Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Free Day in Windy Welly

I am happy to report that last night I slept in a nice warm bed with a sheet and a comforter. I'm also slightly amused to report that in a room with eight beds, I was the only girl! Hmm. An interesting situation, but I was fine with it. I just made sure I was the first one in the morning to hit the en-suite shower.

The Waterloo Hotel, now the home of
Downtown Backpackers

I spent my free day here in Wellington wandering around the city... and let me tell you, they don't call Wellington "Windy Welly" for nothing! I pulled my hoodie over my head and buttoned up the hood on my jacket to stop myself from getting an unpleasant headache from the stabbing cold of the winds.

All whiners about gas princes in Canada
take note... even with the exchange rate,
petrol is still more expensive in New Zealand!

Some buildings in Wellington literally look
like they have been compacted due to
the lack of land along the waterfront.

'In Mary's Name' (thank you, Latin 101)

My first destination (quel surprise) was the Wellington City Cable Car, which runs every ten minutes and takes one on 628m of track from Lambton Quay to Kelburn, ascending 119m. Originally opened in 1902, the purpose of the cable car was to open development of Kelburn for houses by providing a convenient means of travelling up the hill. Today, in addition to being used by residents of Kelburn and students at the university, it's a popular tourist attraction, although it wasn't particularly busy when I visited (the wind and it being early October likely had a lot to do with that). It costs $3 to ride up the hill ($6 return), and one ascends through several tunnels (which I later learned were lined with bricks made by prisoners on work detail from the local gaol).

This way to Cable Car Country!

The cable car ascends the hill to Kelburn

The view of Wellington Harbour from the top of the hill

I love the multi-coloured roofs.

At the top of the hill is the Cable Car museum, located in the old winding house (the old winding gear from the original cable car system that operated from 1902-1978 is restored and operating in the basement). The winding gear was originally powered by steam, but in 1933 was replaced by two electric motors; in fact, an expansion of the museum is built where the steam plant used to be situated, and the elevator to the winding gear in the basement is located exactly where the old steam stack used to be. The Museum also contains two restored cable cars; one to how it looked when it was taken out of service in 1978, and the other (Grip Car #3) to how it looked in 1905, one year after it went into service. While in the Museum I ran into several people from the Mainline Steam Tour; as one of them said dryly, sidling up beside me, "Ah, I see, birds of a feather flock together..."

Restored Grip Car #3

An explanation of the gripman's controls

Inside the historic winding room

Also located the top of the hill is the Wellington Botanic Garden, originally established in 1868. Showing considerable foresight, the early settlers of Wellington set aside the Botanic Gardens as a green space and ecological preserve (one area is relatively untouched and gives an idea of the original vegetation of the area before European colonization). In my patriotic Canadian way I think the Butchart Gardens are better, but (granting that I was visiting in what is effectively early spring) the Botanic Gardens have a charm all their own. A lot of that charm comes from their location: situated on the slopes of a hill between Thorndon and Kelburn, there is a lot of up and down and winding paths through the 25 hectares, allowing one to spend several hours clambering around through forest, grassy knolls, and walking past the streams and ponds, as well as enjoying the cultivated gardens (the rose gardens weren't much this time of year, but the tulips were beautiful).

Tulips in bloom

I sat on the bench on the right and read for a while.

Wildflowers and daffodils

This (to me) looks like it could have been taken in BC.

Curled fiddleheads, or koru in Maori, representing
new life, growth, strength, and peace.

I explored the gardens until 2:30, and then headed back up the hill through the gardens and then down it again on the Cable Car to downtown Wellington, and simply wandered the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. Wellington is very compact, reminding me of Hong Kong: there isn't a lot of space between the harbour and the start of the hillside, and as a result everything is squashed into one small space. This proved to work to my disadvantage, however, when I went to find a supermarket; I eventually located a New World on Willis Street, its ground floor entrance hidden by a 90ยบ turn. I stocked up on few groceries for the next couple of days (mmm, bananas and noodles) and then headed back toward the hostel, detouring to take photos of the Parliament buildings and the Railway Station.

Fern ball sculpture in Civic Square

Wellington Parliament Buildings

Inside Wellington's railway station

Main corridor of the railway station

Tomorrow I am back on the Steam Tour... we are booked on the 8:25am ferry over to the South Island, where we will once again be reunited with our train. My excitement in the morning will be finding the shuttle from the railway station (thankfully located right across the street) to the Interislander ferry terminal. Seeing as I am tired and have to be up early tomorrow, I am off to bed. Night!


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