adversity Architecture Aro Valley Cook Strait Landscapes Light Maritime Weather Wellington

November 12, 2015 … through a glass darkly*

Heavy mist wreathed the city again.

Aro Valley
I am sure it is a much loved family home, but I prefer a wider view from my windows

My picture search took me to the Aro Valley and some of the narrow winding side streets which give views down into the shaded places. Aro Valley is a quirky corner of Wellington, a place with a Bohemian reputation. Regardless of lifestyle choices, it would never be on my list of preferred suburbs because it is so deep in the hills that the houses are in shade for most of the day.

“This ole house once rang with laughter, this ole house heard many shouts”**

Nevertheless there are some interesting fragments of Wellington’s working-class history in here that deserve to be preserved. Some however, would need a very large investment to restore their former glory. The almost paint-less example here has a front door with no stairs, though it does seem to have been re-roofed in living memory.

Whoosh … whoosh … whoosh. The blades could be heard long before the cloud thinned enough for them to be seen.

Against all logic, I went uphill from there, perhaps in the hope of a view above the clouds. Alas, it was thicker up there, and the soon-to-be-replaced wind turbine’s blades were swishing mostly unseen in the murk. Now and then the mist would tin out and I grabbed a shot.

Straitsman in the mist … thank heavens for radar

Down on the South Coast at Owhiro Bay, the mist spread out into the strait and  the ghostly pale outline of the Straitsman moved silently in the direction of Picton.

More clarity will be sought tomorrow.


  • 1 Cor 13
  • ** This Ole House, by Stuart Hamblen
Architecture Aro Valley Wellington

March 25, 2015 … old Wellington

History in New Zealand tends to be much shorter than it is elsewhere.

Aro valley
Essex Street in the Aro Valley, with houses cascading over the hill in the background

As a town, Wellington didn’t exist prior to 1865. In its early days, prior to reclamation in the central city and the expansion to Northern Suburbs, dwellings were erected first in the places that were easiest to get to, nearest to the city centre. Anyone who wants to get a sense of old Wellington should read the various works of Pat Lawlor (1893 – 1979) who really brings the colonial town to life. He is to the literature of early Wellington as E.M. Blaicklock was to Auckland’s Western suburbs. Wonderful writers both.  But I digress. I went for a wander in the back streets of the Aro Valley yesterday, enjoying warm sunshine and relative stillness.

Aro St
Shoehorned together in old Wellington

Houses spread from the relative flatness of each valley floor up the steep sides. Houses of the working classes were built cheek by jowl, on increasingly difficult sections. In the first half of the twentieth century there was a tendency to larger sections and almost every new house had a quarter acre section in which families could raise children or vegetables as they chose. In its founding days, Wellington did not have the luxury of accessible flat land and houses were crammed close together.

This vertical retaining wall does not look as if it is up to the job. There is a house above it.

It seems a miracle that some of these houses have survived Wellington’s frequent storms and its susceptibility to significant earth tremors. There is visible evidence that things have moved or are moving.

Devon St
Nice paint jobs on Devon street, Wellington’s narrowest and twistiest street

Not all is decay, though, and there are some rather beautiful restorations to be seen. My main regret in these cases is that the electricity and telephone wires were not put underground. Perhaps precisely because of our seismicity, they clutter the landscape with unsightly webs of wire. And then of course there are the satellite dishes, one for each subscriber.

These rickety steps are the only access to three or four houses

My eldest son used to live in a student flat (US = apartment) in this area, and I did some nostalgic wandering, recalling being conscripted to help with relocations, and shuddering at the memory of lugging household appliances up or down the steep and ramshackle steps that characterize the area.

Good night all.

Architecture Aro Valley Birds

November 28, 2013 … in the depths of the city

Parts of Wellington are strange to me.

Aro Valley, Wellington
The sun has gone behind those hills some while ago. No hope to dry the washing outside now

Strange in the sense that I am unfamiliar with them. If truth be told, however, I find some of them strange in other ways. The Aro Valley seems to meet both of those criteria.

I know that there is a village within the city in the Aro Valley, and people who live there will defend it to the death.  The Valley sits between very steep hills, and the houses get a much more constrained ration of direct sunlight than most other suburbs. There are houses from which the sun has gone by 3pm in mid summer, and much earlier in the winter.

