Carpenter Gothic and Cable Cars — Wellington

The Wellington docks are industrial, lots of logs in the round going to China.  You can’t walk away from the ship, you need to take a bus to one of two stops in the center of Wellington.  The problem is that the place I most wanted to see was the Old Church of St. Paul, the Anglican Pro Cathedral (former cathedral) for New Zealand. The church is much closer to the ship than either of the drop off points.  Solution, the driver created a new stop at Bunny St.  From there we could walk the few blocks uphill to the church without having to backtrack a mile.

Old St. Paul is Victorian Carpenter Gothic.  It was built in 1866.  It served as the cathedral for 90 years.  In 1964 the congregation had outgrown the small church and built a new cathedral across the street and down the block.  Old St. Paul’s remained consecrated but was no longer used for active worship.  The irony is that today the congregation of the new St. Paul’s Cathedral could comfortably worship in the old church with room to spare, church attendance has fallen off that much.

Because the church is wooden it twists with the land during earthquakes.  It remained standing during quakes that knocked down stouter buildings.  The Earthquake earlier this century caused the building to do some twisting which knocked it out of plumb so Heritage New Zealand, which now owns and runs the building as a museum used the down time during the pandemic to get it straightened out.

Now the church is a museum, a performing arts venue with both organ recitals and standup comedy.  It can also be rented out for weddings and funerals.  Any officiant of any religion is welcome to conduct such services.  The US embassy uses it for its annual Memorial Day commemoration because the Cathedral was spiritual home to US Marine Corps Second Division that conducted the “friendly invasion” of New Zealand in the summer of 1942.  At that time most New Zealand troops were stationed in Europe or the Middle East defending the “Mother Country” leaving New Zealand undefended from Japanese invasion.  Roosevelt and Churchill cut a deal to station the second division in New Zealand and use the country to provide R&R for troops throughout the South Pacific as well as allowing the country to be a staging area for South Pacific operations.  I found it interesting that the negotiations, according to the plaque in the church, were between Roosevelt and Churchill and not the New Zealand government.  A 48-star US flag and a USMC flag were donated by the United States and hang in the church.

The docent did her master’s thesis on this church and had wonderful stories.  She used a flashlight to point out a whimsical carved face at the peak of one of the vaults hiding in the shadows.  It was left by those who built the church.  When they straightened the church they found the signatures, in pencil, of the people who built the church on a beam.  The heritage trust took a picture for display and covered up the signatures so the pencil markings would not be exposed to people who may want to touch and rub them off.

After our visit we hiked back to the original bus stop by way of a cluster of government buildings, Parliament, the Government Office Building (called the Beehive) the Old Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Old Baily Bar across the street, the cenotaph and a group of skate boarders using the government plaza to practice jumping traffic cones.

We found an open department store (It was the Sunday of a 3-day weekend) and Suzi finally found some summer weight clothing to replace the clothes that are now back in Sitka courtesy of Alaska Airlines.  I sat on one of the many benches along the Lambton Quay (it is still called a quay even though now it is several blocks inland) listening to a busker play classical guitar.

Our final stop was the cable car, that took us past cricketers in their Sunday whites to the top where we had lunch on a terrace overlooking Wellington accompanied by some very good New Zealand wine. 

The Cable Car Museum is at the top of the run, housed in the old winding building.  That is where the original steam powered engines, and later electric engines, ran the big spools of cable that raised and lowered the cars.  Currently there is a Swiss cable car system but a century ago the cars were very much like those in San Francisco with a gripman and small cars running up and down opening up the Kelburn neighborhood for houses with stunning views and an easy commute downtown.

For me the most interesting exhibit was about private cable cars that hold one or two people and access houses up the hill.  There were interviews with retirees who had climbed steps to their house, much like on Juneau’s Star Hill but as they got older had trouble with stairs.  Then there were people who put in their private cable cars before they built their homes so they could haul up building materials.  There was a couple for whom the cable car was part of a new refrigerator purchase and one who trained his dog to operate the cable car.  When we got to the ship, I scanned the hillside with my telephoto lens to find private cable cars. I found them but most of them are well placed to be inconspicuous.

After the Cable Car Museum we decided to call it a day rather than tackle another museum.  We didn’t have that much time left anyway.  After four hectic shore days we are looking forward to three sea days crossing “the ditch” or Tasman Sea to Australia.  This is a notorious stretch of water known for its rough seas.  So far on this voyage we’ve had very smooth sailing.

3 thoughts on “Carpenter Gothic and Cable Cars — Wellington

  1. Thank you for sharing this. We got to the church when it was closing. The gentleman there was kind enough to let us in to snap a few photos so it’s truly great to know its history! Very interesting about the cable cars also!

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