Making waves in Wellington

There have been two visitors making waves in Wellington over the weekend and its due to their unusual nature.

Ships are a common sight in Wellington Harbour but not so these two.

Tied up at Queens Wharf over the weekend have been visitors from the French Navy and from the “people with too much money club”! 

 The Vendemiaire is a Floreal Class light monitoring frigate (“frégate de surveillance”) of the French Marine Nationale.

She is the fifth ship of her class, and the first French vessel named after Vendémiaire, the first month of the Republican Calendar.

The Floreal class boats are also sentry frigates. The concept of a”sentry frigate” emerged from French government’s desire to protect its Exclusive Economic Zone (12 million km²) around the world. Another need was to address matters of humanitarian aid, diplomacy, or naval law enforcement.

These constraints defined the need for a ship which would be small; extremely stable to allow use of a heavy helicopter in all weather; small crew, while retaining capacities to accommodate navy commandos; light armament; economic and long-range propulsion system.

The Vendemiaire has a crew of 88, a range of 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h), 13,000 nautical miles (24,000 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h). It has a top speed of 20 knots. 

It has an armament of 1 x 100 mm CADAM gun, 2 Exocet MM38 missiles and 2 x 20 mm modèle F2 guns. It also carries 1 Panther helicopter.

She is based at Noumea in New Caledonia as part of a permanent French Navy fleet in the Pacific but is a frequent visitor to Wellington.

Also alongside was the Vive la Vie.

This is a 197ft long megayacht built by premier yacht builders Lurssen in Germany at a reputed cost of $120 million dollars.  

Accommodating 12 guests and 12 crew, she was originally called Project Bounty Hunter.

She was an award winner in the World Superyacht Awards 2009 and its easy to see why.

And if you want to hire her, she is available for charter in the region of  €450,000 a week!!!


White Lions

During the Vodafone Wellington Lions 37-13 victory over North Harbour on 17th October in the Air New Zealand Cup, the Wellington players wore a one off exclusive white playing jersey.

This was done to  pay tribute to the thousands of people affected by the Samoan Tsunami that occurred on 29th September 2009.

Lions layers Piri Weepu and Neemia Tialata came up with the concept for the new white jersey.

Piri explained their decision saying: “heaps of the boys have family in Samoa and most of them know somebody who has been affected by the Tsunami. This is one important way that we can lend a helping hand”.

Neemia, whose home village of Lalomanu was just one of the many villages devastated by the Tsunami, used his inspirational graphic design skills to create the green ribbon imagery that appears on the chest of the jersey.

At the conclusion of the North Harbour match, the jerseys were signed by the players who worn them and were available for purchase through Wellington Rugby via a silent auction, with all proceeds going to the Samoan Tsunami appeal.

The exclusive jerseys were donated by Vodafone Wellington Lions sponsor Canterbury of New Zealand who was excited about being involved in such a meaningful project.  Only 25 of these limited editions jerseys were produced.

I decided to bid for one of these unique jerseys, and was fortunate enough to win jersey number 22, worn by winger David Smith. Smith is a regular starter and try scorer for both the Wellington Lions and the Hurricanes and was on the bench for this match.

So, not only did I win a unique piece of sporting memorabilia, but I was also able to donate money to a very worthy cause.

The Pacific

Band of Brothers was the multi Emmy award winnng television World War II miniseries based on the book of the same title by historian and biographer Stephen Ambrose about American Parachute Infantry in Europe . It was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks after their collaboration on the World War II film Saving Private Ryan.

Most people say that it was one of the most compelling and moving miniseries ever made for television and i have to agree.

Now Spielberg and Hanks have produced another mini series, this time focussing on a unit of the US Marine Corps in the Pacific campaign.

The Pacific is based primarily on two memoirs of U.S. Marines: “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge and “Helmet for My Pillow” by Robert Leckie.

A new band of brothers is born…

Looking out from Fort Opau

After the delights of pedalling to Pencarrow, the Monday of Labour Day weekend saw Ingrid and I heading to Makara Beach to tackle a popular coast walk.

The track goes 6km from Makara Beach, via the remains of a Maori pa and over a ridge; it’s quite a demanding track to walk but the views from the top over sea are worth it.

