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.
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.
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.
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.
History in New Zealand tends to be much shorter than it is elsewhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.