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Whanganui Marlborough Sounds

27th December 2011

A Walk Around Windy Welly and Finding Old St Paul's

Wellington Harbour from the Botanic Gardens
Cabbage Tree
    The camp entertainment had started in the early hours apparently, but being at the far end of site, I missed it all. It starred Biffo the buffoon who went ballistic with the Bash Street Kids, and nearly came to blows. He and his family wanted some peace and quiet for the night and early hours, but the mob wanted loud noise and unadulterated mayhem.
    I got the lowdown from the owner in the morning, as he went about emptying bottles, food and God knows what from the hot tub and pool. He had to turf one youth out in the early hours, and the rest of the gang did a lot of trashing to show their appreciation. I gave the owner my commiserations. Morons are universal I guess.
    I popped over to see Roger and Fay, thanked them for sharing Christmas lunch and their time with me, and wished them well for the future. Then I hit the road for a 4.5 hours drive. I ploughed down SH1 along the Kapiti Coast, passing Kapiti Island, a predator-free environment, now home to many rare birds. The warm climate and relaxed lifestyle of this area had given birth to a luxurious style of country life; there were olive groves and feature gardens. Widening roads and denser traffic flow indicated I was approaching a large conurbation. 10km after Porinia, the road became an urban motorway, merging with SH2 in the process. I soon found myself surrounded by green hills, with a glistening waterfront to my left; I had arrived into the centre of Wellington.
    Compared to the urban sprawl of Auckland, Wellington appeared to be a little gem: predominantly built upon reclaimed land, nestled in between bush draped hills and a magnificent harbour. The strong breeze also underlined its reputation as New Zealand's windy city, Windy Welly, fed by the chilled air funnelled through the Cook Strait.
     Kupe discovered the natural harbour around 950 AD. Abel Tasman and Captain Cook sailed past the entrance, unable to enter due to the fierce winds. Settlers first arrived in the 1840s, and illegal buying of land by the New Zealand Company followed, the repercussions of which are still being played out. The city lies on ten major fault lines, and in 1855, a major earthquake raised some new land, which kick started a lengthy reclamation program. Wellington began to prosper, and due to its central location, took over the role of the nation's capital from Auckland in 1865. The city took its name from Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), victor of the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke's title comes from the town of Wellington in the county of Somerset, England.
Wooden Houses in Thorndon Village
    A sad fact for Wellington, campsites were located inconveniently far outside easy transport distance into the city, but the couple I had met in Opunake had stated that it is possible to overnight park outside the Te Papa museum, free of charge, and toilets and showers were located nearby. Armed with that information, I headed straight for the Te Papa car park, to find that I could park for 24 hours for $21 (that is far cheaper than major towns in Britain). However, a firm warning also stood out - "No Overnight Camping".
Old St Paul's Church
    This was understandably a bit of a blow. How could the English couple who lived in Wellington have got it wrong? They certainly can't have tried it for themselves. A sign at the car park did say that motorhomes could overnight park up near the ferry terminal. I went off to investigate, calling in at the Bluebridge ferry office to check the status of tickets at the moment. "I'm sorry, but there aren't any day tickets left now until after the weekend. You could keep coming back on standby in case somebody cancels. However, if you would be prepared to travel on a 02:30 ferry, we might be able to get you in earlier. Most people book up in advance," said the young woman. I'm sure they do, but I don't want to lock myself into time frames. I decided to go explore and sort out the transport side of things later.
Parliament Buildings
    I walked the short distance to the site where motorhomes could be parked overnight. I tapped on the door of the office, and a guy eating a sandwich beckoned me in. After introducing myself, I tried it on with, "I have a car which has a motor in it, and I also live in it, so would you classify that as a motorhome?" "Afraid not, that is still classified as a car," came the expected reply. He was an easy going, friendly and helpful chap, who advised me that even though the signs in the Te Papa car park state "No Overnight Camping", nobody ever enforces it. As long as I had a valid parking ticket, they couldn't care less. How did he know that? Because he is employed by the same company.
    I was now faced with a dilemma, do I trust this guy, or do I drive miles out of the city to find a campsite. I had done enough driving for the day, so I made the decision to buy a 24 hour ticket, and if I do get caught out, try the ploy that I met some blokes, had one beer too many, and had wisely chosen not to drive. It took some nerve, particularly knowing that I would be effectively "freedom camping" in the middle of the capital city. I have been known to do stupid things.
View From Mount Victoria      (please use scroll bar)

