On our last full day in Wellington, we chose to take a one-way trip on the historic cable car, from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Gardens at the top of the hill, and then walk back down the tracks through the gardens to get back to the city’s waterfront.
I had picked up a few brochures from Quest’s reception area and this is what the brochure has to say about the cable car:
“There is simply no better way to experience the hidden charm that Wellington offers than to take this short historic journey from the heart of Lambton Quay, up through the hillside terraced houses of Kilburn and our tunnel of lights to the lookout perched high above the city. The Cable Car Museum and top entrance to the Botanic Garden are adjacent to the lookout.
The Cable Car has a single track with a passing loop half way. The cars are fitted with flanged wheels on one side and flat wheels on the other, which means they can steer around the loop using the flanged wheels whilst the flat wheels slide across the central rail. The system has numerous safety features including two gripper brakes on each car, as well as passenger load sensing, overload prevention and earthquake protection.
Martin Kennedy (a successful Wellington businessman) is credited with the original idea. He persuaded the Upland Estate Company to include it in their plans for the new suburb of Kelburn. The Cable Car was designed by James Fulton, who also surveyed and set out the Kilburn suburb. Construction started in 1899 and it was opened on 22 February 1902, carrying over 4,000 people on its first weekend of operation. By 1904 trailers had been added to the cars to increase seating capacity and a Tea House had been built at the summit. In 1933 electricity replaced steam as the power for the cable car. In 1978 the original system made its last run and was replaced by a new Swiss designed system which remains in operation today.”
When I first heard about the cable car, I’ll admit that I thought it was one of the traditional cars suspended from a cable (like the one in Cape Town), so I was quite surprised to see something similar to a tram. The trip up the cable car was pretty smooth, with the two cars passing each other half way, and the cable car stopping about three quarters of the way up, at a station, to let some passengers off before continuing to the top. It climbs an amazing 120 metres in only 5 minutes!
The cable car is fully accessible to wheelchairs, mobility scooters and pushchairs. Bicycles are allowed at the discretion of the company. The cable car operates every day of the week and on public holidays (except Christmas Day), with different operating times for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re planning to go on it, check the website for current fares and timetables.