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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 5 (August 1, 1936)

Romantic Wellington — Paradise For Poets And Painters

page 19

Romantic Wellington
Paradise For Poets And Painters.

Hers the pride of place
In shop and mart, no languid beauty she
Spreading her soft limbs among dreaming flowers,
But rough and strenuous, red with rudest health,
Tossing her blown hair from her eager eyes
That look afar, filled with the gleam of power,
She stands the strong queen city of the south.

Photo W. Hall Raine The hub of Wellington, New Zealand. Upper Featherston Street, showing the General Post Office on left.

Photo W. Hall Raine
The hub of Wellington, New Zealand. Upper Featherston Street, showing the General Post Office on left.

I Wonder what “Old Nosey,” as the privates of the Line used to call the Iron Duke, would say if he could “look in” at the city that was named after him. He would find a total absence of civic pride. By comparison with Auckland, Christchurch, or Dunedin, and Waipukurau and Naseby, he would find that the residents of the capital city had very little audible affection for their town. Their motto seems mostly to be, “I'm but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” This is mainly because the population is so largely exotic. It is a town of exiles, largely recruited from other places. As it is the Head Office for all Government Departments and practically all large business organisations, there is a substantial proportion of executives; but, as is natural, they have been promoted very often from all parts of the Dominion, and remain faithful, as a rule, to the “Old Home Town.” When there is an inter-provincial Rugby match being played, on the Auckland day, the city streets seem to have gone all Wedgewood; they are a mass of blue and white; when Canterbury comes up, the transformation is to black and red; and when Otago plays, Wellington becomes a city of bagpipes and navy blue. The indigenous Wellingtonian seems to go into hiding, and the only times he exhibits sporadic flashes of local patriotism are when he himself is exiled and finds his Cinderella city too profusely assailed in some other place. If tackled at home he mostly says in a detached sort of way, “Oh, not a bad sort of place… I think Haile Selassie is in a bad corner don't you?”

I am not a Wellington native, and I have recently visited several times, every provincial capital, hamlet and large city in the Dominion. I say, as a fact, that Wellington is a city of everlasting beauty, of romantic loveliness, and a quaint old world picturesqueness that cannot be matched even by the galaxy of decorative places with which this Dominion is blessed.

Our four metropolitan centres are largely misdescribed, mostly by their own civic broadcasters. Auckland has become the owner of a name for easygoing ways, summer sport, semitropical gardens and endless bathing beaches on which multitudes of sunbronzed bathers lazily disport themselves. Christchurch has become invested with an atmosphere of English orderliness, profound culture, a semiecclesiastical tone of Gothic architecture, and the leafy quiet of Grantchester. As a matter of fact both of these are busy, bustling, industrial towns of large factories and forceful enterprises. Dunedin started every commercial undertaking of any importance in the Dominion, and has an exciting history of taking business risks of more than ordinary danger. Its reputation for caution, frugality and solidity, is the exact opposite of its record as one of the greatest centres of mining speculation the world ever saw.

Wellington seems to have been mostly occupied in contemplation of all this feverish activity, indifferent to its own interests, and seeing the life of the Dominion as a whole.

This cosmopolitanism is admirable, in some ways, but it has defects. The true blue Wellington citizen is totally uninformed about his own place of residence. How many know of the quaintly beautiful first commercial building in the city? I doubt if many of them know the whereabouts of Lombard and Cornhill Streets. Yet a few seconds from Willis Street or Manners Street, there stands this wooden building with the superscription “Bethune & Hunter, Established 1840.” The roof is of grey tiles, the iron chimney pops out of its original concrete base, a friendly black cat is the commissionaire of the foyer, and fires in open fireplaces blaze pleasantly in the old world inner rooms, as they did nearly a century ago. Dray horses in passing give it a friendly glance, but the motor lorries in this narrow lane seem to sniff.

The city heart of Wellington is almost universally attractive. The new ranks of brightly coloured buildings give a new magic of tone and sweetness to the teeming canyons of the town itself. But its real charm is that a turn to the right or left, a short walk, or a quick pilgrimage up a picturesque flight of steps, brings one to another world. The Terrace is a flower area. Two minutes from the page 20
(Rly Publicity Photo.) Wellington presents a beautiful and impressive spectacle by night. This view was taken from the hills overlooking Oriental Bay.