    I drove back to Te Papa car park, bought a 24 hour ticket, and decided to make a circular tour around the city, taking the easy option of starting at the top and working my way down. The obvious departure point would be the 121m high Botanic Gardens, by way of a cable-car to get me to the top; OK so it's cheating. My first splendid view across Wellington Harbour came from the upper terminus; green swathes of land surrounded by turquoise seas. I was glad I took the cable-car since these stunning gardens were decidedly hilly. Despite the challenging terrain, the displays of exotic forest, flower gardens and ponds were truly magnificent, and all within easy reach of the city. The warmth and sunshine today made them very popular with locals and tourists alike.
    I picked up the long straight Tinakori Road, and headed northeast. The top part that I passed through was known as Thorndon Village, where the preponderance of wooden buildings along the street arose from the discovery during 19th century earthquakes that wooden buildings survived much better than stone buildings. In addition, with land being at a premium, slim and tall buildings have been the order of the day. The official residence of the prime minister had been at No. 260 Tinakori Road, Premier House, since 1865. Originally a small cottage, it had since been revamped to be more befitting the nation's leader - indeed some UK politicians have had duck houses as big as cottages! Sadly the Premier House was surrounded by a premier fence and premier trees and foliage, so much so that I couldn't get a premier view. Pictures I have seen of it show the house to be nothing special, but there again foreigners looking at a picture of 10 Downing Street might think of it as a glorified terrace house. No. 25 Tinakori Road was where writer Katherine Mansfield was born in 1888, and spent the first five years of her life. She emigrated to Europe in 1908, and died in France of tuberculosis aged 32.
Cuba Street
    Crossing the motorway, I headed down Mulgrave Street to visit Old St. Paul's Church. This fine old building was consecrated in 1866, and despite attempts to have it demolished in the 1960s, it had survived and remained popular for weddings. It was easy to see why. The beautiful interior was built by craftsmen from native timber in early English Gothic style. Dazzling light falling through the glorious stained-glass windows painted rainbow patterns over the polished brass plaques and pews. I had a chat with the lady who was in charge of the desk at the entrance, who gave an informative potted history of the church. She had moved here from Windsor 17 years ago. Her husband had died here, and she decided to stay here rather than return to relatives back in the UK. We talked about this and that, and I learned that preserving the heritage hasn't always been on the top of the country's agenda. However, since tourism is now becoming a major source of income for the country, efforts are now being made to promote heritage sites. I rattled off the saga of the heritage trail along the Forgotten World Highway, and she advised me to write a letter to the minister in charge of tourism. If I thought it would do any good, I would, but I am an old cynic. She told me the funny story of how when the queen was last here, she refused to venture out onto the Cook Strait in the Royal Yacht Britannia, since when she last did that as a child, she had had a bad experience.
    I wandered across to the Parliament district, normally brimming with suited-up civil servants, but deserted so soon after Christmas. Here the neoclassical Parliament House stood, flanked by the Gothic-influenced Parliament Library and Executive Wing building. The latter was commonly referred to as The Beehive, for obvious reasons when seen. It was designed by British architect, Sir Basil Spence, and seemed to share the same reputation as Marmite; you either love it or hate it. The 1876 Government Buildings opposite were designed to look like stone, but were actually the second largest wooden building in the world (after Japan's Todaji Temple). The nearby Wellington Cathedral of St Paul was a bland, muddy pink monstrosity, with no charisma at all compared to the Old St Paul's Church.
    A short detour through the vibrant inner city took me to Cuba Street, littered with trendy coffee houses, hip bars, restaurants and boutiques. I partook in coffee for a while, content to savour a session of people watching, absorbing the divergent lifestyles.
    The waterfront has been transformed into a graceful promenade with shops, restaurants, activities and elegant landscaping making it a real draw card for visitors and locals alike.
    To get a better appreciation of the lay of the land, I made my way up the 194m Mount Victoria. From its summit I surveyed the compact city stretched below me. Narrow, precipitous, winding roads climbed the surrounding hills, providing the arteries to Victorian and Edwardian weatherboard villas and bungalows, bounded by an encircling belt of parks and woodland. A few kilometres southeast, the runway of Wellington Airport was stretched taut between its watery end stops of Evans Bay and Lyall Bay. A large hill had to be removed and twenty odd acres reclaimed during its construction. I gazed for a while, preoccupied with the intricacies of the notorious tricky landings that the aircraft were having to undertake.
    I returned back to the city centre, explored around some more until dusk arrived, and returned back to my car to settle down for the night. When in a campsite and need the toilet in the night, I could go and visit it. In the bush I would visit the bush. But here my fear was if I needed to use a toilet; all city toilets are closed during the night.

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Whanganui Marlborough Sounds

Uploaded from Top 10 campsite, Blenheim on 29th December at 17:30

Last updated 29.12.2011