let me count the ways

There’s a photo: a sunny clear windless day in May 1987 on top of Mount Victoria. One of those many May Wellington days in which the wind stops and the sun shines and there is really no better place on earth.

Four young people stand against the harbour vista, smiling and squinting a little against the bright sunlight. Just as the photo is taken a butterfly lands on one of them; and the photo records that peculiar coincidence.

Anyway, I’m behind the camera. I’m not yet 19.

I was at University in Dunedin, off the family farm in Central Otago. These holidays, instead of helping on the farm, I’ve decided to strike out a bit.

In Wellington, it’s several months before the sharemarket crash, and the place is booming. I count 34 cranes in a wide arc from the central city right across Te Aro. I’m staying with my older cousin (one of the four in the photo - all with careers still to build, children still to have; but already working and living it large) and I’m having a ball. There’s a freedom here that’s at least partially explained by the distance from my family; the chance to explore a new and bigger city; and my welcoming and generous hosts.

So, remembering that holiday and others similar, it was natural that five years later as my future wife finished at Otago, we decided to shift to Wellington. There were no jobs for us in the South. Parochialism stopped me from going to Christchurch; something else from Auckland. We chose Wellington: a town we both knew; a harbour town somewhat akin to our beloved Dunedin; and a town big enough to be yourself in yet small enough to love in its entirety.

A crap damp flat in Mt Cook (where I saw my first cockroach) followed by the sunlit uplands of Mt Vic; and we became Wellingtonians, just like that.

The years have passed, thirteen now, and this is my home. We have a house, and two kids born here that will one day cheer for the Hurricanes (sorry, but I can’t do it yet: Go Highlanders!).

And so there are many things that keep us here. Some are (without thinking too deeply about it):

  • the culture. You can find it here, high and low - probably helped in part by having the seat of government here… but there are always things to do; and later, things to talk about.
  • the coffee. From three espresso places, to about three hundred in just a few years. You’d be lucky to find too many other places in the world where coffee is so ingrained into the local lifestyle.
  • the food. Restaurants, cafés, and Moore Wilsons.
  • the politics. You’ve got to love Wellington Central, the seat where anything can happen… and has, since the advent of MMP.
  • the geography. Those iconic houses stuck to the steep green hills as you fly in say it all: there’s no other place like this. And it’s this that keeps the city in bounds, walkable, and therefore liveable.
  • the sea. Surrounding the city, defining its other major boundaries and providing interest, recreation (and sustenance) for the city’s inhabitants.
  • the people. Cosmopolitan, welcoming and open, there’s a place here.

Which is not to say that I always love this place: but if I were omnipotent there are just two things I’d change: the wind; and the location. For me, the biggest disadvantage of Wellington is that stretch of wild water between us and the South Island: if only the geography were different and Wellington were on the other side of Cook Strait (let’s get rid the faultline while we’re at it, eh?). Then I could easily get to my other land-of-the-heart in Central Otago a bit more often.

But I suppose when the pull gets too strong I can always go to the South Coast and view the mountains over the water. And although the wind can be a bit wearing sometimes, no-one can argue with a sunny day in Wellington, and there’s lots of those.

So here I am.

*Note to readers*: this is part of an informal series of postings across Wellington blogs, organised by Wellingtonist, about why we like it here. Other participants so far are:
Gathadair @dubh
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