Whether you travel in from Kilbirnie or take the scenic route around Scorching Bay, the drive to Shelly Bay on the Miramar Peninsula affords you some of the most beautiful views in the capital. On a sunny day it’s seaside bliss, while under rougher weather it’s an invigorating ride through the elements. Depending on your luck, you might spot some little blue penguins on the coastline, chance across a seal splashing away happily, or maybe even catch some cheerful dolphins.
Regardless of which route you take, you’ll eventually pass through the former Shelly Bay Air Force Base buildings and wharf. At a brief glance they might look dilapidated and empty. Look a bit closer. If you stop and wander around, Shelly Bay reveals itself as a small-yet-growing arts and crafts business hub. Within a tight radius, you’ll find homeware designers using repurposed materials, a film/theatre props studio, a bespoke furniture designer, an art gallery/working studio, an artisan screen-printer, a beautiful outdoor seafood café and more.
At the end of September, I spent a day having a look around and talking with the locals
My first port of call was Nick Blake and Michelle Fyson’s Whirlwind Designs. “We make things out of parts of things,” Michelle says. “We make robots. We make candlesticks. We repurpose things into furniture. Loosely speaking, we make homewares.” Having previously worked from home, they relocated their business to Shelly Bay in February. “We wanted a workshop that was a bit bigger and a shop,” she continues. Whirlwind Design’s keynote item is their Tinpot Desktop Robots. “People tell us about someone they love and we create a robot in that person’s spirit,” Michelle explains. They also sell general craft supplies and vintage French homewares.
whirlwinddesigns.com / 021 737 891
Next, I visited Propeller Studios and spoke with their studio manager Philip Sharpe. A prop, backdrop and staging hire/build service, Propeller Studios is in the process of transitioning into a film studio as well. “Eventually you’ll be able to make your entire film here apart from location shoots,” Philip says. “We’re talking design, pre-production, editing, post-production and everything else.” Helmed by a team with extensive local and international experience within the film and theatre industries, Propeller Studios is determined to add to Wellington’s growing film industry in meaningful way. “I want to have evenings where kids can come in and learn how to use all the high-tech machines we use to make props and models,” he continues. “It would be nice to have people come in and learn about our film industry.”
propellerstudios.co.nz / 04 801 8628
Wander a bit further into the artisan village and you’ll stumble across Ian Rouse’s IRFD workshop. “I have my own furniture design business,” Ian explains. “I’m a furniture designer, not a joiner.” With his own range of customisable designs, including stools, tables and desks, Ian produces beautiful bespoke work for clients out of an old army library building. He’s hotly tipped in the industry as well, as his status as a finalist for Best Product Design at the 2014 Best Awards reveals. “Not bad for a guy in a dirty workshop,” he says, with an equal balance of pride and humour. Like many of the creatives in the bay, Ian loves the sense of distance. “I think any creative person needs a degree of isolation.”
irfd.co.nz / 021 077 4337
Blackmore & Best Gallery and Studio
Down the road from IRFD, it’s hard to get past the Blackmore & Best Gallery and Studio, the base of operations for respected and expressive local visual artists Jane Blackmore and Juliet Best. “It’s a joy to come to work everyday,” Jane enthuses. “You feel the urge to paint no matter what the weather is like. You couldn’t really ask for anything else.” With wall-sized sea-facing windows and an expansive and light room to make use of, the two create and sell their paintings under the public eye. “People can physically see us making,” she continues. “Not many artists would be so honest about their development and progression.”
“It’s a functioning, grunty place,” Juliet adds. “There is a balance between magic and work here, and people feel that when they walk in. It’s about the experience in total.”
blackmoreandbest.co.nz / 04 388 2357
Artisan Screen Prints
Backtrack on your walk a few buildings and you’ll come across Thomas Lynch’s Artisan Screen Prints service. Inside a building packed with pre-digital gear, Thomas screen-prints on flatstocks and textiles using eco-friendly water-based inks. Based in the bay for three years now, he works with a lot of local small businesses, be they craft beer breweries, heavy metal bands or boutiques. “There is still a certain cachet in work that is done by a person,” Thomas says. “What a lot of people in the art world like about screen-prints is the fact each one is slightly different.” Alongside Artisan Screen Prints, Thomas also runs his own clothing label, Workshy, and heads up the odd art exhibition. “It’s about balancing work with art.”
artisanscreenprints.co.nz / 04 388 2909
Chocolate Fish Café
If you’re feeling hungry, John Pennington’s Chocolate Fish Café is just around the corner. Spectacularly decorated with quirky tables, chairs and wall-fittings, it’s a wonderful place for coffee, drink or food, in particular their excellent barbecued seafood sandwiches and burgers. “We’ve been here for five years now,” John reflects. “We’re a seven-day-a-week operation.” As great as the place is indoors, what it’s really about is it’s north-facing outdoor seating area, which aside from all-day sun includes a wonderful array of small vehicles and bicycles for children and adults to play on. “We have areas for everyone,” John says.
chocolatefishcafe.co.nz / 04 388 2808
While talking with the people in Shelly Bay, it becomes clear that what makes the place special is the environment and the community incubating within it. “Miramar Peninsula is a real jewel of Wellington,” says Jane Blackmore. “People are amazed when they get out here. It’s beautiful and it quickly becomes part of the family agenda for future visits.”
“The community is neat,” enthuses Michelle Fyson. “Everyone feels lucky to be here and living a creative life. We’re all so supportive of each other.”
Earlier this year, Wellington property developer Ian Cassels brokered a head lease deal on Shelly Bay from the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust. “It’s an underutilised part of Wellington with heaps of potential,” he says. While he likes its current direction, Ian would like to get a craft beer brewery in, look into a ferry and get more people living out there. “We’re working to tidy it up and get the place going,” he continues. “It needs to evolve. You couldn’t just turn it into a poncy community out there. It just wouldn’t work.”
Shelly Bay’s future looks interesting. See you out there sometime?