Wellington woestenij: dag één van de afsluitingapril 5, 2020
As the lockdown took effect, Wellington turned into a wasteland, with the sound of wind replacing traffic on the morning commute.
Like many of you, our reporters have been working from home. On this historic day, we challenged them to head out into their communities and provide you with a sense of what that history looks like. Notebooks and cameras in hand, social distancing rules enforced, here’s what they found.
Rob Mitchell in Central Wellington
I miss them. Didn’t think I would ever say that, but it’s true.
* Coronavirus: New Zealand has 283 cases of the virus, rising by 78 cases in a day
* Coronavirus: Mittens the Wellington feline celebrity in lockdown
* Celebrities take to Instagram to share their self-isolation
The teenager on her cellphone, oblivious to the pace and direction of others. The older people and tourists clogging the path with their ambling shuffle. The wanderers cutting our straight lines with their own annoying twists and turns.
There’s little of that at the vast, usually busy intersection of Courtenay, Manners and Taranaki thoroughfares.
Little need to observe the crossing lights either. At the intersection’s centre I stop and take notes: from the waterfront, all the way up Taranaki St towards Mt Cook, neither car nor human is moving.
Even the seagulls commanding Te Aro Park look listless and a little lost.
They stir slightly as three buses punctuate the sombre reverie: Nos 24, 3 and 14. Just one passenger between them.
So often an annoying attack on sensitive ears, they are now empty sentinels breaking the mood, hinting at the possibility of human interaction. But their presence merely stays the silence, their passing bringing it flooding back.
The beeps of the crossing signals along Cuba St, so often lost in the general cacophony of the city, are now piercing sirens for those lost in the fog of war against this virus.
It’s a silence that lives in the dark and gloom inside so many empty, shuttered bars, restaurants, offices and shops. On Cuba and Willis; Lambton Quay and the Terrace.
Signs in the windows speak to fears of business owners that this pervading silence might be shattered by those with their own dark intentions.
“No cash or stock on premises”, they scream in large, capital letters meant, if not for the marauders of the zombie apocalypse then at least for the malevolent opportunists among us.
Wellington’s CBD in lockdown looks like a set for The Walking Dead, without the weeds and decay of years of neglect but with its own detritus of rubbish stirred by an indifferent wind, and a homeless person’s discarded sleeping bag.
We may not have the ravenous Walkers, but the living still look wary.
The few supermarket shoppers and rubber-neckers to history shuffle quickly, quietly past, always at a distance.
As colleague Virginia Fallon has pointed out, they are the clean-bummed Bison who herded the toilet paper as the lockdown loomed.
Now they regard me and others outside their bubble as potential predators on a quiet, uncertain, nervy plain.
Some wear masks; one guy on the other side of the street has one but he’s given up. It’s resting on the back of his neck.
Who can blame him – there are no teens on their phones, oblivious of everyone but themselves; no older people or tourists out of time with the rhythm of a fast-paced city. No wanderers following their own crooked paths.
Alas. I miss them.
Deborah Morris in Avalon
Avalon’s weirdly quiet. From my home I can usually hear both the trains running and the traffic on the motorway faintly.
If it wasn’t for the wind there would be little of the background noises we take for granted at all.
I’ve been working from home for days now. Usually there are walkers in leisure gear, pensioners with dogs and mums with small kids walking the streets.
I’d only seen one by 9am. Normally I don’t think about it. Now I miss them.
Across the road the family of the elderly couple check on them. They stand at the gate several metres from the door. It’s both sad and oddly reassuring.
Avalon Park has been largely abandoned to the ducks and seagulls. They laze in the sun. One elderly couple walk hand in hand.
One man walks with three small boys; they look delighted with the handfuls of sticks they are carrying.
On the streets are people walking, some with masks, some with dogs getting the walk of their lives and a chap ambling along with a wine bottle in his hand.
A military police car cruises past me. Outside a dairy is a police car and three people well spaced out as they wait to go in.
There’s a security guard outside the Shona McFarlane Retirement Village gate. No one else is in sight.
Katarina Williams in Newtown
Peter Tweddle makes the trip to the chemist every day.
But today’s trip is like nothing he has ever experienced before. Today is day one of a nationwide four-week lockdown.
Tweddle is second in a queue which has formed outside the door, as a result of the one-in-one-out policy imposed by the Government.
“It’s pretty eerie,” Tweddle shouts from the other side of the footpath.
“It’s quite ghostly. It’s like Christmas Day but not. It’s very dead, especially for a Thursday, this would be packed with doctors, nurses and government officials doing their daily things,” he says.
