Sunday, 10 January 2016

Christmas Day City Ride

Christmas Day 2015 was a beautiful day – sparkling sunshine, warm and no wind. As our daughter and her family would not be joining us until a few days after Christmas, we were free to make the most of this one day of the year, on which the city would be completely empty – ideal for biking in places where we would not normally go.

So after pleasant lunchtime drinks and nibbles at my sister’s, we headed into town with our e-bikes in the back of the car.

We parked in Hobson Street, in Thorndon, and biked towards Parliament grounds. One of the aims was to see the large pohutukawa in the grounds, which I was hoping would be in full flower. It is a huge tree, and when it is in full flower, it is a magnificent sight. It has a personal significance for me, as it somehow reminds me of my mother, who died just before Christmas ten years ago. Unfortunately, the pohutukawas seem to be flowering later than usual this year, and this special tree hadn’t even started yet. We would have to try again in a week or so.

To our surprise, we found the Parliament buildings covered in scaffolding and sheathed in shrink wrap plastic and blue netting. Presumably maintenance will be carried out during the summer break.

Parliament buildings are closed for the summer break, but there must be activity in the Beehive,
as the flag is flying on top of it 

Right next to Parliament is the Parliamentary Library. When first completed in 1899, it was called the General Assembly Library. The building was damaged by fire in 1907 and in 1992. It was completely refurbished in 1995. It is a handsome building, with a lovely rose garden in front of it.

The Parliamentary Library

View from the Parliamentary Library steps. The big pohutukawa in the middle of the grounds
 is still devoid of flowers (photo by John)

At the other end of Parliament grounds, we looked down at the Wellington Cenotaph, or Citizens’ War Memorial – the scene of Anzac Day commemorations on 25 April every year.

The Cenotaph – the area around the memorial has recently been
extended and beautified (photo by John)

Beautiful pohutukawas near the path going down to the Cenotaph (photo by John)

We rode into town, and had the thrill of biking down a completely empty Featherston Street. This thoroughfare is usually full of parked cars, and continuous traffic. The only car we saw was a taxi dropping a fare.

Featherston Street was completely empty (photo by John)

We biked up Victoria Street, using the newly installed cycle lane. We crossed Karo Drive, where John stopped to take a photo of a sculpture that looks like the skeleton of an unfinished house. It is called “Subject to Change”, and was created by Regan Gentry in 2009. 

Subject to Change”, a 2009 sculpture by Regan Gentry (photo by John)

It is in an area that has undergone a lot of change in the last decade with the construction of the Wellington inner city bypass, which has necessitated the removal of many heritage houses, giving rise to a lot of protest from local, and not so local, residents.

As we were waiting to cross Taranaki Street, John took a photo of the historical former Defense Headquarters Building. Its windows displayed photographs of World War One soldiers. These were some of the “Berry Boys” – forgotten photos that were discovered in the 1980s in a cupboard in the former premises of the portrait studio Berry & Co, which took photos of young men about to go off to war. It is not known who these boys were, and Te Papa has an ongoing project to discover their identities. 

The historical former Defense Headquarters with portraits of “The Berry Boys” (photo by John)

On the same photo, you can see traffic emerging from the Arras Tunnel. The inner city bypass now runs beneath the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. The Arras Tunnel was named to honour the wartime efforts of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in the French town of Arras during the First World War.

Though the memorial park was completed last April, in time for the Anzac Day Commemorations, we had not seen it yet. It is an awe-inspiring and significant place.

Dominating the park is the Australian Memorial, which celebrates the close association between New Zealand and Australia. It consists of 14 huge columns of red sandstone, with inset panels of polished and carved granite.

The Australian Memorial … (photo by John)

… commemorates the close association between Australia and New Zealand – ANZAC

At the other end of the open space, close to the Carillon and Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, is a beautiful sculpture of a faceless woman in a Māori cloak. This is “Hinerangi, Woman of the Infinite Sky” by Darcy Nicholas. It is a tribute to all of the women and children lost or forgotten as a result of war. It is a simply beautiful sculpture, and on the artist’s website, there is a fascinating video on how he created it. 

Hinerangi, Woman of the Infinite Sky”, by Darcy Nicholas (photo by John)

The National War Memorial Carillon (photo by John)

We biked up the drive to the Dominion Museum. This impressive building was the National Museum and National Art Gallery until 1998, when its collections were transferred to Te Papa (or the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, to give it its official name). It is now partly occupied by Massey University, and currently, during the centenary of the First World War, the building houses the Great War Exhibition, created by Sir Peter Jackson.

We have not seen the Great War Exhibition yet, and of course it was closed on this Christmas Day. But there is plenty of time yet, as it is due to be on until 2018.

The Dominion Museum currently houses the Great War Exhibition (photo by John)

As well as the impressive steps, there is a ramp up to the museum, which features steel silhouetted figures of WWI soldiers “marching” up it.

WWI soldiers “march” up the ramp at the Dominion Museum

We rode up behind the Museum into the area occupied by Massey University. There we discovered a lovely sculpture of three poppies, with the inscription “Lest We Forget”. I could not find out anything about this work of art.

Lest We Forget” (photo by John)

We biked around the deserted Massey campus. I recognised one of the buildings where I once studied for a semester at what was then the Wellington Polytechnic. And we went behind the buildings of adjacent Wellington High School, where I taught weaving in Adult Education programmes in the 1980s and 90s.

Coming back down the other side of the Dominion Museum drive, we found yet another sculpture, the Parihaka Memorial. It remembers the prisoners of Parihaka, in Taranaki, who were held in the Mt Cook Barracks in 1879. According to the website, “the main stone of the memorial is symbolic of a prisoner wrapped in a blanket, with a bowed head”. The stones on the plinth come from Taranaki streams and represent the prisoners held in Wellington.

The Parihaka Memorial (photo by John)

I am really glad to have seen all this. It’s amazing that one can live in a city for years, and not see some of its significant sites and sights. It was good to be able to wander around on such a beautiful quiet day.

After this, we headed to another “hallowed ground” – the Basin Reserve Cricket Ground. I’m no cricket fan; in fact, I know nothing about it, and the only time I have been here was for an open air concert, years ago. There is access for pedestrians and cyclists through the grounds, allowing them to avoid the mad roundabout between Adelaide Road and Kent Terrace. We biked right around it, and climbed up to the Wakefield Memorial

The cricket pitch looked in peak condition, no doubt in preparation for international one-day events (or ODIs) later this month.

The cricket pitch and Grand Stand at the Basin Reserve. The Carillon towers in the background
 (photo by John)

The Wakefield Memorial overlooks the cricket ground (photo by John)

After this, we biked up Adelaide Road, past the hospital, and up the hill to Mount Victoria. Eventually we made our way through Hataitai and Kilbirnie, to end up at Oriental Parade. Whereas the central city had been very quiet, hardly a soul around, Oriental Bay was very busy indeed, with families enjoying a traditional Christmas visit to the beach. In my more than fifty years in NZ, this was the first time I had been anywhere near a beach on Christmas Day.

The specialist ice cream shop Kaffee Eis was closed, but the dairy was doing a brisk business in ice creams. We had one, of course, and enjoyed it sitting on a bench overlooking the water.

Ice cream at Oriental Parade (photo by John)

Finally we wended our way back to the car, riding along the waterfront, up to the Stadium Concourse, down the spiral and back to Hobson street. We had biked a surprising 25 km. It had been a great way to spend a Christmas afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely account of an unusually quiet day in Wellington (apart from Oriental Bay). I shall read it again and will visit some of those sights myself one day. As you say, it's amazing what can be in our own city but unnoticed most of the time.