Wellington: Matiu/Somes Island, Days Bay

Ferry and feet. That’s how we got around today. The ferry took us from Wellington to Matiu/Somes Island, Days Bay, and back to Wellington. Our feet took us to and from the ferry and around Matiu/Somes Island, Days Bay, and its adjacent municipality, Eastbourne, New Zealand.

Matiu/Somes Island

A view in Matiu/Somes Island

Matiu/Somes Island is a conservation reserve on a smallish island in Wellington harbour. Smallish, that is, compared to, say, New Zealand’s North Island or South Island. But, definitely way, way, way bigger than a bread box. It’s big enough to have its own wharf, which few bread boxes have.

The island served a few different purposes before it became a conservation reserve.

In its past life, Matiu/Somes Island was an internment camp for “enemy aliens” during both the First and Second World Wars. “Enemy Aliens” is in quotes because some of them were, for example, Germans who fled persecution in Germany. In at least one case, that persecution resulted from him being very anti-Nazi. Not exactly enemies. At least, not individually.

A view of Wellington from Matiu/Somes Island

At other times, the island also served to quarantine humans and animals. On a few occasions in times gone by, passengers traveling to New Zealand on ships were quarantined on Matiu/Somes Island before being allowed on the mainland if there was an outbreak of disease on the ship. It was also used as a quarantine island for New Zealanders during an influenza pandemic. And, in 1903, a Chinese fruiterer suspected of having leprosy was quarantined on the island.

In addition, when New Zealand decided it needed to import live animals to expand the breeding stock of its livestock, it first quarantined the animals on the island to prevent the spread of diseases from the rest of the world. This practice ended when frozen embryos became an option for expanding the breeding stock.

To the best of my knowledge, human and non-human animals were never quarantined on Matiu/Somes Island at the same time.

Matiu/Somes Island Security

A view from from Matiu/Somes Island

AA park ranger herded all the disembarked passengers into a hut and bolted the door. She then put us through a biosecurity drill. This involved people carefully searching their bags, including any pockets in their bags, for any critters, seeds, and/or soil that might have found their way inside. Then, each of us had to feel around inside all of the pockets in our clothing searching for the same things.

She allowed us to do self-checks. Otherwise it would have been an entirely different experience.

Anyone who found any critters, soil or seeds had to deposit them in an appropriate bin in the hut. I didn’t see that happen in our batch of visitors.

The biosecurity protocols also included wiping each of our shoes back and forth in a device with stationary brushes on the bottom and two of the sides. The idea was to get rid of any foreign soil before going into the reserve.

Before leaving the hut, we each had to stomp our shoes a few times on a mat impregnated with a disinfectant of some sort.

Emergency Instructions

During the biosecurity checks, the ranger also told us about emergency procedures on the island. If an emergency occurs, rangers spread out onto the island sounding three loud blasts on airhorns. If we heard that, we were to head to the wharf immediately for evacuation.

The exception was if we felt an earthquake strong enough as to make it difficult to stand. In that case, because of the risk of a tsunami, we were to head to the visitors’ centre, which is on much higher ground than the wharf. We’d then be evacuated from there.

Um. Thanks for that information, Ms. Friendly Park Ranger. That sure made me feel super-comfortable about visiting. Fortunately, the airhorns stayed silent during our visit.

Matiu/Somes Island Views

The views from and of Matiu/Somes Island made the visit well worth the visit, and then some. They were spectacular.

Some of Matiu/Somes Island’s lawn mowers taking a break

In most cases, we had to stay on the paths. However, the summit of the island is mostly open grassland where we could tromp around at will. There are are also a few trees and antiaircraft emplacements up there.

During World War II, antiaircraft artillery were mounted on the emplacements, but only the concrete remains now.

A fence surrounds the summit grassland. There are a couple of gates into the fenced in area. The ranger told us to be careful to close them after going through. The reason is that the conservation reserve keeps sheep there to trim the grass.

I didn’t count the sheep because I didn’t want to fall asleep, but I saw two small flocks of probably well less than a dozen in each. While we were there, one flock dutifully performed its duty of shortening the grass. The other goofed off in the shade of a tree. I wonder if they take shifts.

Days Bay

Days Bay central business district. All of it, and then some.

The concierge at our hotel recommended that we visit Days Bay after Matiu/Somes Island. I think the only reason she did was the ferry stops at Matiu/Somes Island on the way to Days Bay, but not on the way back. So, we had to go to Days Bay anyway. Although, I imagine we could have stayed on the ferry if we wanted to.

The central business district of Days Bay consists of a couple of rustic cafés and a small, somewhat barren park with an even more rustic eating establishment in it. That’s pretty much it.

At that part of town, steep hills sit not far back from the shore. So there isn’t room for much else.

Off to the side of Days Bay, there’s a residential area that climbs up the slope of a lower arm of the hills. There, houses hold tight onto the hill for dear life.

In Days Bay, we each had a short black and pastry in a café. Short black is what the Kiwis call espresso.

Of course, by “Kiwi,” I mean the people of New Zealand, not kiwi birds. I don’t think kiwi birds have a call for espresso. They are nocturnal and likely fear that espresso will keep them up during the day. They probably drink classy cocktails instead.

After our short blacks and pastries, we walked to Eastbourne, about a ten or 15 minute away. There’s a little more land between the harbour and the hills in Eastbourne. Consequently, there’s more housing on the flatland than in Days Bay. There are also a few more shops and restaurants—maybe a dozen or so—there, none of which looked particularly interesting.

Eastbourne does have an eight-storey building, which I think counts as a skyscraper there.


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