Our Lady of Parapram

1. Our Lady of Public Transport
In theory it was the train station, but the train was out of service due to a landslip and messy derailing on the tracks a couple of days earlier. So instead I took the replacement bus, stopping off to explore the seaside suburbs of Mana and Plimmerton. I eventually arrived in Paraparaumu without any plans, but from the train/bus platform I spied her in the distance – the Mary Statue, Our Lady of Lourdes. I had a destination.


2. Our Lady of the Sleeping Bag
The first and last time I visited the Paraparaumu Mary statue was in 1985, on a family holiday. We’d gone to Paraparaumu due to the overall theme of family holidays being places my mum lived in or visited when she was young, including Stratford. I’m sure this accounts for 90% of why I am the way I am.

3. Our Lady of the Selective Memory
I have three specific memories of the Mary. I remember looking up at it and being in awe of how huge it was. I remember asking Dad what “diameter” was, as mentioned on an information sign. I remember also asking Dad what the statement “I am the immaculate conception” meant. He said it meant that Mary was perfect. I didn’t understand why this was such an important statement to make.

4. Our Lady of the Sense of Direction
I wasn’t sure how exactly to get to the Mary, and Google Maps didn’t have her listed. So I just started walking towards her, eventually finding the block she lived in, the street (Tongariro – another tall white landmark), and soon enough a black plinth with a boldly handpainted “STATUE” and an arrow pointing the way up a narrow alley.


5. Our Lady of the Suburban Explorer
It seemed like an ordinary enough alley, which made me wonder if I was on the track. Maybe I was going to see some other sort of statue, like one of those globetrotting garden gnomes. Then suddenly an outcrop of short fat concrete crosses appeared. The pilgrim’s path had begun.

6. Our Lady of the Modern Calligraphy
Hiding around a corner was the old information sign I remembered from the ’80s. It was hand-lettered in a very ’50s style, but had also had some ’00s-style tagging all over it, which had probably necessitated its removal. Under the adolescent scribble, the sign informed that the concrete crosses along the path represent the 14 Stations of the Cross, and that “they carry full indulgence and may be said on the upward climb by thinking for a few moments on each scene of the Passion of Our Divine Lord the Son of GOD.”

Old sign

7. Our Lady of the Social Engineering
As I made my way up the steep, uneven path, I realised the genius of marking out the 14 Station of the Cross. If you’re constantly pausing and reflecting on the passion of the Christ as you trudge up the hill, it’s forcing you to take little breaks along the way and it’s pretty much removing any excuse to complain about the path. Oh, you found it a bit tricky having to walk around the muddy bit in your Converses? Yeah, well, Jesus had to walk up a hill wearing a crown of thorns and carrying a heavy-arse cross on his back, so shut up and count your blessings.

A long climb

8. Our Lady of the Wear and Tear
It looked like the crosses had each previously displayed a mosaic depicting each station of the cross. A couple still had remnants of the scenes – chipped, busted mosaics – but the rest were bare, painted in grey anti-graffiti paint. I’m not about to blame vandals for the state of the crosses – they’ve been up for over 50 years, on a damp hillside. It’s not surprising they’re falling apart.


9. Our Lady of the Hotter Son
The Mary was erected in 1958 to comemorate the centenniary of the Miracle of Lourdes (apparently not the time Madonna got pregnant to her hot trainer, but some mystic carry-on in France). This was 27 years after Christ the Redeemer was unveiled looking over Rio de Janiero. I like to think that the sleepy seaside town of Parap’ra’m’ quite fancied themselves as New Zealand’s answer to Rio. If the Brazilians could have a giant Jesus, then New Zealand can have a giant Mary.

10. Our Lady of the Best Laid Plans
Except the Mary statue was only ever meant to be up there for a few months in the centennial year, a quickie construction in timber and plaster. But Our Lady of Lourdes proved so popular that it was decided to keep her up for good. Besides, it would be difficult to dismantle a giant holy statue, to take a crowbar to Mary’s kind, benevolent face.

Our Lady

11. Our Lady of the Short Arse
Finally I reach the top and Mary’s benevolent face is still smiling kindly. The first thing I realise is she’s much smaller than I had remembered. She’s only 14 metres tall – shorter than Christ the Redeember at 39.6 metres, but still taller than the average New Zealand woman at 1.65m. The ground is soggy from the previous day’s heavy rain. It feels a little uneasy.

