Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Raurimu Spiral

The Raurimu Spiral on the Main Truck Line has been hailed as “an engineering triumph” with good reason.  For many years the Public Works engineers had been constructing and laying the rail line, working south from  Auckland, and north from Wellington.  Finally, the line had reached Waimarino, now know as National Park Station, on the south side, and to Raurimu Station on the north side. Although only 4 1/2 miles separated them, the height difference was 714 feet  – the problem was to join up the two places with a workable grade through bush covered rugged terrain.

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The problem was solved by senior engineer R W Holmes in 1898.  Laid out in the form of an ascending spiral, incorporating a complete circle, three horseshoe curves, and two short tunnels, this section of the track covered 11.5km, with a gradient of 1 in 52.

Raurimu spiral map

The passengers reboarded the Spiral Snow Express at National Park, and we travelled along the Raurimu Spiral, stopping at Raurimu Station for a look around.  We checked out some local residents too, in the adjacent paddock.

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At Raurimu Station

The loco engine was then taken off the front, shunted up the rails, down again, and coupled up to the other end.

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Changing the engine to the other end of the train

Then the train chugged along, and stopped for a photo opportunity just before the tunnel.  The more active passengers climbed down from the train, and traipsed up the hill to get a good vantage point.  That all seemed a bit too energetic to us, so we joined the other photographers just in front of the tunnel.

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Getting ready for a photo opportunity

The train was then reversed around the corner, and then moved forwards towards the crowds of waiting photographers.  Click,click went the cameras around us, and the other group high on the hillside were surely doing the same.  Just think how much more exciting it would have been if the steam engine was still attached.

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Cameras ready, here comes the train

With that bit of excitement over, we settled back to enjoy our homewards journey.  We passed Horopito Motors, which claims to be the largest and only vintage car dismantlers in Australasia, with car bodies as far as the eye could see.   In 1981 the noted New Zealand film "Smash Palace" was filmed here and Horopito Motors became known internationally.

Photo courtesy of Horopito Motors

We then crossed the new concrete  Hapuawhenua Viaduct which was built in 1987, gazing out at the old viaduct which is now part of the Rail Trail.  The first Hapuawhenua Viaduct was classified as a Category 1 structure by Historic Places Trust in October 1995 and was built in 1908.

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The original Hapuawhenua Viaduct

As the miles chugged by, the sun was going down, the sky darkened, and there was not much to see out the windows.  There was a quick stop at Hunterville when our pre-ordered evening meals were loaded on-board, with about 200 passengers and staff took advantage of this optional extra.  Cooked and individually packed by the local pub, we declared they had done remarkably well with such a big order.  Soon we were busily tucking into our Beef and Guinness Casserole and veggies, followed by a choice of cheesecake or fruit salad.  So tasty after a hard day’s sight seeing.  Fully replete, there were a few grey heads nodding off as our journey continued south.

The train stopped at Palmerston North to reattach the steam loco, and before we knew it, we had reached our home station of Levin, arriving at 9.30pm.  It had been a long day, but so enjoyable.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Onto National Park aboard the Spiral Snow Express

The ever changing vistas flashed by our carriage windows.  The views of rolling green farmland changed to pine plantations, followed by hillsides covered in beautiful native bush. And all these views were topped off with a bright blue sky – just perfect.

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Tree ferns and native bush

The train sped by Waiouru station, which at 814m is the highest station in New Zealand on the Main Trunk Line.  A little further up the line is memorial to the Tangiwai Disaster, the site of New Zealand’s worst railway accident.  At 10.21 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1953 the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, 10 km west of Waiouru in the central North Island. Of the 285 passengers and crew on board, 151 died in New Zealand’s worst railway accident.  I was just a youngster at the time, but can still remember the news coming across on the radio, and the long lists of names of the deceased solemnly read out.

Another memorial stands at Manganuioteao, between Ohakune and National Park, and I managed to get a photo of this as we sped by.   Way back on 6th November 1908 Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward ceremonially opened the North Island main trunk railway line by driving home a final polished silver spike. The central section of the main trunk line, between Te Awamutu and Marton, had taken 23 years of surveys, land negotiations, political wrangling and back-breaking physical effort by thousands of labourers.