Further up the road, many of society’s more vulnerable are still out and about.
Dressed in his Sunday best and matching bowler hat, an elderly koro – clutching a thick, tan-brown walking stick – isn’t all that fussed about heeding the Government’s warnings for those over 70 to remain at home.
With his daughter close by, he walks past nine Wellington City Mission cars parked outside St Thomas’ Chapel.
Inside, people prepare food parcels for those struggling to support themselves through what has become an extraordinary turn of events.
Those out walking their dogs or pushing their toddlers in strollers swerve on to the road to avoid getting close to others, taking on board the need to maintain a two-metre distance.
As a trolley sits friendless on the footpath, a sign in one of the windows reminds everyone to “stay safe and take care”.
Kate Green in Mt Cook
Do cicadas still chirp if there’s nobody around to hear them? Does sun still beat down on pavement, wind whip around the blunt corners of buildings, and trees shed their leaves?
The stillness of the Massey University campus is unnerving. There should be students everywhere, Tussock cafe should be heaving, it’s 11am. The Basin sits empty and green, gates closed.
There are little glimmers of the old Wellington. A child on a scooter boosts down Hopper St, and a van drives past with bassy music blasting. It feels almost sacrilegious to make such loud sounds.
The gentle thrum of tyres on tarmac is missing, and you can hear any vehicle from a block away. One truck drives straight through a red light. Lawlessness doesn’t quite reign, but this driver’s doing his part.
A graffitist with an agenda has left a five-foot-tall reminder to passers-by on the side of a building: “Wash ur hands”.
The only car, and the only person in sight, coincide at a pedestrian crossing and the incredulous driver’s head falls back against the seat in frustration. It feels silly waiting for lights when there’s nobody in sight.
Wellington is still there. The sun still shines and the cicadas still chirp. And it’ll still be there when we spill from our houses, bleary-eyed, stretch our limbs, and hug our friends.
Laura Wiltshire in Karori
On a normal day, people dart around Karori doing errands. Girls in Marsden green uniforms pile into the local dairy, fondly known as Dilip’s, getting their sugar fix before afternoon classes. The main road is filled with the sound of children playing at Karori Normal School.
Thursday is not a normal day.
Those who are out and about nearly all have a ‘pass’ with them – dog, a child, a shopping bag. Something to say “look, I have a reason to be beyond my front gates.”
People wander into the middle of the road in order to stay two metres apart. Why not? Cars are few and far between.
Dilip’s has a sign outside, limiting how many people can come in at a time. No more girls in green are hurrying down at lunchtime.
Marsden is closed, the gates pulled shut. Closing them must have been a tough job. In my 10 years as a student at the school, I do not remember them being anything but propped open.
The hallways in the Karori mall have been split in three. A sign tells Countdown shoppers to wait on one side, New World on the other, those needing the pharmacy down a separate hall.
But underneath all the strangeness, all the separation, the suburb’s character is still there. People still smile and wave, from a safe distance. Children play; on their front lawns rather than school playgrounds. Native birdsong accompanies walkers. All small signs the world is still spinning, and this will be over one day.
Mandy Te in Oriental Bay
Even in lockdown, Civic Square is the same – empty.
It’s only when you walk to the waterfront that you notice how quiet the city is.
The bars and cafes are closed so there’s no blasting music and you don’t catch snippets of people’s conversations like you usually do.
At Waitangi Park, you can spot a few people walking their dogs and no one seems to panic when police officers are around – one of them is wearing a black mask. One dog walker gives them a polite wave as they drive off and along Oriental Parade.
Unlike most days at Oriental Bay, there are empty parking spots and space for you to distance yourself from others as people stick to opposite sides or dash through on their bike or roller blades.
Only one person has decided to go for a swim on Thursday and he’s the only person on the beach.
Damian George in Johnsonville
After a mad dash over the past 48 hours, it appears Johnsonville residents have now hunkered down as the nationwide lockdown rules come into effect.
Back roads in the northern Wellington suburb are practically empty mid-morning on Thursday, bar the odd person or group out for some exercise and a lone courier truck backing into a driveway.
A handful of cars at the Northern Walkway entrance suggest some have chosen to get out in nature to get their daily fix, but the area is otherwise eerily quiet.
But without doubt the most striking image of this lockdown is the absence of vehicles on the normally bustling Johnsonville Rd and Wellington Urban Motorway.
The usual traffic queues at the southbound entrance to the motorway, off Johnsonville Rd, are non-existent, as are the vehicles jostling for positions as they approach the Ngauranga Gorge.