12. Our Lady of the Easter Egg
Mary still claims to be the immaculate conception. Somehow I’d remembered that writing as being engraved in stone, but it turned out to just be painted on the statue. The declaration isn’t visible from the street – it’s like a special treat, a bonus for all who know the difference between the immaculate conception and virgin birth.

Tell it like it is

13. Our Lady of the Props Department
Another thing that had escaped my memory – that the statue is held steady by guy wires. She was never given a secure foundation because she was never thought to need one. It gives the statue the effect of being a film prop, yet its lightness and impermanence doesn’t matter. She’s still holy.

14. Our Lady of the Highway
I tweeted a photo of Mary and had a surprising number of replies from people who have massive affection for the old girl. She’s a shrine for members of the Kapiti Catholic community, but she’s also a symbol for locals, commuters, travellers. She smiles down over Parap’ra’m’, over the mall, the train, the highway.


Rainy Day Trains #3 & 4

Upper Hutt – part 3 of an occasional series on greater Wellington suburban areas

Saturday was a miserable rainy, gale-force-windy day, so my visiting bro and I decided to go to Upper Hutt. After all, when one goes to Upper Hutt, one ought to take a posse.

For all your polarfleece needs

I’d never been there before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the 45-minute train ride, I found a rather ordinary, slightly rundown town centre.

Most of the businesses were either mainstreet chain stores or curious local niche businesses, complete with a superbly ironically named hairdresser – Urban Hair Studio (if I had a hair salon in Upper Hutt, I’d call it Upper Kuttz).

Home fires burning

A block back from the main street was a new mall called Trentham City Shopping Centre, which seems to have invented that moniker to avoid the negative associations of “Upper Hutt”. The mall was strangely empty for a weekend, though this could be explained by the large number of empty shops. It felt like one of those empty subprime mortgage crisis homes on the outlaying suburbs of some American city.

We had lunch at a lunch bar called Mr Trans, which was a real old-style New Zealand lunch bar. It didn’t look like it had been decorated for about 20 years, and had a selection of awful landscapes on the walls, for sale. But you don’t go to a place that like for the decor. You go there for the lammingtons and the ham and tomato sandwiches and the savouries at decent prices. Though I did feel a little out of place at one stage when I realised I was the only woman not wearing polarfleece.

No women's health diagrams

Upper Hutt City’s motto is “A great place to live”. This reminds me of when Hamilton named itself “Fountain City” in the 1970s, with the idea that while the city didn’t have a lot of fountains, maybe if they called themselves that, people would start building them. As it stands, Upper Hutt isn’t currently a great place to live. Not when the weird new all is strangely empty. Not when a guy was stabbed in the town centre last night.

But I’m sure Upper Hutt will figure out what to do with itself sooner or later.

Paraparaumu – part 4 of an occasional series on why it’s better to go out than stay in

So we had this all-day train pass and decided to make the most of it by heading up the coast to Paraparaumu. It’s about an hour on the train, and all the way it was rainy and miserable. But with a little imagination, it’s possible to see how it would be quite nice on a glorious summer’s day.

Virgin Mary upon the hill

We sought shelter as soon as the train arrived, and the Coastlands mall was there for us. (Curious – Queensgate mall in Lower Hutt is the only mall in the Wellington area that doesn’t have a train station outside its door. It’s also the biggest one. Coincidence?)

Coastlands was full of old people, which makes sense given that the Kapiti Coast is full of retirees. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing out your golden years in a sunny coastal area, but it just feels a bit strange when the town seems overrun with seniors. Can’t we all live together?

We ended up seeing “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” at the local cinema. Briefly, while the film had funny moments, I found it was hard to get involved in the story when there were no characters I sympathised with. Everyone was either an arsehole or a doormat.

Heading back to the city, the Overlander pulled in and the conductor insisted that we get on that instead of the Metlink train. The Overlander was warm, the seats were comfortable, and the carriage smelt really nice. Not only that, but I wiled away the time by reading a brochure about the history of the Overlander, including the Raurimu Spiral – a wonder of modern engineering, etc.

We were also treated to a bit of scenic commentary from the conductor, whose charmingly clunky spiel ran into trouble with the weather: “On your right, you’ll see the Tasman Sea. Also, it separates Australia, which is over there further. Also on your right, you will see Kapiti Island, but you won’t be able to see anything.”

You don’t get that on the Metlink trains.