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Obelisk marking the last spike on the Main Trunk Line

Just about everyone climbed down from the train at National Park Station.  There was a long queue at the counter of the station café as customers waited to order hot drinks and goodies for afternoon tea.  And an equally long queue lined up to use the rest rooms.  Some passengers boarded a bus to take them to the rather posh Chateau for a late lunch.  We had decided on a more economical option and had brought our lunches from home and had already eaten them on the train.

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National Park Station

And what could be nicer than the mountain views from the station, looking almost close enough to touch.  At 2291m tall, the beautiful cone of Mount Ngauruhoe reminds us that it is still an active volcano, and last erupted back in 1977.

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Mt Ngauruhoe

And the taller Mount Ruapehu, which boasts a height of 2797m is also an active volcano, last erupting in 2007.  Mt Ruapehu had flashed by our carriage windows as we tried to take a decent photo, leaning over our neighbours as we tried to steady the camera as the train bounced along, and focus through the dirty windows.  This time, of course, it’s so much easier to take a snap outside while standing still.  It is such a joy to see two beautiful mountains in close proximity.

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Mt Ruapehu

Those heavy coats, hats and gloves weren’t needed after all, but it was better to be safe than sorry, instead of cold and shivery.  We posed outside “our” carriage while Selwyn took our photo, and we returned the favour for him and Kath. 

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Two happy day trippers at National Park

Next stop – the world famous Raurimu Spiral.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Spiral Snow Express

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday, aboard the Spiral Snow Express heading up to the famous Raurimu Spiral.  It was a good enough reason to set the alarm to ensure we didn’t sleep in, prepare our picnic lunch, collect our warm coats, gloves and hats (how much snow are they expecting?) gather some friends together, and head off to the station.

Of course, we arrived with plenty of time to spare.  This Steam Incorporated excursion was starting the journey from Paekakariki, but we had been told that 100 keen locals were boarding the train at Levin.  That’s an awful lot of rail enthusiasts, so we wanted to arrive at the station in good time to ensure we found a car park close by.  And before too long, the excitement rose as we heard the puff, puff, puff of the steam engine approaching.

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Here she comes – steam loco Ja 1271

Steam locomotive, Ja 1271 was to haul the line of vintage carriages between Paekakariki and Palmerston North and then would be switched with a electric loco.  Built in 1956 at the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin, she worked hauling express passenger and freight trains on the South Island Main Trunk.  After a shunting accident and falling into disrepair, the engine was rescued by Steam Incorporated members, underwent extensive overhauls and rebuilding, and now is one of the stars of the fleet.

Eight of us were travelling together, and we were very pleased to get seats either side of the aisle.  With a handy table to share, we were nice and comfy, and settled down to enjoy our trip.  Our carriage, like all the others on the excursion, was vintage   Our 56ft 2nd class carriage was built in 1938 at Otahuhu Workshops, Auckland.  We were advised that one of the features of the vintage carriages is that they have no heating, and to come prepared, hence the warm clothes we all arrived in.

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Selwyn, Kath, Sandra and Don were across the aisle  -  Derek, Dot, Jenny and Robin

Once all the Levin passengers were safely settled, the excursion train set off, stopping at stations along the way to collect more passengers.  Then it was full steam ahead to Palmerston North station, where the steam loco was changed for a KiwiRail electric locomotive.  This change-over was closely watched by the train full of rail enthusiasts.  First the steam loco strutted it’s stuff and puffed out a lot of steam, before being uncoupled.

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Clouds of steam

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Steam loco leaving, and electric loco coming to take over

The engine taking over the trip from Palmerston North to Raurimu Spiral and return was an electric locomotive EP Class, and was built by Brush Electrical in England in 1988.  This type is the most powerful loco in use in New Zealand at 3000 KW and weigh 108 tonnes.