(Rly Publicity Photo.)
Wellington presents a beautiful and impressive spectacle by night. This view was taken from the hills overlooking Oriental Bay.

thronging traffic of Willis Street will bring one to one of the fairyland gardens of New Zealand, the full acre of botanical wonders created by the late Sir R. D. D. McLean. A short tram ride and a stroll of minutes will take you to Wilton's Bush where the “forest primeval” stands in all its dark mystery as it did a thousand years ago. It is a precious possession, this great expanse of ancient tree-growth inside city boundaries. It is unique in New Zealand, if not the world. Indeed, the undulating slopes that rise irregularly from the harbour edge furnish really a wilderness of beauty. Wadestown, for instance, a suburb whose lanes of loveliness turning ever mysteriously up and down and round about, are often like the groves of ancient Greece. There are a dozen suburbs just as attractive, and they all spring suddenly from the flanks of the city itself. Highland Park is one of them, where gracious homes are tucked into hillside sites each with its own set of miniature botanical gardens, terraces, winding walks and lawny slopes. The nature of the terrain gives them seclusion and privacy. The entrance may be by tiny bridge, winding drive, or sharp climb. The variety of them is so overwhelming, the standard of beauty so consistent, and the feeling of entering a bower is so pervading, that after them, suburbs in other cities seem somehow tame, too utilitarian, uniform and artificially planned. There are streets in Karori and Hataitai that wear the raiment of Hollywood; green and open spaces surround the dwellings; trees line the walks; and there is an opulent, careless atmosphere of garden riches. I like the hill suburbs better.

But it is the beach resorts of Wellington that should make it famous. In its heart, and on every side, the sea is close, encompassing, and all pervading. One never hears from its locally born that it is the only city in New Zealand where a busy sunbather can have a large choice of lunch-hour swims; yet Oriental Bay, Evans Bay with its dozen or more little ones, Lyall Bay, and Island Bay, are crowded day after day. A moonlight warm summer night is a sea festival in the heart of Wellington, not on a distant sand. Oriental Bay is full of gracious beauty in the daytime, but at night it goes into exquisite evening dress. The cluster of white lamps on the parade, the throngs of car lights, the effervescing crowd of young and old folk in bathing gowns of all colours, make up a scene that is like the Riviera. Wellington has more hours of sunshine than Naples; how the average growler of the capital would hate to admit that! It is all a matter of familiarity with him, and the seas of the Picton Sounds, West Coast, Gisborne or Tauranga, somehow seem different and superior. I am just afraid that this complex, that the grass across the fence seems greener, is growing in our country. Our instalment of physical comfort has been too stupendous. Our climate is too paradisal. Nature's gifts are in such profusion, so copious and magnificently lavish, that we are getting to the crumpled roseleaf stage. Our devotion to open air recreation is good, but we should display a mite of thankfulness that we live in a country, which upon all the earth's surface, affords the most opportunities of living under the blue skies of day and the silver stars of night, without any discomfort worth mentioning.

(Rly Publicity photo.) Wellington an seen from the Kelburn Hills.

(Rly Publicity photo.)
Wellington an seen from the Kelburn Hills.

However, to return to the particular, peculiar and special qualities of Wellington. I propose to describe it as the “World's Prettiest Capital City.” Its industries are many, but their premises are often leavened by sweet surroundings. We show the recreation courts of one great enterprise situate in the very heart of the industrial area. The creeper covered office building with its air of immemorial age is only a step from the city's Chinatown. This latter with its two main thoroughfares, Haining Street and Frederick Street, is known wherever seafaring yarns are spun. Horrors and romance have been written about them to freeze the blood of boys in London suburbs and American hick towns. They are slowly being page 21
(Rly Publicity photo.) The junction of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, Wellington, showing the Cenotaph (centre), and a comer of the Goverment Builings (left).

(Rly Publicity photo.)
The junction of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, Wellington, showing the Cenotaph (centre), and a comer of the Goverment Builings (left).

invaded now by plain respectable factory buildings which stare at their shuttered and mystery-laden little neighbours like respectable dames who have got into the wrong party.

The contrast is all of a piece with the piquancy which is a characteristic of any Wellington street scene. You wheel out of Lambton Quay, past a small everyday corner shop and reach the Turnbull Library. How many citizens exult in the possession of this world-famed storehouse of wonders! One day, the Turnbull Library will be the objective of special pilgrimages of full ships from older lands. It is one of the great book collections of modern times, studded with treasures, priceless, rare, and, in many cases, unique in the world. The value of its contents can hardly be expressed in money. Its overseas visitors are astounded and regard with stupefaction, the serene indifference of the Wellingtonian to this heritage.

As may be imagined from its topography, the city is one of innumerable outlooks. It is arranged like a vast amphitheatre and its dwellings are, for the most part, in the dress circle seats. Its outline can best be seen from a steamer entering the harbour; at night time, it is a twinkling fairyland. In all modesty it can be claimed that the view from Roseneath or the Mount Victoria top road on a calm evening (and there is one now and again) is of surpassing and intoxicating loveliness.

But strangely exciting as the city herself, it is the hinterland of Wellington that, makes it the red-haired girl of all cities from the point of view of scenic beauty. Muritai (“the very sound is muted music on the lips”) and her sister, Day's Bay, are reached by a marine drive which, in the words of an English visitor “make Monaco and Nice look in the steerage class.” The bush clad hills run down near to the water's edge and within a few minutes of pleasant walk,
Oriental Bay, Wellington, on a summer's afternoon.

