The Secret Formula of Our 39 Steps

Down Allenby Terrace through the city

Actually, Hitch, it’s much more than 39, more like 150 to 200 steps, depending on which way you go. Our home in Wellington sits on the crest of The Terrace, the road astride some of the hills ringing the city’s bay. Those steps we take each day form the hillside stairways linking us to the flat center of town.

To shop for groceries, it’s down those steps and adjacent steep streets at Dixon or Allenby Terrace. Laden with several bags, it’s then back up the steep streets and steps. The journey only takes 10 to 15 minutes by foot, but forms a mini-workout every time. So, in a way, it’s as much a mental barrier as a physical one. Once home, you tend to want to stay put, for it’s down the same steps to go out at night. Then later, it’s the hard slog back up – when you’d much rather be lying back in a taxi all the way home. Yet taking a $6 taxi for such a short ride always seemed like some kind of moral failure; so we’ve rarely done it.

Often we ask ourselves whether we would have rejected our wonderful townhouse here if we had realized what getting in and out of town involved. We had chosen it from 10,000 miles away based solely on descriptions and pictures on the internet. If we had seen the steps first, however, we might have demurred, or perhaps we would have been put off by a number of other oddities. There’s the steep staircase between bedrooms and living levels that is missing the railing that would prevent tumbling down. Or the awkward shower in the master bathroom which requires you to stand on the steep slopes of a Jacuzzi spa in order to use it. Or the lack of heating in the bedrooms.

The main alternative at the time was a lot smaller, and we were planning for a visit by the family, so the value of extra space weighed on our minds. Still, once we looked at those imposing steps down to town and back up again we might have chosen the smaller option. We would have been misled.

Despite the steps, we found ourselves a lot closer really to all the inviting activity of the town – the bustle of Cuba Street; the smorgasbord of restaurants, bars and theatres along Courtenay Place; the tranquility of the waterfront; the grocery displays of the New World Metro and the book displays of the Central Library. At the other place, we would have been much farther afield.

Hot water bottles for the icy bed

On the other hand, we are now sure we would have adjusted and would have made the most of those things that seemed at first like disadvantages. For even here we quickly learned how to clamber up and down the staircase without a rail: we never tumbled, even in the dark. We started using the normal shower in the second bathroom instead of the spa, leaving that for enjoying a bubbly soak together on many nights. We convinced our landlord to supply heaters to keep the bedroom warm in the chilly nights of winter, and used the old technology of hot water bottles to heat the sheets. We even began to appreciate those climbs of the 39, err….100s of steps from town as, day by day, they made us a lot fitter than we would have been walking flat terrain. We were ever prepared for all the hiking we did in other parts of the country.

The key thing, we’ve discovered, is NOT finding the ideal arrangement or ideal fit in a place to live. The key thing – in this and perhaps with so many other choices in life – is a willingness to adapt to conditions and flexibility in making the choice work.

So here we are off to Melbourne. Our first thought was to take a temporary place while we found the right apartment or house. That would give us the chance to see the good and bad of a new home. Just before Christmas, however, we uncovered two interesting options. Each had eccentricities, advantages and disadvantages.

But, on reflection, we were not concerned about making a choice. As the 39 steps have shown us, we will find the best in it – and adapt if need be.

(Also, for more pictures from New Zealand, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the New Zealand itinerary page.)

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2 Responses to The Secret Formula of Our 39 Steps

  1. Alex says:

    I’m actually surprised you never counted all the steps exactly – I didn’t because I was too out of breath

    • Us says:

      We did count the steps at one point, but there are three different ways to get down and up from the flats to The Terrace, Church Street, Dixon, and Allenby Terrace, plus the S-curve with no steps at MacDonald Crescent/Ghuznee. The stairs and crossing pathways allow for passage everywhere on the hillside, as long as you can handle them.

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