24 March 2014

When the planets aligned.... {Somes Island: the best day trip in Wellington}

Some days, for no particular reason the stars and planets align and every moment seems to be moving in time to a graceful symphony. No out-of-tune violins or squeaky clarinets hitting wrong notes, just beautiful music playing in the background, accompanying the movie of life.

Today was one of those days.


Still. Calm. Surreal.


You could count on one hand the number of days in a year the harbour is as still as this, and it just so happened that today was the first weekend day in about two months with no other commitments so we had earmarked it on the calendar a while back for a possible trip to Matiu/Somes Island. We had mentioned it to the boys weeks ago, but in the days leading up to today kept it a surprise. Noah, who cannot handle surprises (much like his mother) was beside himself with the suspense, spending the better part of last night and this morning trying to wheedle it out of us. But we stayed resolute to the moment we were standing in the ticket office buying tickets and he finally guessed. The realisation of what we were doing got a fist pump so I think the surprise was worth it.


We've taken the boys all the way over to Days Bay on the ferry before, but we hadn't been on the ferry for nearly three years and it had been over ten years since Mark and I had been to Somes Island. On our drive down to town we get a few glimpses of the harbour, and on this morning we were astounded to see an unusual looking craft in the harbour. From the quick glimpse we got before it disappeared from view, we thought it might have been a submarine.


Mark had to park the car a wee way from the wharf while we went to get tickets, and on his walk back to meet us he found an article on Stuff giving us more clues as to the mysterious vessel. Not a submarine as it turns out. But a superyacht worth $400 million NZD and owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko. You can see the interior of the yacht in this video.


A ridiculous amount of money to spend on a boat if you don't mind my saying, but it was a pretty impressive sight up close.



Incredible that it just happened to be THIS day that we'd chosen for our trip and that we got to see it. Call me a killjoy but I also can't help looking at that yacht and thinking how much $400 million could do to help ease some of the most dire situations in our world though. 


With the yacht behind us, and the island in front of us, we moved on.



Despite its peaceful persona, the island has had a colourful and varied history, much more so than I remembered.


It was like walking on hallowed ground being here.



The first to inhabit the island were the Maori, building defensive forts on the island with its strong position. Then in 1886, a lighthouse was built, the first harbour light in New Zealand. As well as being an alien internment facility during the world wars, and a quarantine station, it now is a pest-free environment with tuatara, weta, lizards, geckos, kakariki and blue penguins among its inhabitants. Whilst on this day, we only saw the talkative and colourful kakariki (green parrots), a few oyster catchers and the weta holed up in their 'tree motels', the thought of the possibilities of what we might see, was equally enchanting.


The memorial on the island to all those who passed away on this patch of dirt in quarantine awaiting a better start and a new life in NZ that never came is quite sobering. Some were as young as 1 year old.





The walk around the island itself is picturesque, especially when accompanied by the gorgeous green parrots that chattered, and twittered and flitted around us.




This city. This harbour. These people. Our family history is firmly entwined in this place after 14 years. Wellington blood has run through these boys veins from the moment they entered this world.  


The walk to the lighthouse at the other end of the island is only a half an hour at most. And once there, I was immediately transported back to another time and place.



Memories of that honeymoon on the island of Santorini in the Greek Islands exactly ten years ago came flooding back to me.


Until reality firmly superimposed itself back on top of that dream. Ah yes, life is so very different now.



Ah, but for a moment I enjoyed being there, half a world away. 


This lighthouse today still guides ships safely into the harbour. I like that it's still earning its keep over 100 years later.




As I mentioned before, during the 1900's the island saw a number of unusual visitors. In wartime, it 'hosted' those suspected of being alien enemy spies. It has also been a quarantine station for both humans and animals at various times, and there is a collection of buildings on the island where you can step back in time and imagine this other life.


The short and steep climb to the top of the island also gives unequalled 360 degree views of the harbour.



And allows boys who will be boys the opportunity to explore to their heart's content the World War II gun emplacements.





Taking a look inside the animal quarantine station was both fascinating (in that we walked right through the middle of a shower to get into the building) and sobering when we got to the incinerator.






I was fascinated by the smoke patches on the roof of the incinerator room, and how much it added mood to the photo.


As did the rusty wheelbarrow.



In the visitor centre a little further on, the giant weta exo-skeletons were both thrilling and repulsive. I was happy to be the one holding the camera, Noah happily obliging with his hand in this shot.



And I could not help yet another bathroom shot. I think I may have an addiction, but the light in here was beautiful, as was the exposed copper piping.


The ferry returned for us after two and a half hours on the island, which was as it turns out, just the right amount of time to explore and enjoy without outstaying our welcome or getting bored.



And on our return to the mainland, a walk along the waterfront wouldn't have been complete without Kaffee Eis.


We all have our favourite go-to flavours these days. Coconut (me), lemon (Mylo), and chocolate (Noah) are our usual picks, while Mark just goes with whatever he fancies on the day - today Bonbon Rocher.



Noah was thrilled to bump into his best friend and his family also enjoying this mild autumn day along the waterfront on their scooters.


Wandering back to the car with eyes still wide open, I found even the buildings were singing out in technicolour glory today. A final encore to the theatre that was today.



This day, this journey, this moment had been a wish waiting on our bucket list for a while. But the timing had never been right before, and now I finally understand why.



Because it was only ever going to be this day. No other day could have compared. The timing was perfect - the sunshine, the lack of any wind (a rarity in itself), the need for this time as a family together, the empty calendar - the collision of all these things like a rare solar eclipse seen only when so many variables must align.

This day was ours, and no-one else will ever have exactly this memory, exactly this moment. 

Ours alone to live.

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