The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)
Wellington by Night An Impression
Like a green-waving meadow, lies the bay,
With blossom-sails and flower-wavelets flecked.
Elate she stands; her brown and wind-blown hair
Haloes a face with virgin freshness fair,
As she receives, exuberant, erect,
The stubborn homage that her sisters pay.
There is something which Wellingtonians could be more mindful of than they are, something which should more frequently arouse in them their civic pride, something which is greater than any one building in Wellington because it is the massed effect of them all, and which transforms their city into one of mystic beauty. It is the view of Wellington by night.
Leading up from Salamanca Road and around the back of Victoria University is a by-path frequently used by foot passengers from Kelburn. Walk up there on a storm-tossed night and you will see Wellington—Wellington as it really is, with that distinctive individuality which places it apart.
* * *
It is the eve of a great sporting event. A south-easterly wind has whipped up suddenly from Cook Strait bringing with it rain, and despondency for all sports enthusiasts. As the wintry sun sinks below Tinakori the great stream of visitors for the match commences to flow into the city. Now it is quite dark. The southerly wind is more squally and it has broken the cloud into great dark banks fringed with light. Behind them a great half-moon on her back scuds through the sky like a speedboat in a choppy sea. Turning towards the harbour I behold a vision greater than Khubla Khan, because it is a reality.
The harbour is a blank—a great black patch completely blotted out in a rain squall. The blood red sign of the radio station on Mount Victoria hangs suspended in the velvety darkness. The tiny glow-worm lights of the Hutt Valley with a blinking green one in their midst lie like star dust, seven miles away, and these are joined to the city by a living string of light fringing the harbour, made up of hundreds of motor cars all moving into Wellington along the Hutt Road.
Wellington may not boast the extensive vistas of great buildings which some of her Australian sisters display, but here in this small space is a whole world of cities. Broadway is shown in the line of Manners Street and Courtenay Place with its Neon signs and flashing theatre lights. Arrows of light shoot up and burst into bunches of stars, liquid light pours from a bottle which never empties, a multi-coloured flag waves in the breeze, and a hurtling railway train complete with smoke and steam travels at fifty miles an hour and never falls into the street below.
Piccadilly is depicted in Willis Street where the concentrated traffic makes a band of light in the dark.
A reminder of Buenos Aires is found in Lambton Quay with its storied buildings dimly seen, flood-hit towers, and wide thoroughfares.
To the north-east, at Lambton, is the new Railway Station. The long wings are illuminated in a warm brick-red floodlight. The massive central colonnade is bathed in yellow picked out by white lights, and one has a dim glimpse of the massive chandelier in the Booking Hall inviting one inside and giving depth to the scene. The effect is that of some great ballroom in Paris.
At the wharves great ships are outlined in white and yellow incandescence and the gaunt arms of the cranes and the plumes of white steam disappear suddenly into the blackness above.
Turning to the south I see the great basin of Newtown lined with lights and—silent above them all—the Light of Remembrance on the War Memorial Carillon with the flood-lit frontage of the National Art Gallery behind.
I gaze awhile and then look straight above me. There, is a sight which transcends all this man-made glory. Have you ever seen a cloud mist so thin that the feeble stars shine through it? A cloud mist shot with silver, fringed with gold, and in a background of the infinite sky where the lanes of stars stretch out into the eternal?
In a moment it was all gone and a biting rain squall drove me reluctantly home.
* * *
A hundred years ago the south wind rushed up from the Straits as it does to-day, and the moon dashed through the cloud flecks as it does on any wind-swept night. A hundred years ago the great shape of Tinakori dominated the waters of “Te-Whanganui-a-Tara” even as it does to-day. To the astronomer a hundred years is but a tiny cycle in the sweeping journeys of the stars. To the geologist it is but a moment. Only when it is measured against the lives of human beings does a century become an appreciable length of time.
So then, in what short time has the change from “Te-Whanganui-a-Tara” to the throbbing bustling city of Wellington taken place, but how many hopes, struggles, and dreams of a lifetime have gone into the making of it.
As the centenary of this city approaches, its citizens would do well to ponder on these things and remember, when they walk some night out of a darkling labyrinthine street into all the glory and poetry of light which is Wellington by night, that it is only a step back to the dark bush-clad hills and cold bottomless waters of “Te-Whanganui-a-Tara.”