How to spend an afternoon in Wellington like it’s 1902

Have we really changed all that much in more than a century?

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: I love cable cars. So during our visit to Wellington, New Zealand, we made a pilgrimage to the revered Wellington Cable Car. It costs NZ$5.00 (US$3.35) for a one-way adult ticket, or NZ$9.00 (US$6.00) round-trip, and was probably the most functional funicular railway I’ve had the pleasure to meeta smooth and comfortable trek up a length of 612 meters in all of 5 minutes. Also, it’s the first cable car I’ve taken that burrows through tunnels with artistic light shows.

After our ascent, we visited the small but mighty Cable Car Museum, located in the building that once operated the original cable car. This unassuming museum has free admission for all and is full of details and insight about life in the late 1800s, leading up to the first cable car and beyond. A highlight was the “winding machine room” with the original equipment intact, featuring massive wheels, metal ropes, and mechanical gears that quite literally take up an entire room.

That first cable car in Wellington was built for local residents, not just for tourists, as housing availability in the city was limited in the late 1800s. Folks took to the hills to build homes, but it was hard to get supplies and people back and forth, so the cable-car track and surroundings were built over four years, though it included difficult working conditions and the use of prisoner labor.  When it opened in 1902, people were really into it: more than 400,000 visitors boarded the cable car that year alone.

Part of the museum’s exhibit focused on the early 1900s and how taking the cable car was a special family activity: they would travel excitedly up to the top of the hill, have a picnic and enjoy the adjacent Wellington Botanic Garden on their way down, and saunter on home again, treasuring their time together. This wasn’t a special day like NYC’s Jazz Fest on Governors Island for the hip to dress like their forebearers, but they did have an area where you could try on turn-of-the-century clothing, which we obviously did. While the vintage clothes didn’t feel as comfortable as what we’re accustomed to, they looked sharp and I imagine being dressed up contributed to a feeling of distinction.

After the museum, as we sauntered our way for nearly an hour through the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden, I found myself thinking about life in the area more than a hundred years ago.

Was I looking at the same trees that they would have seen? How significantly has the architecture changed? And how did people transport babies in old-school prams without the comfort of BabyBjorn carriers? I realized that while a lot has changed, at times our concept of leisure has stayed remarkably the same. I can’t think of many more pleasurable things than a nice vista with my family on a weekend or holiday, followed by a picnic, and being surrounded by flowers blooming while walking down a hill you didn’t even have to walk up.

Can’t curb our enthusiasm
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Trying to look dignified on one of the original cable cars at the museum
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Notice the old-timey hats and pram posing by another original car
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They had real ducks just like they would have had in 1902!
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So many tulips, one of the delights about it being spring in the Southern Hemisphere

The lesson in all of this: Wherever you are, take advantage of the significantly longer life spans we enjoy now and spend some time with your loved ones outside disconnected from technology, but also take photos because how can you prove how much fun you’re having without ‘em?! (I’m pretty sure we take more photos in a day than an average person in 1902 would have taken in their entire lives.)

Wellington Cable Car
Cable Car Ln, Wellington 6011
(Google Maps / Facebook / TripAdvisor)

Wellington Cable Car Museum
Kelburn, Wellington 6012
(Google Maps / Facebook / TripAdvisor)

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