Monday, July 10, 2017

Port Chalmers: the charming port

There is nothing quite like the feel of a port community. I have fond memories of visitng Lyttleton (Canterbury's port town) before and after the quakes, and feeling a sense of busyness; a kind of quasi-industriousness that permeated through the quaint quirky community. Now I am here in Port Chalmers - a mere 20 km from where I live (if that) in St Clair and yet it feels an entire world away. 
I still feel that familiar quirkiness I first experienced when in Lyttleton, a sort of rustic eclectic vibe of an ageless era that held the port in surreal suspended animation. Never changing yet ever changing. Busy. Vibrant. Colourful. Port people engaged in life.

Port Chalmers hums all day but mostly at night, as the commercial area of the port itself winds into gear. 
The town echoes with the thuds, crashes and bangs of ginormous machines; shipping containers swinging momentarily in mid-air while the empty bellies of naked ships await.  Trains roll in and out from the inner harbour port; an endless clack, clack, clack as the
night goes on oblivious to an approaching day.  Nothing stops. Not for a moment. Hundreds and thousands of dismembered trees lie sideways, stacked in neat orderly piles, each numbered, tagged, a destination in wait. How they don't get lost is anyone's guess. But so far from a forest they are - that lying in wait matters no more.
Figures in fluro vests and hard hats, scuttle around hurriedly, miniaturised against the monumental machines tasked with loading ships and keeping wharehouses full. Bright lights ensure the port is seen for miles around - a cacophony of colour - no chance of a ship missing its journeys end here.
Yet the town itself holds a quaint air from decades past. Old shops spill over with second hand and vintage goods; bespoke stores lend a unique voice to the main street and cafes attract weekend wanderers from the city. Port Chalmers - "Port" - is one of those places where a day could happily be spent wandering, eating, and poking around in numerous shops. 
I am here to dog-sit for a few days. It always feels like a holiday.  Why - when I have Dunedin at my finger tips?
Port has much to offer someone who prefers a community feel away from the dominant nuances of the city. Port has numerous walking tracks to explore, a modest but quality cafe scene, a wonderful collection of heritage buildings, picturesque marinas and jettys nearby,  interesting second hand shops, a supermarket and fuel and a library. Large cruise ships berth during summer and spring,  international ships come and go, bringing with them people from all around the world. These people come to Port - it is the first part of Dunedin they see. It may be the only part they see. They may stay a few hours or a few days - but they spend money in Port and then away they go. Gone.
It is this transience which gives Port its "porty" vibe. The transience I felt in Lyttleton. It's tangible. 
But, the community is vibrant and energetic; it has an "arty" feel to it, a place where creativity could be supported and celebrated.
This is how port towns often are. Out of the industrial nature of shipping, the noisey comings and goings, a culture is born.
Port Chalmers: culture creator.

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