Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I'm walking here

As the weather settles and warms in seasonal fits and bursts,
here is my second ‘spring essay’.


With apologies to Solace in the wind

I’m convinced that the phrase “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day” was coined in summertime, at Oriental parade.  The Wellington sea front from Frank Kitts promenade, sweeping past Chaffer’s Marina to Oriental Bay and on to Point Jerningham beyond, is a golden mile (actually 3 km) of vibrancy and beauty rivalling any urban shore in the world.

The best part is that our waterfront isn’t just to be enjoyed on weekends, mental health days or by visiting tourists – for many of us it’s almost literally on our employer’s doorstep. Assuming you can get an hour for lunch (never certain these days) and the weather gods are smiling, the sea is within the easy reach of we drones from central business district. It’s a much healthier option than sitting at your desk, dropping bits of lunch into your keyboard – and cheaper than failing not to spend money on Lambton Quay.
A quick walk through Civic square – one of Wellington’s most successful sun (or wind) traps depending on the weather, over the Para Machitt land sea bridge, and the sparkling harbour is laid out before you.
Circling around the north bank of the lagoon – taking time to see if any stingrays have returned after last summer’s Orca banquet – leads you to the promenade running between Frank Kitts Park and the sea.  This sunny stretch of concrete can be a perilous place early in the morning, as cycling commuters in lycra nightmares seem to regard it as a velodrome, and anyone on foot as a hindrance to their personal time trial. But by lunchtime sanity is restored and the walker reigns supreme once more - not counting the inline skaters, of course. 

Alternatively, if you’re in it for the long haul, cut across to the far corner of Hikitea wharf, where 'jumpers' used to be seen launching themselves the beautifully designed spiral staircase tower and plummeting into narrow gap of water below.  This sculptural monument to exhilaration has sadly been closed since last summer, whether because of harbour bacteria as claimed, or deadlier nanny state-motivated back-tracking, remains unclear  
Once past this former spectacle you’re in crocodile bike territory.  These always make me smile and wonder if I’ll ever be able to find three willing people to hire one with me.  Very tame as a far as an item on anyone’s ‘bucket list’ is concerned, but it’s there all the same.  Also raising a smile is the Solace in the wind statue, always happy to have his hand held in a group photograph, although he never faces the camera.  I now put this down to failing eyesight, but at first glimpse I assumed he was one of those once-common street performers who used to paint themselves head-to-foot in a single colour and hold the same pose for amazing lengths of time – just like a statue, really.  It was the complete lack of clothing which dissuaded me from examining more closely. 

Eventually you pass some waterfront cafes and then catch sight of the forest of masts at the Chaffer’s marina. Dipping down below the Oriental parade footpath level to walk past the brightly coloured doors of the boat sheds, you can avoid the legions of sweaty lunchtime runners, bereft of their cell phones but still able to talk work via staccato gasps and grunts, and almost believe that you’re in a smaller, quieter seaside town.  The chlorine-scented monolith of Freyberg pool looms and it’s time to briefly rejoin the throng before dipping back down to my own regular destination in summer – Oriental Bay beach.  The whole point of this trip for me is to get into the water as quickly as possible, swim out to the floating raft and back again, get dried, changed and back to work within an hour.  I’ve tried to explain the ‘almost physical pull’ which the sea has for me, the urge to get into the water being so strong that even jellyfish infestations or forgetting my swimming shorts hasn’t prevented me on a couple of occasions.  The ‘togs, togs, undies’ rule was inverted without any widespread panic, it was just a shame that I had to run into a long term friend of my parents on my way back out of the water. Whatever awkwardness might befall, this lunchtime dip has always been well worth it for me.  

If you are a walker rather than a swimmer, the sensuously-curving Oriental Parade sea wall can lead you ever onwards, offering an ever shifting view of the city you’ve temporarily escaped, before you have to reluctantly turn around and head back to it.
The atmosphere of carefree happiness which pervades this magical edge of the harbour can sometimes lead you to believe that everyone else is still on holiday.  But for a precious hour you too can stretch your legs, fill your lungs and enjoy the best that the waterfront has to offer, free of charge and without even taking leave.


  1. Hi Al!

    And if you have longer time, it takes me around 90 minutes to wander along Oriental Bay, on past the other bays, then through to Kilbirnie (or vice versa).

    1. Nice to hear from you Jamas!
      Impressive footwork!
      It's pretty special, isn't it - possibly one of the world's best walks, and another well-kept Wellington secret.