Friday, September 11, 2009

Wellington on a good day

It's true you can't live here by chance, You have to do and be, Not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, The world headquarters of the verb-Lauris Edmond

The Wellington waterfront has developed into something Wellingtonians should and are proud of after all they have had a say in its planning and development and hopefully it stays that way. You can walk all the way from the Kumutoto district near the Wellington Railway Station to Oriental Bay and around the corner to the Bays beyond on footpaths. A really keen walker, runner or biker can get all the way to Seatoun on an almost uninterrupted path.

-The picturesque boat houses Oriental Bay

This area is often quite busy whatever the season especially during lunch hour when just as many elect to don running shoes or cycling pants as do a perch on a comfy seat in one of Wellington's many cafes. It has developed quite a lot in the years since we have been global nomads. In fact the area has been almost constantly developing since Wellington was not much more than pegged lots. Way back in 1840 the first sizable reclamations began, starting with an extension below Willis Street.

There was an extra 70 acres of land on Wellington's foreshore by the end of the 1870s although most of it was still privately owned. With the formation of the Wellington Harbour Board just before the turn of the century and reclamations for railway by the City Council, land on the waterfront became public. It is possible to trace the original shoreline using the 14 plaques the Historic Places Trust has placed from Pipitea Point, along Lambton Quay, Mercer Street, Lower Cuba Street, Wakefield Street and finally to Oriental Parade.

A walk along todays waterfront takes you past eateries, museums, pieces of visual and written art and landscaping with intention.

Then out of the tunnel and Wellington burst like a bomb. It opened like a flower was lit up like a room, explained itself exactly, became the capital... - Maurice Gee

From Chaffers Marina to Frank Kitts Park, there are a series of concrete plaques inscribed with quotations from New Zealand writers, who have all lived in Wellington at some time. Writers such as Katherine Mansfield, Bill Manhire, Robin Hyde, Maurice Gee, Patricia Grace and Bruce Mason.

This town of ours kind of flattened across the creasesof an imaginary map a touch of the parchment surrealism here no wonder the lights are wavering all over the place tonight not a straight town at all- Fiona Kidman

The quotations recognise and celebrate the significance our windy city has had in their lives. There is a map which you can get free from libraries, book shops, and information centres, that shows you where the extracts are or you can simply walk and happen upon or even sit on the passages. Of the fifteen citations three are on seats. I love the idea of sitting first and then finding the bench you are on has been gifted with more meaning than just a spot to watch the world go by. You can't help but be inspired by the poetic illustrations of the city, the heart and the r-e-s-p-e-c-t with which it is gifted by some of it's most elloquent.

Then with the coming of darkness the bay opened up beneath us, a shell splashed with beads of light...- Marilyn Duckworth

Walking along the waterfront takes you past sculpture with both function and form, traditional and contemporary. This is called 'Solace in the wind' and is on loan for a year. It is the work of Max Patte, a senior sculptor at Weta Workshop, who visited this very spot on the waterfront when he first arrived in Wellington to lessen his homesickness and loneliness. It's about surrendering to the elements. The man leans into the wind, palms and chest open and quietly rusts in yellow and orange striations painted by the conditions.

This is a much older and more conventional kind of sculpture. I remember when Kupe- the first to reach New Zealand and return home about a thousand years ago- his wife Hine and the tohunga (priest) stood in the dark foyer of the Central Railway Station a morning amid a mix of Wellington's school uniforms and grey corporate suits. The great navigators gaze is now more appropriately fixed across the harbour, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, towards Matiu, Makaro and Mokopuna Islands that he named after his daughters (or nieces depending on which version you have been told). The tinest, Mokopuna, means simply, grandchild.

The City to Sea Bridge connects Civic Square and the Financial district with the waterfront. On the 'city' side is the Central Library, The City Gallery (which was closed for renovation) and the Michael Fowler Centre. Suspended 14 metres above the square in the centre is a huge silver sphere, 3 1/2 metres in diameter. Created by Neil Dawson, the sphere uses the Silver Fern, an internationally recognisable New Zealand icon, as a link to Athfields Nikau Palms. Strung up by barely visible wires it appears to hang in the sky like the moon, its delicate fronds picking up light and shadow to give it form without dominating the space.

The Bridge itself is alluded to rather than seen from the square. Marked by a split pyramid, 'Te Aho a Maui', Maui's line, symbolising the mountains tumbling down to the sea, is Para Machitt's 'How we got here', metal birds and stars hanging in the heavens just as they did when the Maori used them to steer their way across the Pacific towards this land.

The timber sculptured bridge, which crosses busy Jervois Quay, is Machitt's design too. It's wedge shape represents the prow of a waka pointing out to the sea. The wood ages and changes with time, absorbs the noise and fumes from the road beneath and provides a transition between the glass and mortar of the city's buildings and the tidal ebb and flow of the sea before it.

The Boatshed on the sea side of the Bridge, an Historic Places Trust building, was originally built as a boat-house for the Wellington Naval Artillery Volunteers in 1894. It became the first ambulance station of the Wellington Free Ambulance in 1927 who adapted it to house four cars, a casualty room, as well as the superintendants private accommodation up stairs. When they moved out in 1931 the Wellington Rowing Club took it over as their club house and storage for their boats. They have remained there ever since. Sometime during the winter months of 1986 it was where a class full of freezing cold Queen Margaret school girls learned to roll our canoes while keeping a close eye on the cat sized water rats that lived in the murky depths.

Further around on Oriental Bay, scene of stolen sunny afternoons that should have been spent in the classroom, is 'Tail of the Whale' by Colin Webster-Watson. For Wellington, in it's place at the bottom of the North Island, is, according to legend, the tale of the great whale, Te Ikaroa a Maui, that formed Aotearoa.

The Wellington waterfront is a living, breathing, functioning part of the city. Open to Wellington's notoriously windy squalls but also, on a good day, irresistibly bathed in glorious Wellington sunshine.

I couldn't resist this shot- I think it sums up Wellington perfectly.


Sarah Lee said...

What stunning, arty photographs you took of your walk along Wellington's waterfront. Even though I've walked it a hundred times, I never tire of it and still loved reading your post. There is so much creativity and action along the waterfront, with no day the same and everyone's perception on any one day different. Your last photograph of the office worker busy on his phone in front of the kayak is indeed very apt!

Tanya said...

Thanks Sarah it is till one of my favourite places- in the world.