Wellington – City of Stairs
Ok, so it’s not quite the ring that maybe Auckland –City of Sails has, but at least this way you are letting tourists know what they are in for when they attempt to go for a casual stroll, only to find that like Yazz, the only way is up.
I really hope that the stairclimbing world champion is a Wellingtonian. Look at the practice they get just living here! It’s actually quite normal for a Wellingtonian to say (completely offhand like it’s no big thing) they went for a lunchtime run up Mt Vic; or for a walk, and discover they meant up Tinakori Hill. Easy walks, as I am starting to understand, do not involve scaling a ridgeline somewhere.
The other thing you need to take into consideration when walking around Wellington is that the street names give you no indication of what to expect. For example, Hill St in Thorndon is a slight rise, I don’t know who decided that this was a hill worth signifying as in my mind there are several much more appropriate candidates.
In the suburb of Wadestown, the roads are laid out in a grid pattern. Unfortunately this street layout was designed in an office in London in around the 1940s, with no thought of the local topography. Wellington’s steepest street, Weld St, is almost vertical and so must alternate between steps and road to make it accessible.
Weld Street runs in a straight line from the top of Tinakori Hill down towards the Ngaio Gorge. It begins as a street then turned to steps at Wade Street when the slope became too steep, then back to a road, more steps, another short section of road, then to a very steep path until it finally ends at a cliff face.
What does annoy me about taking photos to try to illustrate the steepness of hills in Wellington is that it never translates on screen! Regardless of the angles I use, stairs that could quite rightly be alternately classified as a ladder in real life, seem to appear almost flat when I photograph them – as if it’s some sort of a perverse optical illusion. If only they would lie down when I try to climb them!
A few weekends ago I walked to my friend’s house in Kelburn. That’s a suburb on top of a hill behind and to the right of where I am living. Now I know that she lives on top of a hill, and I was expecting to climb one during the course of my walk.
To find my way there I used my handy iphone with its mapping system which consists of a dot and a blue worm. You are the dot. You must try to stay on the worm (mapped path by the device). Unluckily for me, my worm didn’t really know about the stairs and shortcuts in Wellington. Half my trip was spent trying to figure what was going on when it looked like hacking my own path through the undergrowth was what the worm was suggesting.
Anyway, I did get to my friend’s house. Only 30 minutes late, meaning my little walk had now taken 85 minutes. And only after she came to get me from the house 100m down the road which my worm was insisting was the right address (my friend lived in Ave not Street).
I sat at the table attempting to make sane conversation whilst pulsing with heat like a radioactive isotope as I tried to cool down from my impromptu mountain climb. Still, at least home was all downhill, and took half the time which was appreciated. It certainly makes you think about whether you want to try walking home in the dark – and not because it’s unsafe with shady people! It’s quite often literally shady and as such, slightly damp and all it would take is one wrong move and you could roll right back down to your starting point which would just cap your evening off.
The steepest street in the world is also claimed by New Zealand, because, heck why not. Baldwin St in Dunedin has a maximum gradient of 1:2.86 (or, to put this in perspective, for every 2.86m of horizontal distance, it goes up 1m). I am pretty sure people there also run up it on a daily basis and consider it a good place for hill repeats.
As for me, I am getting better at taking the stairs between floors in the office.