Matiu/Somes Island

We’re at an intriguing meteorological stage, right now in Wellington: it’s still sort of officially winter in that it can be cold at night and one wants at least two blankets on the bed, but the birds have been singing and the flowers have been blooming and everyone is waking up a little bit from their hot water bottles and their sweaters and their slow-cooked stews and starting to feel the blood flow a little bit. And so it happened that when the beautiful Joanna sent out a invitation to the Italian community of Wellington to join her Matiu/Somes Island for the afternoon, where she is a volunteer, everyone was very happy to put on the hiking boots and venture out of the city and get a little fresh springtime air.

Woo! Starting Out.

Here we get a glimpse of Joanna’s unstoppable smile, which is doubtless because we all managed to make it to the ferry and actually physically on the boat on time, thereby exceeding expectations like you don’t even know.

Oriental Parade As Seen From The Harbour

Oriental Parade as seen from Wellington harbour. That’s the hill I walk over sometimes on my way to the Te Papa fruit market on Sundays.

Sailboats Sailing

It wasn’t super sunny but still nice enough to have to wear only one jumper, and of course there were lots of boats out.

We got to the station and met the awesome dreadlocked caretaker, of whom I unfortunately did not get a picture, and listened to his talk about pest eradication and native wildlife and the history of the island, which used to be a quarantine station, a military base, and an internment camp. Now it’s just a gorgeous little spot of green in the middle of the harbour, with lots of birds and lots of trees and lots of walking around admiring the views. It’s so easy to love everything sometimes.

Wellington In The Distance

Distant Rockpools

Matiu/Somes Island Lighthouse

Mokopuna Island

Just this past week or so everything seems to have agreed to burst agreeably into bloom, all at once. Everyone else had all these crazy million dollar cameras with telephoto lenses to take panoramic shots with but I was still very happy walking along the grassy paths taking just pictures of pretty flowers. We saw some birds, too, mostly kakariki and a couple of fantails, but they were too fast for my wee point-and-shoot. There are penguins, too, although we didn’t see any; you can hire out a house on the island and spend the night and Jo said that the first time she did that she heard this terrible heee-haaawwwwing sound and thought that a cartload of donkeys had come over on the evening ferry, but it turns out it was just the little blue penguins coming home to their burrows. I can’t wait to see that.

Spring! It's Almost Spring!


Spiky Purple


Harakeke Closeup

What is this fascinating green grasslike thing in such overt closeup? Here, let me direct you to this informative plaque:

Informative Plaque

Poison Bait Box

And here is a poison bait box, of which you always see a lot whenever you’re somewhere with endangered species in New Zealand. They are very very serious about rodent eradication on Matiu/Somes, and at Karori, and on Kapiti Island; the caretakers actually ask you to shake out your bag to make sure there are no mice or ferrets stowing away. I’ve always wondered how serious a threat a hitchhiking mouse could be, but the dreadlocked guy said that apparently there have been actual incidents with actual mice jumping out of actual daypacks, so…yeah, bait box, I guess.

After a grueling ninety minutes stroll along gently rolling hills with plenty of stops for photography, we were all pretty hungry (why, some of us hadn’t had anything to eat for at least two hours) and so we found a nice picnic table under a tree with a view towards the harbour and set out lunch.

Italian Style Picnic

Do you bring along bresaola, three kinds of quiche, two kinds of bread, fruit salad, chocolates, beer, wine, pastries, and brownies when you have a picnic? No? Oh. How sad for you.


Quiche closeup! Giulia and Filippo made these Saturday night, along with the brownies. I was over there too, supposed to be helping, but instead I just talked on the phone and watched YouTube videos, because that’s just the kind of nice friend I am.

After lunch Marco decided to either a) climb this tree or b) begin his long-overdue modeling career.

Marco Poses

Filippo, on the other hand, opted simply to proudly represent his homeland.

Filippo Looks Majestic

And here we see Mozz…um, here Mozz seems to be…actually, I’m not sure what Mozz is doing. Che succede, Mozz? No, really.

Mozz Mozzes Around

We went up to the lookout and had to dodge around some very picturesque sheep.


You can tell we’re all city people because we were all blown away by the little baby lambs.

Gamboling Lambs

It’s been a while since I took a Hey Everybody I’m In New Zealand! shot. Perhaps because I don’t spend too much time posing majestically on mountaintops anymore now that I’ve got residency.

Taking The Island By Storm

And here I am with one Giulia…

Ta Da!

…and with two Giulias! Ta da!

A Giulia-Chiara-Giulia Sandwich

We kept walking up the hill to where there are some memorials to the people who died on the island at various times. This one was from when it was a quarantine station.


The very last name on the list, down at the bottom, is that of a Chinese Man who was thought to have leprosy and was sent to Mokopuna Island, which is kind of the next island over.

He Has Answered The Signal

This guy had his own cross, looking out over the water. I don’t know what a signalman is or any of this person’s history, but doesn’t it seem likely there is a very good story attached to this cross?


We were all very interested in this; I’d had no idea Italians were interned here. We noticed that all the names were very Italian indeed; I thought about my own name and how I might not have been detained back then, if for example it had been my mother and not my father with the Italian name, or if I myself had been married to a Kiwi with a non-Italian name—but I would still have been half-Italian, and who knows what their criteria for holding people would have been?

We were up there for quite a while, talking about what citizenship and nationality means (in two languages) and loitering around on the hill when suddenly it was time to start heading back to make the 3:15 ferry back to town. Joanna said she’d take us past a tree where a (very rare) tuatara likes to hang out, but warned us that we probably wouldn’t see him as he is mostly there in the summer.

Hidden Tuatara

And…we saw him! I promise you I would not just post a picture of some rocks and dirt if there were not a lovely reptile-like creature expertly camouflaged beyond the reach of my camera’s puny zoom; he really is there. To be fair, I couldn’t see him in situ either without the help of binoculars; we are all still a little uncertain as to how Filippo managed to spot him. Initial analysis reveals the very scientific diagnosis of “cyborg eyes.”

It felt like a good omen for the spring, and for the summer, and for the rest of the year. We packed up all our leftover pastries and skipped down to the ferry dock, gossiping and taking more pictures and looking at more birds and trees and flowers and plants; happy to be together, to be outside, to be out of our city but still be able to see it in the distance.


Harbour Background


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  1. Absolutely gorgeous.

  2. Some great shots, and some great quiches (from the looks of it!) glad the phonecall didn’t interrupt the manufacture of the various picnic based goodies on display!

  3. Nice trip and the food looks fabulous!

    The link to Matui/Somes island has gone pearshaped. It’s an interesting read.

  4. Beautiful pictures! And even though I’ve been to visit and have seen penguins on the south island, I’m still perpetually jealous of your proximity to them. :)

  5. Hello. Just wanted to say kia ora Chiara. Let you know I’m still a-lurkin’

  6. 1. My god you’re gorgeous.
    2. Those lambs don’t look the least bit bloodthirsty.
    3. Your sentence about the photo of flax and it’s correlating informative plaque cracked me up. There should be more informative plaques.
    4. I have a lot of catching up to do with your blog. And you.

    love love love.