Literary Steps – and Film Appearances

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

Katherine Mansfield made famous the short zigzag not far from her family home, in her story ‘The Wind Blows’:

‘They cannot walk fast enought. 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 strog that they have to fight their way through it, rocking like two old drunkards. All the poor little pahutukawas on the esplanade are bent to the ground.’

(; The Wind Blows (1915).

Over-grown weeds, painted white fence, a steep pathway, but a short flight of steps at the top.

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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.

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The Dixon Street steps from a distance – and hidden by plenty of trees and bush.

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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.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 5.34.14 PMOriental Terrace ZigZag

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 5.36.33 PMMcIntyre Avenue


Denis Gover’s short poem ‘Wellington at 5 o’clock’ describes people on the way home ‘up steps, or go through tunnels’.

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Some manage to do both – Woodward Street features both steps and a tunnel.



New Zealand On Screen Collection

Toehold on a Harbour

Wellington in 1966 – ‘These hills. And all these 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.)

Hometown Boomtown

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.


Nga Taonga Sound & Vision

These films are available for viewing by booking with the very helpful staff at Nga Taonga.

Production by John Pettigrew and Peter Babbett, released by the Department of Education Wellington.
Starts off at the Boulcott entrance to Allenby Tce by a shaggy haired runner in the shorts of the day, and one scene features a picnic lunch on Parliament steps with a bottle of wine, teapot, soup and French bread.
A screen grab below of unknown steps – possibly Plimmer Steps before they were renovated.
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(The Wellington Department of Education)
The Steps
From an idea by Peter Coates and Ian McDonald, by Stanley Roberts.
The film opens with a shot of kids taking a hand made scooter down unidentified zig zag steps – possibly Church Street steps before the modern build – and becomes a fantasy where the steps become musical and are played by walking on them. A mother with a pram, fire fighters and police all step on the stairs to create music, led by an elderly band conductor on Plimmer and Parliament steps. It ends with a long shot from the Band Rotunda of Oriental Parade steps Great fun.



Stairs Wellington

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.

Stairway to Maida Vale/Wellington NZ

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.’