Make the move
Selling up and moving into to this old-lady villa on the edge of the bush was a long drawn decision. Had we done the right thing swapping from a compact, warm, dry bungalow on a tiny cross-leased section, to this house by the forest?
Our new home – the caretaker’s cottage, was built in 1898, and since 1919 has been lived in by caretakers of the surrounding forest and park.
We took our time weighing up the pros and cons. For starters were health concerns. Clearly the villa was damp as a dish cloth and we were worried for the then three year old Jesse, who already seemed to get an unfair share of seasonal colds. Being on the edge of the forest, and nestled halfway up the east-facing slopes of a 445m mountain, wasn’t going to be the sunniest place in the world. We were kissing goodbye to all evening sun, ironic, as I had just spent the last four years swearing that I’d never live in a house without evening sun again….
Not only this, but we were moving from a securely fenced section to open access to the street, park, forest, stream and everywhere beyond.
What we had no idea about, was that moving here would have such an impact on our lifestyle, and despite the damp, create a far healthier life for us all.
What a thrill to be able to step off the back lawn and straight into the forest. As something of a forest ecologist, I was in heaven. The dog was pretty rapt too. I dragged three year old Jesse away from Disney Junior channel and we were off on our first adventure walk. I’m a firm believer in ‘adventure walking’ with kids – this is actually just a time for them to play and explore, either off-track or on, away from prescribed play equipment and formalised sport. A nice combat to the newly coined nature-deficit disorder described by Richard Louv, and fostering a free-range kid.
On one of our early adventures Jesse and I soon discovered an abandoned chicken coop and an old fence which looked to be the remnants of a now blackberry and bracken infested paddock next to the house. The chicken coop looked dark, ominous and suspiciously spider-ridden and the ‘paddock’ inaccessible, and so we turned our attention to the bush.
We found the marvellous rewarewa stand dominating the view from our kitchen, as well as the pukatea and tawa. My quest for any naturally occurring podocarp seedlings continues even today. These emergent forest trees are sadly very rare in Wellington’s remnant forests (though a feature in many of Wellington’s old homes, including ours) and restoring gorgeous giants such as rimu, matai and miro to the forest is an inspiring, albeit long term vision.
Supervised adventure walking is all well and good, but Jesse decided to take adventure walking into his own hands, and on our first Christmas morning, while I was making pancakes and Tony was having a Christmas sleep-in, three year old Jesse donned his brand new back-pack and gave us the slip. It was some time before I realised he was missing. Thinking things were suspiciously quiet in his bedroom. I opened his door – no Jesse. With a forced calm I hunted through the house. Nothing. With that rising panic familiar to any parent suffering temporary child misplacement, I was back to the bedroom. At which point it dawned on me that the lovely big sash window – open to maximise the morning sun, was about as easy to step through as a door. All the pre-moving fears of unfettered access to a hundred hectares or so of bush, not to mention the stream, rushed through my mind. I was just making my way down the front steps, taking a punt that he walked straight ahead, when a friendly neighbour appeared at the bottom of the driveway, my son in hand – who might I add, was chatting away merrily. Extremely friendly neighbour reported that she had seen Jesse wandering down the road with his back-pack, bare feet and pjs and figured something was amiss. So befriended him and got him to show her where he lived. Thanks to our lovely neighbours.
Suffice to say, what followed was a stern lesson on ‘no-go zones’ without Mummy and Daddy – into the bush, down the front steps etc. These, thankfully have been obeyed ever since. We’ve been able to slowly extend the no-go zone over time (now the bush is okay, but not past the stream, and the letter box is in-bounds, but not past the driveway) which has been lovely. Over time, I hope that he will be able to be a safely free-ranging kid just as soon as I’m confident he can find his way home!
The Caretaker’s Cottage built in 1898 – completed 1901. The house was first connected to the main electricity grid in 1912. In 1919 the first custodians of the surrounding forest and park in Khandallah moved into the house.
1905 -Children at the original gate to the entrance of the Khandallah Domain/Reserve in Clark Street. The gate is open and the children are looking through the gap with their backs to the camera. Taken by an unidentified photographer in 1905.
Feb 1905 – Clark Street, Khandallah, Wellington. Crompton-Smith, A M :Photographs of New Zealand scenes by unidentified photographers. The horse and cart were a common site. The original stable and paddock are still situated on the Cottage property and have a heritage listing. by unidentified photographer 1905.
A painting of the the Caretaker’s Cottage 1919