A few km from the beach are the remains of Fort Opau, a World War 2 military fortification built on the sheer cliffs above Opau Bay and overlooking the Cook Strait.

In April 1941 construction was authorised for a 2 gun coastal battery for close defence located above cliffs near Opau Bay on the western coastline of Wellington.  It was armed with two 6″ MkVII breech loading guns.

Before work could commence a two mile road had to be created to provide access to the site.  Part of a nearby gully was filled in to provide a flat area to be used as a barracks area.  This was hidden from the sea by being below the landward side of the ridge.  

November 1941 saw the contract for the gun emplacements being let with work on the No.1 emplacement starting immediately.  The No.2 gun emplacement was started on the 15 of November.  Work started on a Radar Direction Finding station and on the 29 November as radar was used to guide the guns.  

Both of the 6″ guns had been temporarily stored at Fort Dorset and then they were moved from there up to Fort Opau. Installation of the No.1 gun was undertaken between December 14  1941 and the 22nd.  

After Christmas, between December 28 and January 3 1942 the No.2 gun was installed. Both of the emplacements were completed during January.  The guns were proofed on the 26th of January in 1942 with the results being deemed satisfactory by the army.

The Radar Direction Finding station was completed on the 28th of February.  Construction of the Battery Observation Post and Command Post was started on the 20th of January 1942 and completed on the 9th of April. 

Although this may seem like a long time by today’s standards, 1942 saw an enormous amounts of defence related construction being undertaken due to the Japanese expansion within the Pacific. At the same time due to the war,  construction manpower was stretched to the limit.

By late 1943 the situation in the Pacific theatre of operations had improved so on the 6th of September 1943 Fort Opau was put into care and maintenance. 

The decision to decommission the fort was made about June 1944. On the 28th of June the guns were loaded onto rail to be sent to the Royal New Zealand Navy armament depot in Auckland.  On the 4th of September the same year the radar equipment was dismantled.

It’s odd that Fort Opau was decommissioned before the end of the war in the Pacific (which ended on the 15th of August 1945) and before the 9.2″ battery on Wrights Hill above Karori was operational.  Like many coastal defence works in New Zealand history, Fort Opau never fired a shot at any enemy vessels during its short life.
Today, Fort Opau is silent; occupied only by sheep, rabbits and occasional visitors.

The camouflage nets are long gone, replaced by a the colours of  wildflowers.  The gun emplacements sit empty, their weapons no longer trained towards targets over the horizon.

Looking out across the Cook Strait to the South Island shimmering in the distance, it was hard to think of it being a place of conflict.

Standing inside the observation post bunker, I wondered what it must have been like for the soldiers during the war.  Enduring long hours of duty, miles from anywhere, on a windswept cliff top, watching the endless horizon for enemy activity, wondering if the Japanese would invade. It must have been frightening at times, mind numbingly boring at others.

Where there were once cold weapons of war,  today there is a sense of peace and stillness and space to remember…

Pedalling to Pencarrow

Action manThe weather was glorious for Labour Day weekend and on the Saturday Matt, Anna, Ingrid and I broke out the bikes, packed a picnic and decided to head to the coastal track near Eastbourne.

The track starts from Days Bay and goes round the coast for many miles. We pedalled to Pencarrow Head and lakes, which are on the opposite side of the harbour from Wellington and have an amzing view of the city and of the South Island too.

There are two Pencarrow Lakes; Kohangapiripiri (a nest clinging very strongly) and Kohangatera (a nest basking in the sun) and they occupy the seaward end of adjacent valleys immediately to the east of Pencarrow Head. They are New Zealand’s last remaining, relatively unmodified wetlands, despite being so close to Wellington city.

DSCF5899Freshwater lakes so close to the sea are uncommon, particularly in the relatively unmodified state of the Pencarrow Lakes.

They were formed in drowned valleys that have been blocked off from the ocean by beach ridges still bearing the evidence of earthquake history in the region.

The lakes, wetlands and raised beaches together support regionally-threatened native plants, native fish and wetland birds. The area provides an excellent open water and wetland habitat, supporting a high number of waterfowl species.

