WELLINGTON FROM ABOVE
by Graham Stewart
Published by Grantham House
Reviewed by Paul Smith
In the bookshelf are three precious books by Graham Stewart. They’re treasured because they capture aspects of a forgotten past (trams) or views of a place many boomers remember well – Auckland; before the Harbour Bridge. Stewart’s latest book, Wellington from Above is rooted firmly in the present, taking readers on an aerial discovery of the city.
When we visited Wellington 20-30 years ago, it was because we had to – either for business or because we wanted to catch the Cook Strait Ferry. Either way it was an obligatory point of arrival and departure - and sometimes the sooner we got out of the place the better. Fierce winds, a dowdy cityscape and the pall of politicians, ensured there was no good reason to linger. To say Wellington has had a makeover in the intervening years is just a little on the side of understatement.
Travelling there now is a pleasure because the capital is full of architectural and other glories. It boasts more restaurants and bars per capita then anywhere else in the country. In Oriental Parade it has an inner city beach Aucklanders might envy (though it’s only one and the sand was imported from the South Island). Even the city’s notorious wind seems to have abated. On a good day, it’s now a welcoming place and seeing it from the air through the pages of this book adds a whole new dimension.
Curiously, Stewart, who is a dab hand at photographic selection, opens with shots which might arguably have been shunted further down the book - commuter trains and the Wellington Railway station. They’re followed by the mandatory iconic shots of the Beehive and Parliament, but from there on, the views in the book are often stunning: shots of the new-ish Supreme Court building, with its eight metre high bronze screen evoking the intertwining of pohutukawa and rata; the cake tin’, Wellington’s Westpac Stadium; the imaginative new Wharekawa House which border a man-made lagoon.
Creative designs have been allowed to flourish in this city and Stewart’s photos confirm this. The lagoon is part of the harbour redevelopment and if you look closely at the photograph you can see one other reason why Wellington has become so popular. There’s a walkway overlooking the water, one of many that make the waterfront and city pedestrian-friendly.
Wellington suburbs like Ngaio and Khandallah, lush with greenery look easy on the eye. Petone by the sea seems barren, set as it is on the tight geometry of a roading grid. Stewart captures Wellington’s picturesque spots like Lowry Bay and Days Bay as he flys out of the city up the coast to Kapiti. Suburbia in different districts is mildly interesting but nowhere near as compelling as the pictures in the earlier pages because they represent a well-known Wellington.
But that’s a trifle. Stewart, who began his aerial photography from the seat of a double-winged Tiger Moth, has, in his vintage years, done the city proud.