Why Wairarapa?

We came here from Wellington in January 2010. Wellington is a lovely city, with lots to do, a beautiful harbour, and perhaps the best coffee in the world. Why on earth would we or anyone else move an hour and a half away to live on the other side of a very big hill? There’s no article this month – instead, I’ll try to answer that question.

We had to find somewhere. Somewhere much smaller and flatter than our little farm on Wellington’s outskirts, somewhere manageable for people with artificial hips and the other inconveniences of age. This kind of place didn’t work for us any more –

Photo: B. McFadgen

So we looked for a smaller house in Wellington, that didn’t have a vast hillside to look after and wasn’t up lots of steps or or down lots of steps. Sounds easy? Not in Wellington.

When my parents first arrived in Wellington from Canada in 1934, my mother wrote to her family describing this place on the other side of the world. She made a little sketch of Oriental Bay, tracing a rather long walk that they took. You will need to click to enlarge it, and another click will embiggen it further.

They were staying in the St Ives guesthouse (on the right) and you can see them, Stan and Fran, setting out up a steep zigzag (“puff puff puff…”) through close-packed houses. After a rest at the top they walked along a high path and remarked on “cliff dwellers everywhere”. Then it was down another steep zigzag (“brakes on”) noticing how houses were typically reached by a steep path. Walking back along Oriental Parade beside the beach they had to run when it started to rain, and they must have been quite wet when they got back to St Ives.

Oriental Bay is still a lovely part of Wellington, though now expensive, with a popular beach. It has changed a bit since 1934 – the trams (street cars) are now buses, and there are some modern houses and apartment buildings. But it’s no accident that the recurring description is “steep”.

Photo: Business Events Wellington

This recent photograph must must have been taken from somewhere near the top of my parents’ walk, though in very different weather. The sandy beach is Oriental Bay, and you are looking across to the central business district. The commercial buildings have grown and spread, of course, but the surrounding hills are still inhabited by “cliff dwellers”.

Cliff dwelling is no longer for us. After weeks of househunting in Wellington, finding nothing we liked that looked suitable for our old age, we asked each other “What about Wairarapa?” We liked the area, and we knew quite a lot of people there from our involvement with the Black & Coloured Sheep Breeders’ Association. I knew it had a large, lively guild of spinners, and expected (correctly) that it would be a treasure trove of interesting spinning wheels.

So here we are. We love it. Plains, wide and flat, stretch from the rugged South Coast northward between mountains. This was taken looking east from the foothills of the Tararua Range – the Pacific Ocean is on the far side of the hills in the distance.

It’s been an important agricultural area from the 1840s. European settlers drove sheep around the coast from Wellington to set up their farms. Merinos came first, but were prone to footrot in the flat countryside and soon Romneys took over. By 1851 there were 20,000 sheep and 2000 cattle in the region.

Drive or cycle for just a few minutes out of any of the five main townships (Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Martinboough and Featherston) and you will see sheep, cattle, probably some horses, possibly alpaca or deer (yes, deer are farmed here). Another few minutes and you may find yourself in a place of real beauty.

We have not regretted our move. Not for one moment.

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