My city is built on the spine of a sea monster.
In local Māori legend, what is now the Wellington Harbor was once a freshwater lake. The lake was the home of Ngake and Whātaitai, two taniwha — powerful water spirits. The brothers had never seen the ocean, but they had been told by seagulls what lay beyond the ridgeline bordering their home: a water that was unfathomably deep and the home of many fishes.
Tantalized by the cries of the gulls, Ngake decided to escape from the lake and explore the sea for himself. Using his powerful tail as a spring, he exploded out of the water with tremendous force, destroying the ridge and carving a channel to the Pacific.
Whātaitai attempted to do the same, but he did not have his brother’s strength. Unable to break through the ridge, Whātaitai became stranded on the rocks and perished in sight of his goal. The taniwha’s spine became a hillside which is now crisscrossed by the roads and houses of Hataitai. I live in this Wellington suburb, along a strip of land that was once the monster’s tail.
Even in the midst of the city, you can feel the power of the landscape. The summer winds tumble playfully across it, and the winter winds scream as they tear through it. The hulking shoulders of the Rimutakas encircle the northern horizon. To the west, the Cook Strait — where Ngake still lives — connects Wellington with the South Island. To the south, there is nothing between us and Antartica save open water.
The city is sculpted by culture as much as by the elements. The Māori built their villages along its shorelines and British colonizers later named it the country’s capital. Now people from around the world — Peru, China, Germany, South Africa, India, the USA, and many others — call it home.
Wellington’s mythology resonates with us, its wild-ness bewilders and captivates us. And in small yet profound ways we are carving channels across it, leaving our stories upon its landscape as, like the taniwha, we search for new horizons of our own.