I’ve decided that in addition to my regular (and yet irregular) postings on craft and whatnot, I’m going to add in some of my local explorations. I live in the most beautiful country in the world (biased? Me?) and since most of my readers are from elsewhere, I’d like to share it with you.
Yesterday I headed out to Pencarrow Lighthouse, on the other side of Wellington harbour. It’s about a two hour walk from the end of the bus route in Eastbourne, along a stunning coast road.
The majority of the road runs along private farm land, and every now and again I got the distinct feeling I was being watching.
The walk is fairly unusual in the Wellington region because it’s mostly flat. Wellington doesn’t really do flat. Naturally, the lighthouse was a little bit of a hill, but it was certainly worth it for the view!
Now, I’m going to get my maritime history geek on and tell you a bit this lighthouse. It was the first permanent lighthouse in New Zealand and unusual in that it wasn’t paid for by the central government, who are meant to look after such things (the safety of shipping being of importance to the national economy and all). But the government was taking too long, so the Wellington Provincial Council stepped in and ordered a lighthouse from England. It was pretty much a kitset lighthouse – it arrived in 480 separate pieces, which made it easier to transport – but it was still pretty difficult getting it all up the hill!
The lighthouse was ready to go and cast light for the first time in January, 1859. But wait there’s more – Pencarrow was also the first (and, as it turns out, last) lighthouse to have a female lighthouse keeper in New Zealand.
Before the lighthouse was installed, a warning light shone from the bottom of the cliff – essentially a light in the window of a cottage. The cottage was home to George and Mary Jane Bennett and their children. George was meant to be the lighthouse keeper when it was built, but drowned in the harbour before it was completed – and Mary stepped up to the position. She was the lighthouse keeper for five years.
Now, you’ve probably had your fill of maritime history, but there’s one more story. This one isn’t as uplifting, I’m afraid.
The pretty picture above shows the entrance to the Wellington harbour. The white you can see in the water is Barrett Reef. In 1968, during New Zealand’s second worst storm in the twentieth century , the inter-island ferry Wahine ran aground on the reef. As you can see from the photo, it’s not that far to Wellington and the ship was visible to those on shore when not obscured by the driving rain. People could (and did) watch as the tragedy played out – the Wahine dragged off the reef by swells, drifting up the harbour towards Steeple Rock. There were attempts to get a line across from a tug, but these failed. With the ship listing severely to one side, the order was given to abandon ship. Not everybody got off safely – of the 734 passengers and crew on board, 51 drowned, many of them washing up on the beach at Eastbourne.
It’s a sad story, but one that must be remembered – for the victims and for respect for the sea and its dangers.
Turning away from Barrett reef and its terrible tale, I headed inland to Lake Kohangapiripiri.
Kohangapiripiri and the nearby Lake Kohangatera are unusual. They’re freshwater lakes right next to the coast and are some of the only lakes left in New Zealand that don’t have introduced fish (like brown trout). There are, thought, introduced frogs like the one below.
Another unwelcome introduction is the gorse – all the yellow on the hills. Gorse is a considered a noxious weed in New Zealand and my natural inclination is to want to rip all of it out whenever I see it. But, a little research has revealed that further up the coast in Wainuiomata, they’re using gorse as cover for regenerating native plants, so maybe it’s doing some good, some where.
You can walk all the way around Kohangapiripiri, but I only made it a third of the way. I started to worry about it getting dark before I made it back up the coast road, so I took a short cut across to the southern coast and hiked it up back in the gathering, slightly dramatic gloom.