flowers of Kiwi womanhood were not here to gaze idly at these arrogant fellows for they had converged here on the watersports lagoon to practise for this weekend’s dragonboat racing. Marshalled by jovial but competitive coaches, they were sent on warm-up runs round the area or, in the case of late-comers from one school who had forgotten essential kit, made to jump into the water by way of a good-natured reprimand. Most had a sock tied around one knee like a bandage, presumably to prevent bruising against the boat though this gave the impression of each team being mostly comprised of walking wounded. Out on the water, the dragonboaters jostled for space with more serious-looking peers who had headed out from a neighbouring boatshed on single or double sculls. All of this activity was overseen by a number of safety boats carrying lifesavers and coaches with bull horns but there were others busy elsewhere in the harbour. Attracted by a large cluster of onlookers, I wandered over to find a team of New Zealand Navy divers tugging and hauling an inflatable salvage buoy towards the rocky harbour’s edge. It transpired that they were cleaning up the harbour – though it has been officially denied this was prompted by Prince Charles’ visit next week – and their catch comprised a rusting chassis complete with wheels, which was duly placed on a trailer for removal. This was then surrounded by men who all enjoyed a heated debate over exactly what model of vehicle the hulk was before entering the harbour. As this cleanup was taking place, helicopters from the small dockside heliport spiralled above us whilst transpacific jets slide along an invisible bannister into the city’s airport beyond the hills, the pilots making short work of Wellington’s famous ever-present wind.

The weekend’s local Dominion Post newspaper reports that Americans and Europeans working on kiwi Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong are raving about Wellington and the surrounding countryside, just as Sir Ian McEllern and others working on Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy did before them. Sadly and almost inevitably, they compare it with California and Hawaii, though to my mind and many others, I think that to do so is to ignore the unique feel of ‘differentness’ there is about Wellington. With a strong showing of public art around the area and carved tablets of poetry dotted here and there, not to mention the Te Papa museum, events centre and the many bars and restaurants, it is easy to see how the city’s waterfront captures not only peoples’ imagination, but their hearts too.

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