Instead, the six-lane highway is virtually empty, and the usual queue at the State Highway 2 off-ramp replaced by hundreds of metres of barren motorway.
Back up the road in Johnsonville, the normally busy shopping centre car park is all but empty, and the nearby Countdown supermarket car park barely half-full.
The area is so quiet that traffic lights could have been disabled and it would have made no difference.
And while this is quite eerie and unsettling, it is also encouraging and inspiring.
Because if there are any fears about Kiwis not taking these lockdown rules seriously or finding loopholes to suit their own needs, that certainly does not appear to be the case in Wellington’s northern suburbs.
Joel MacManus in Mt Victoria
The walkways of the Mt Victoria town belt are just about as busy as they’ve ever been for early afternoon on a weekday. A brief escape into the forest is a much-needed reset for residents already feeling the walls closing in.
Walkers and runners do their best to give two metres space as they pass on thin trails. A small queue forms at the steps on Majoribanks St as two oncoming groups let each other pass one at a time.
A small handful of mountain-bikers are out and about. Two people are in the middle of workouts at the Pirie St play area.
The rustling of leaves on the ground seems more pronounced. Everyone’s a little bit on edge. Even people walking together aren’t chatting much. The sound of a stick breaking under foot is just enough to make you jump.
At the top of the hill, two police officers on electric bikes are asking visitors where they live, clearing out the carpark and trying to discourage people from driving beyond their suburb for exercise.
As they leave to ride back down the hill, two more vehicles arrive at the top.
Matt Tso in Lower Hutt
Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and getting tailgated on the Wainuiomata hill – even under a government-imposed lockdown.
“Be kind” was the message from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the beginning of the week. It seems 80kmh is still not fast enough for those few uncharitable drivers left on the roads.
Aggressive drivers aside, barely used streets are the new normal under Alert Level 4.
The chugging of diesel engines and the hot smells of Lower Hutt’s Seaview industrial area have been replaced by the sound of wind brushing past warehouses and lungfuls of fresh air brought by Wellington’s prevailing northerly.
The shops and eateries of Petone’s Jackson St retail area are silent too. Empty car parks sit opposite darkened shops.
The signs on the windows say the businesses will return in four weeks: “No food or stock on site” is the missive left by one fretful shop owner.
Joseph Tsou is the owner of the Unichem Petone Pharmacy, one of the few businesses still trading.
The first day of the lockdown has brought a downturn in foot traffic but things are still busy behind the counter with prescription orders flying in online and over the phone.
“I’ll be here till midnight tonight,” he laments.
Activewear might become a symbol of the lockdown. There are plenty of people still out cycling or walking their dogs – keeping a safe distance, of course – and most have chosen to wrap themselves in the tight, moisture-wicking clothing.
The fishers who pull up kahawai from the Waione St bridge are absent, though the blood and rusty hooks from yesterday’s catch are still there.
In the Hutt Estuary below, a pair of royal spoonbills observe the prescribed two metre distance, not the larrikin swans, though. They don’t care.
Sharron Pardoe in Brooklyn
Ohiro Rd through Brooklyn is usually rumbling with trucks. Today it is empty except for the sporadic walker or runner, but then a tow-truck zooms by with a smashed car on the back – for some it is business as usual.
The local pharmacy is one of the few signs of life in this city-fringe suburb. Barricades are up by the doors and a strict entry regime is being enforced by staff at the door.
At one of the local dairies a one-in, one-out sign was being put up. A cardboard-box barricade has been installed by the counter to keep customers back.
The other dairy offers hand sanitiser by it’s roughly drawn one-in, one out sign.
Further up the suburb, there are lots of parents out and about on the pavements with kids in strollers or in backpacks, dogs are being walked and there is the occasional person out in their garden. Everyone is religiously keeping the 2 metres-and-more distance from each other.
There’s the sound of a skill-saw in a neighbour’s yard, but it’s all quiet on a house construction site.
Many have missed the recycling memo, with bins of bottles littering the pavements.
In one street, a neighbour has left a flyer in letterboxes inviting people to join a street email group.
Above it all the Brooklyn turbine keeps on turning.
Joel Maxwell in Porirua
There’s talk of unity around the nation, but in Porirua there’s mostly just a sense of departure.
North City Mall, at the centre of a network of streets and car parks, feels like a summer resort town in very late autumn.
Thousands were here yesterday – today there’s a few locals, preparing for a long winter.