Aro Valley houses
Character abounds


As a suburb, it is not so much Bohemian as idiosyncratic. People seem to march to a different drummer up there. This should not be construed as a bad thing. It is merely different. True, some houses seem to be neglected and in desperate need of remedial work.

Bright scheme
The bright paint seems to add light and colour to a deeply shaded street

Other houses are clearly their owners’ pride and joy, but present themselves in a way that would not fit so well in other, more conservative suburbs.

Newer houses are easy to detect
Perfectly even machine-made boards and long run coloursteel roofs identify the newcomers

Parts of the valley have been the target of developers, and in an area already known for its tightly compact land use, new housing blocks make an attempt to mimic the colonial cottages. They are about as effective in this as BMW’s monstrous caricatures of Issigonis’s masterpiece, the Mini. There is a hint of similarity, but it stops at the broad outline.

Tui on flax
Pollen on the forehead suggests this has been going on for a while

At home later in the evening, tuis were making good use of the abundant flax flowers. Expect more of these shots. This one was taken through glass, so I hope to improve.

More tomorrow, though Mary and I are off to Queenstown.

Architecture Aro Valley Kelburn Wellington

November 16, 2013 … taking the broad view

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Aro Street
These are amongst the oldest houses in Wellington

The cliché is no less true for photographers. I mounted my wide-angle lens yesterday and went roaming in the lower end of the Aro Valley. The wide -angle was used all afternoon.  The Aro Valley is quaint, sometimes a bit run down, but is slowly becoming “gentrified”. Whether or not the wide-angle view does it justice is for you to say.

Epuni St
The newcomer is not too out of place

In nearby Epuni Street, a modern, somewhat quirky new building is completely different to all of its aged neighbours, yet somehow, is not out of place.

Easterfield building, Victoria University of Wellington
My old office is concealed by that awning

Next, I went up the absurd winding road that is Devon Street. This narrow goat track not only allows two-way traffic, but also permits parking. Despite signs warning that it is unsuitable for long vehicles, the occasional bus driver decides to give it a try, only to end up jammed in the steepest tightest corner. I have seen a crane called in to lift a stranded bus round the curve.  At the top of the hill I found myself in familiar territory, at the Kelburn campus of Victoria University of Wellington. The Easterfield building was my workplace for about three years before our school moved downtown to the Pipitea Campus. Since then, the old Quad has been demolished to make way for the splendid new “hub”. The ground floor of the Easterfield building now contains “Vic Books”, a shiny cafe/bookshop that replaces the old bookshop in the student union building.  A Sushi shop is on the uphill side where there used to be a gate between Easterfield and the McLaurin lecture theatres.

"The Hub" Victoria University
If you went to Vic, this is where the Quad used to be … the brick building through the windows is “Old Kirk” and the library is off to the right, Easterfield to the left.

Inside, the place is eerily empty … just a few staff, and post-grad students as it is now in the post-exam period with the summer trimester about to start. Those who remember the bleak and windswept Siberian wasteland that used to be the Quad will hear their jaws drop at the luxury that is now the centre of student life on campus.

Kelburn Parade outsire the Easterfield building
Interesting cloud formation

Across the road, are the old houses which house a number of small departments and teaching spaces. For a while I had a rather grand office in the grey building visible immediately in front of the bus. The bus driver was very suspicious of my photography activities and got out own his point-and-shoot camera so that he knew who had taken his photo. I am guessing he thought I might be a company spy.

Behind the high-rise buildings on the Terrace
The pink colour in the centre is that netting they use to shroud workers on scaffolding

From there it’s all downhill, and a steep hill at that. Bolton street was always a challenge to walk up which was why I rarely did it. It offers a nice view of the back of the CBD as the motorway into the city passes behind the Terrace. I liked the clouds.

Hikoikoi reserve
The clouds again

My last stop of the day was at Hikoikoi reserve. This is a panoramic stitch of five images still with the wide angle in portrait orientation. The boatsheds are quite a little village. The one thing missing is our favourite heron, George.

It’s a bleak day today so who knows what will emerge.