Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hobbitland: down a Wellington hill

Where the hobbits live?
Perhaps it is no surprise that New Zealand became the home of the hobbits. The countryside is stunning but even the cities have a sense of wonder and mystery.

Take Wellington for example. If you wander down the Botanic gardens from the top of the cable car to the city you have the feeling of being in mystery-land.

At this time of year it is dank under the spreading trees and in one of the hill crevices which never seems to see the sun you discover a house with ferns growing on the roof. Surely hobbits live there?

Pungas line the path
Punga trees line the steep path down. Next to me on the path was a boy gripping an empty pram to prevent it careering down the path. As the path got steeper his slightly older brother came to help him hold the pram back. They were making for the playground in a clearing half way down.

Further down the hill the botanical gardens open out into a rose garden. The name, Lady Norwood Rose Garden, flips us from native pungas back into British colonial times. Perhaps the Lord of the Rings might sip tea there with Lady Norwood.
Lady Norwood Rose Garden
Rose hips and trellis

Seddon on his plinth
Past the rose gardens is a very tall plinth with a statue overlooking the city. SEDDON is written on the base in big letters.   Richard Seddon, 1845–1906, remains New Zealand's longest serving Prime Minster. He served thirteen years, which is something of a marathon in a country with three-year electoral cycles.

Harry Holland grave
Past the Seddon plinth, the old Wellington cemetery with colonial tombstones marking the deaths of early settlers spills down the  steep hillside. 

Almost the first grave you see is that of 'Harry' Holland, 1868 - 1933.

Wikipedia says Harry Holland was a New Zealand politician and unionist who devoted his life to helping people. It doesn't say why he is buried under a statue of a naked young man whose cute buttocks face the path down the hill.

I studied in Wellington in pre-hobbit times and remember fellow students going to read poetry in the cemetery at night. Perhaps they did it so they could boast about it next morning. If they had paused to read the tombstones they would have returned chastened as there are sad stories amongst them.

Duff family grave
One stone commemorates five children of the Duff family:

Hannah Duff aged 1 year and 9 months
Agnes Duff aged 8 years and 4 months
Margaret Duff aged 10 years and 3 months
John Duff aged 11 years and 10 months
Edith Duff aged 6 years.

The five Duff children all died of diphtheria within 12 days of each other in December 1876 to January 1877. Their father lived on until 1899 and their mother until 1912.

A motorway cuts through the bottom of the cemetery. A fellow walker told me she has a childhood memory of  gravestones stacked together at the side of the road  when the motorway was built.

Apparently when the site was excavated many more skeletons were found than had been expected. They were all  reburied in a mass grave near the church at the bottom of the hill.

You leave the cemetery at the bottom of the hill and suddenly you are in the city center not far from the famous beehive which houses the country's Parliament.

A few steps more and you are on the wharf overlooking the harbour. The day I was there the sun shone brilliantly on the white sailed yachts and hillsides beyond. Wellington is certainly picturesque.  I hope the Duff family had many such sunny days before they were so cruely parted.
Wellington Harbour

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