A man pushes a trolley up to the Hartham Place North entrance to find the automatic doors locked.
Around Hartham Place you can hear pop music piped out of the mall – music as unkillable as cockroaches – and screeching gulls. Is there anything sadder than a mall gathering dust?
A nurse called Kay sits beside empty playgrounds on a vape-break.
“It’s just constant handwashing, hand wiping, masking on, masking off, disposing of used equipment,” she says “If we become unwell ourselves, we just stay away.”
Out in the eastern suburb of Cannons Creek a man whose face is masked in a scarlet bandanna sits on the door of a general store, raising and lowering a barrier to people, like it’s a nightclub.
Inside, managers stand in the aisle, wrapped head-to-toe in protective gear, with just a set of roving, worried eyes visible.
To the north, State Highway 1 is almost empty as you drive past Paremata, Mana, and up to Pukerua Bay, where people are out walking in family-and-dog units.
On the way south a feral sheep, carrying several seasons of wool, has emerged from the Paekākāriki escarpment and is grazing on the side of the highway.
Last week this road, hemmed in to the west by the sea, would have been full of cars.
Virginia Fallon in Kāpiti
People are sitting in a circle in a Waikanae car park.
Under a grey sky the masked patients perch on chairs set well away from each other while medical staff in gloves, gowns and masks tend to them from a station set up in the middle of the circle.
A man bikes past with a bandana wrapped around his face and a dog pulling at its leash.
Welcome to Kāpiti’s lockdown.
On Thursday morning the towns of the Kāpiti Coast are quiet, cars normally parked at workplaces are now in driveways and roads usually choked with traffic are clear.
Supermarkets are open but nobody is lining up outside, playgrounds are deserted and trucks have State Highway 1 to themselves.
A masked security guard outside an Ōtaki supermarket chats to a man on a mobility scooter. On the main street a tractor chugs on by. Teddy bears peer out from house windows.
At Paraparaumu Beach a police car cruises through the shopping area before stopping next to a playground for a while. A man flies a kite at Peka Peka Beach.
Dogs are out walking with owners but aren’t allowed to touch noses with fellow canine friends, pedestrians cross the road to avoid each other but call out their hellos.
Someone has left free bags of lettuce outside their gate.
The roadworks that have formed a staple part of Kāpiti life for years now have stopped. Workers on the Kāpiti and Peka Peka to Ōtaki expressways have gone, leaving their diggers and trucks neatly lined up along the state highway. A Waikanae butchery is open, a sign in the window says they have permission from MPI.
Les Jones is out for a walk but this is something he does everyday.
“Maybe this will have a good effect on everyone’s health if the only thing they can do is get exercise”, he calls from the side of the road.
“You have to feel sorry for all the dogs though, they’ll be getting tired.”
We tell each other to keep safe and I head back to the car.
A little girl waves at me from the window of her house.
Piers Fuller in Wairarapa
A beautiful sunny day in Wairarapa belies the fact that a blanket of quiet has been flung across the valley.
Traffic on the main artery of State Highway 2 linking four towns south to north barely registers a pulse. The odd food truck or contractor’s vehicle punctuates the normally hectic Waingawa Straights at morning rush hour.
Wairarapa’s wo Het hoofdcentrum van Masterton in Rkaday is bijna tot stilstand gekomen, afgezien van een paar zielen die boodschappen doen of auto’s die door het CBD kruipen.
In het ovaal bij Queen Elizabeth Park is de enige activiteit voor 360 graden het geritsel van bladeren in de wind en het tingelen van iemand die aan pijpen in Dixon St in de buurt werkt.
Geen geluid van waterige dreunen van de waterfietsen op het meer of echo van de minitrein op het eiland.
In de Nieuwe Wereld ontbreekt niet het wc-papier uit de schappen, maar de lolly’s nemen snel af. Misschien veranderen de isolatieprioriteiten van de bevolking.
Het stadscentrum van Carterton is de thuisbasis van een beetje verkeer, maar er zijn nog steeds een paar gezinnen op de fiets en koppels die honden uitlaten om u eraan te herinneren dat dit een nog steeds bewoonde plaats is .
Een moeder en dochter in Carrington Park gooien herfstbladeren naar elkaar, naast een speeltuin die wordt afgesloten door beveiligingstape.
Op de veranda van de eerbiedwaardige White Swan op Greytown’s Main St, er is niemand die in de ochtendzon kan converseren.
In Featherston is het vrijwel hetzelfde, afgezien van de vreemde tuinman die hun planten water geeft of een winkelier die zijn gevel waterstraalt.