As could be expected, Wellington’s steps appear in literature – poetry, a novel, and a short story. This is the list so far….
Katherine Mansfield made famous the short zigzag not far from her family home, in her story ‘The Wind Blows’:
‘They cannot walk fast enough. Their heads bent, their legs just touching, they stride like one eager person through the tow, down the asphalt zigzag where the fennel grows wild, and on to the esplanade. It is dusky – just getting dusky. The wind is so strong that they have to fight their way through it, rocking like two old drunkards. All the poor little pohutukawas on the esplanade are bent to the ground.’
Over-grown weeds, painted white fence, a steep pathway and a short flight of steps at the top. The pohutukawa trees have grown quite a bit, too.
On Thorndon Quay
Brannavan Gnanalingam – ‘A Briefcase, Two Pies, and a Penthouse’ (Lawrence & Gibson Publishing Collective, 2016).
Gnanalingam’s brilliant satire of intelligence agencies includes references to the Dixon Street steps and the Hood Street steps (although the latter aren’t named in the book) – the title is a sly reference to the contents of a briefcase mislaid by a SIS spy in Wellington.
The Dixon Street steps from a distance – and hidden by plenty of trees and bush.
Hood Street step along Oriental Parade near the Waitangi Park.
Big Weather Poems of Wellington (Selected by Gregory O’Brien & Louise White; Mallison Rendal, 2000)
Two step streets appear in Jenny Bornholdt‘s poem ‘We Will, We Do’ – the Oriental Terrace zigzag and McIntyre Avenue.
Denis Gover‘s short poem ‘Wellington at 5 o’clock’ describes people on the way home ‘up steps, or go through tunnels’.
Some manage to do both – Woodward Street features both steps and a tunnel.
Shanti elegantly describes the experience we feel when encountering Wellington as a visitor or as a new arrival, and finding our way around.
“I love these steep stairs and passageways, sidling between buildings and streets and emerging in unexpected places.”
“Finding a Way”, Salient, March 2, 2020
Maurice Gee appears to also be a steps admirer – and has several mentions in his books. In an interview in 1993 talking about Wellington he says “it’s got wonderful levels, you go up steps and down steps and you can drop out of one world an into another.”
Crime Story – A burglar flees down Allenby Terrace from Kelburn into the city.
Going West – The narrator meets his future wife on Allenby or Dixon Steps,
and a character dies falling down steps, likely at Upland Road.
Live Bodies and Blindspot – Both include steps in Wadestown.
THANK YOU, Alasdar, for these references!
FILMS AND VIDEOS
Wellington in 1966 – ‘Those hills. And all those steps,’ is the comment of a weary woman standing in front of the Dixon Street steps. And that hill-side is nearly free of trees and shrubs in 1966, and the flights are visible.
An 8 minute film in which steps make brief appearances but gives you an appreciation of the hard work done by the dusties in 1971 Wellington. (Their hard work continues in modern Wellington, working alone now in huge trucks but I don’t think they are called ‘dusties’ any more.)
A 1983 film biography of Wellington, with glimpses of steps and brief views of historic buildings, then being destroyed with the enthusiastic approval of the mayor, Michael Fowler. The city had identified 200 buildings along the Golden Mile as earthquake risk and required rebuilding or destruction within 15 years. – very similar to the situation now.
These films are available for viewing by booking with the very helpful staff at Nga Taonga.
A nearly silent video from the point of view of a man climbing the steps from Garden Road to the top of Orangi Kaupapa, without comment; by Wessel Egas, published Feb 12, 2017.
A two minute video by Rafael In New Zealand published around January 2019; it is just that – a video walk down Maida Vale steps.
Tiny Ruins mention the Allenby steps in their song ‘Adelphi Apartments.’
A Good Run
Thank you, Shanti Mathias, for this unexpected, and very challenging, jaunt –
run up the steps fro Kelburn Parade to Rawhiti Terrace. Run down through the Botanic Gardens and across Glenmore Street, then up Garden Road. Run up the Garden Road-Orangi-Kaupapa Road steps (my favourite steps) and then down Orangi-Kaupapa Road. Run up the Glenmore Street-Upland Road steps, towards Kelburn Village. Run along plunket street and take the pathway down to Norway Street. Run up to the base of Norway Street and up the Thule Street steps. Run back along Raroa Road to Kelburn Village, and take the steps from Rawhiti Terrace back to Kelburn Parade (behind the Hugh McKenzie and Von Zedlitz buildings). There are various adaptions to this involving the Allenby Terrace steps, the Plunket Street-Norway street steps, and the Mount Pleasant Road steps. Altogether there are at least 500 steps.