The area is now part of East Harbour Regional Park and has long been a place of Maori occupation with archaeological evidence recorded particularly around Fitzroy Bay and Lakes Kohangatera and Kohangapiripiri.

Maori also used a network of routes along the eastern harbour ridges to connect their settlements on the Pencarrow coast, Fitzroy Bay and beyond.

By the time the New Zealand Company arrived in Wellington in 1839, Parangarehu near Baring Head was a place that Te Atiawa from Pito-one (Petone) visited seasonally to fish and collect berries. This area was occupied throughout most of the 19th century.

The eastern harbour land and beaches were important routes to and from the Wairarapa for European settlers arriving in the new port and town of Wellington. Pencarrow Head itself featured almost immediately in New Zealand Company plans to protect shipping and as early as 1842 a white beacon was erected there and was tended by George Bennett and his wife Mary. As shipwreck after shipwreck occurred, public pressure increased for a lighthouse in the area.

DSCF5902In June 1858 an iron tower arrived from England and was landed on Pencarrow beach then assembled on the cliffs above. Unfortunately by the time it was built George Bennett had drowned in a boating accident in 1855 so his wife Mary became New Zealand’s first official lighthouse keeper.

The light was first lit 1 January 1859. Unfortunately the light was often shrouded by low fog so a new tower was constructed on the beach in 1906. Originally the tower was an open steel frame but it was encased in concrete and increased in height in the 1930’s.

Both lights burned together for 30 years until Baring Head lighthouse was built in 1935 and the original light was decommissioned.

Baring Head was named after Baring the director of the New Zealand Association, the forebear to the New Zealand Company who bought settlers to the New Zealand. 

In 1929 the Marine Department discussed moving the old Pencarrow lighthouse to a new site at Baring Head. The idea was deferred while tests were made on new revolving light equipment at Egmont lighthouse.  In 1931 they decided to build a new lighthouse which would serve both as an approach light for Wellington harbour and a coastal light for Cook Strait. The contract was let, but due to economics the contract was then deferred. The land was donated by Mr. Eric Riddiford in 1932 and in 1934 work begun. At the time Baring Head was so inaccessible by road, the Marine Department considered shipping construction materials there.

DSCF5896First lit on June 18, 1935, Baring Head was the second to last manned lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It replaced the first New Zealand light, the original Pencarrow lighthouse which was extinguished the same day and designated as a historical place.

The light was the first to run on electricity from the onset and was initially run with a diesel powered generator. This meant the keepers no longer had a night watch and an alarm system in the keeper’s house would warn of any failures.

One of the more accessible lighthouses, the keepers were able to pick up their supplies in Wellington or the suburbs and the keeper’s children also attended school there.

During World War 2, the lighthouse grounds were used by the Royal New Zealand Navy as a radar and signal station.

In 1950 the light station was connected to the main electrical grid and the diesel generators were used as a backup and in 1956 the light’s character was changed from flashing three times every 15 seconds to the present character due to a nearby Harbour Board automatic light having a similar character. The lens does not revolve, the bulb flashes on and off instead.

The radio beacon, which guided ships up to 100 nautical miles away, was removed in 1981 and the lighthouse was automated in 1989.

Despite all these precautions, the eastern harbour coast remained dangerous to shipping, especially in fog and rain; up to 21 wrecks have been recorded on the Pencarrow coast, the most recent being in 1981.

Away from the shoreline, the lands within East Harbour Regional Park have long been a place for recreation for Wellingtonians. From the 1890s, Days Bay became the main centre for picnics and walking. The Butterfly Creek picnic area gained popularity during the 1930s when unemployed workmen cut access tracks from Kowhai Street and Muritai Park during the Depression.

In 1973, these areas became the Regional Park. Today Greater Wellington manages the park which includes land owned by both Hutt City Council and the Crown.

DSCF5918Over our 4 hours we talked to the sheep and goats, admired the variety of seabirds, watched the ships roll in and out of the harbour, enjoyed going off road (the boys more then the girls) and generally had a wonderful time.

We stopped for tea and snacks by the lakes and then had a long climb up to the Pencarrow Lighthouse. The view from the top, especially on such a beautiful day, was worth it.

Apparently the trail goes all the way up into the Wairarapa which is exciting. I feel there could be some more adventures on the way…