Oriental Bay, Wellington, on a summer's afternoon.

one can be in the Butterfly Valley. This is a winding dell in which there stand most varieties of the great native trees. The stream is an elfin purling rivulet where “creekstones ring like little gongs” and all the green, secret, unearthly beauty of our bush quietly reveals itself for mile after mile. Up the Hutt Valley and Akatarawa there are many similar sights. There is the maze of bays lying round Paremata, and the sweep of Titahi, and the wandering area of Porirua Harbour with an expanse almost equal to the main sheet of Port Nicholson. This is a launch and yacht owner's paradise.

But it is the “Round Trip” that makes the final revelation. For instance, there is the Khandallah native bush reserve from which a short climb to the top of Mount Kaukau gives a view of the distant shining snows of the Kaikouras, on the one hand, and the crenulated white tops of the Tararuas on the other. All along the hills that border the Hutt Main Road there are dozens of these points of vantage. Then there is the harbour drive. This is a marine parade of a score of miles with a panorama of kaleidoscopic changes and a roll call of twenty named bays, each of them with its own distinctive and essentially different charm. Most of the way on this ride, the South Island is visible across the rolling waters of Cook's Strait. Happy Valley road, which twists and turns back to the city, might be through a Scottish page 22 page 23 glen, and a short climb brings up Brooklyn. This is another superb hilltop suburb. where housewives pause in their dusting to watch the last oil tanker slinking up the harbour waterway. The gardens are ferny and bosky, made for the leprechaun and the goblin of odd and shady corners. From here can be seen the modernistic grace of the tall buildings of the city with an effective rivalry from slender spires. St. Peter's and St. John's in the Willis Street foreground have a slim and pointed grace that has a triumphant spirituality. Here again is the example of the thing that is Wellington's own, the charm of surprise, the aesthetic value of change and irregularity. There is no dull uniformity about the city. Even where attempts have been made to get a studied formal orderliness, as with the chap who tried to study philosophy “cheerfulness keeps breaking in.” Even a carefully planned area like the Lower Hutt, with its lavish display of multi-coloured flower gardens and its tidy hedges and walks, suddenly succumbs to the ways of its winding river and its limpid wayward little tributaries.

I have carefully refrained from mentioning public buildings except that I ask readers to wait until the noble wooden pile of the Government offices is surrounded by green lawns again; by bright parterres and gay borders. Then the most beautiful of all soldiers’ monuments in New Zealand will have its proper setting, and the noble pile of the new Railway Station will lend dignity and massive splendour to the portico of the capital.

Suprema a Situ needs a new translation. Wellington should base its claim on scenic beauty, not on any other qualification. Let its people forget that it is the seat of Government and that it has head offices and big businesses. Wellington is excelled in utilitarian aspects by other centres in New Zealand, and its main claim to fame must rest on the fact that it has been the chosen town for poets who have written more of it than of any other New Zealand place; it is a paradise for painters; a dream place for nature lovers; the Dominion's treasure house of the loveliness which is vagrant, inconsequential and wholly desirable.

Speed, Comfort and Safety.

What is the highest speed at which a single rail-car can run with safety on a well-laid track? (asks the “Railway Gazette”). This question must have been asked whenever it was realised that practically all the diesel or petrol-engined units that have run at over 90 m.p.h. have been of the articulated type with two, three or six vehicles. Yet the highest speed recorded, 143 m.p.h., was made by the Krackenberg car, a six-wheeler without even the supposed advantage of the double-bogie layout. From there we pass down to the 119.5 m.p.h. of the Etat Bugatti, the only other single unit vehicle which has appreciably exceeded the hundred mark. It has been reported that this vehicle has since attained 125 m.p.h. on the same stretch, viz., between Paris and Le Mans. The Burlington Zephyr. U.P.R.R., City of Portland, and the Flying Hamburger, with respective maxima of 112, 112, and 110 m.p.h., are all articulated trains, and we must go down to the 100.2 m.p.h. of the Breda-A.E.C. car on the Italian State Railways before we come to another single-unit running alone. Of the range of articulated trains, the Nord triple-car units have run at 98 m.p.h., the Dutch triple-car sets at 90 m.p.h., the Belgian twin-unit at 88 m.p.h.; both the Flying Yankee on the Boston and Maine railroad and the Comet on the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad have exceeded the hundred mark. Apparently the Danish “Lyntog” Diesel trains are limited by permanent-way conditions, for so far as we are aware they have not exceeded 85 m.p.h. The top speed attained with safety is not as a rule a matter of careful streamlining and the provision of adequate power; it is more particularly dependent upon the suspension, and definite knowledge on this subject for super-speed railway vehicles is not yet in an advanced state. Moreover, the top speed which may be attained without derailment is by no means the maximum which can be attained in conjunction with comfort.

Recreational facilities provided for the employees of one of Wellington's big industrial enterprises.

Recreational facilities provided for the employees of one of Wellington's big industrial enterprises.