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Coupling up

Continuing on our way, we enjoyed views of the snow covered Ruahine Ranges out the window.

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Ruahine Ranges

Crossed over the Makohine Viaduct, and looked down over yet another gorge far below.

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Views from the carriage window

And there’s Mt Ruapehu, absolutely covered in snow and the peaks looking wonderful against the bright blue sky.

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Mt Ruapehu

With quite an early start, we were more than ready to eat our lunch about mid-day.  Out came the sandwiches, the thermos flasks for a hot coffee, and we all happily tucked in to our picnic lunches.  Fed and watered, we settled back to enjoy the journey and look forward to more adventures further up the line.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Food Truck Fiesta

Who would have thought that a night out in little old Levin was so exciting?  The monthly Food Truck Fiesta was inspired by the night markets of the Far East and London, filled with delicious ethnic cheap eats and a definite buzz in the air. We went down last night to join the crowds of people all milling around in the early evening as they checked out the food on offer.  This event was held in the car park by the library.

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Checking out the Food Truck Fiesta

There was plenty on offer, from Indonesian, Greek, Mexican, and many more, with no sight of a McDonalds or Burger King to be seen, thank goodness.    We wandered up and down, checking out the food and prices.  Then with our minds made up, we went our separate ways to order the dinner of of choice.  I had decided on Indonesian, to try something completely different.  A tasty dish of chicken and noodles, Mie Goreng, really delicious.

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My Indonesian meal was freshly cooked while I waited

Robin went all Jamaican and joined the long line of people queuing up outside the Three Little Birds food tent. Once again, something completely different was ordered, and he finally arrived back with a container of Jerk Pork.  Very tasty, he declared, but with a definite flavour bite to each mouthful, hot and spicy enough to make the eyes water and the nose run!

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Robin’s choice was Jamaican

So we managed to find ourselves a table,  and sat down and enjoyed our ethnic meals together.  There were people everywhere, seated at tables like us, or perched on the seats outside the library.  Still more were milling around each food vendor as they waited for their orders, or decided what they might buy.

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All enjoying the meals

Then was even a dessert cart offering all sorts of interesting things to complete our meal.  We chose a Crème Brulee for her and a Salted Caramel Brownie for him – both voted delicious.

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What’s for pudding?

A lone singer/musician kept the crowd entertained as we ate our ethnic food, singing a variety of tunes.  Some rap, which I’m not too keen on, and other songs which sounded vaguely familiar, and there were even one or two which I recognised.  People moved around, coming and going amongst the tables, or just sitting still and enjoying the music.

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Our entertainment for the evening

It was certainly a fun night out, and it was great to see the whole community getting behind this new venture.  There were family groups, lots of teens, and quite a few older people like us, all out to try new foods and flavours.  We certainly plan to come again when it is next on, and once again, try something new and completely different to tickle our taste buds.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Paekakariki Holiday Park

Our caravan club rally spent at Paekakariki can best be described as rather damp underfoot.  We spent most of Saturday skirting large puddles, and carefully placing our feet in the least muddy places as we made our way to and fro.  Our intended afternoon walk along the adjacent beach never happened due to the persistent rain and after a quiet afternoon reading, snoozing,or catching up with fellow club members, it soon rolled around to 4zees time.  Thanks go to Selwyn for bringing his heater along to the kitchen to take the chill off the air.

We had arranged for our group to partake of an evening meal at Finn’s Restaurant, situated in the Paekakariki Village.  Cars were pooled, rides offered to the motor-homers and we set off for a good night out.  “Mine Host” happily welcomed our group of 16 happy campers into our establishment.  Robin went up to the bar to purchase a glass of red for himself and a small bottle of bubbly for me.  “Try this one”, he was advised when enquiring about the bubbles, “it’s French” – and yes, it certainly was delicious.

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The bar at Finn’s

Our group was soon settled at two adjoining  tables and then came the hard decision – what to order?  There was plenty of choice, from burgers, to fish, steak, chicken, beef  and pork, plus vegetarian options.  Then there was the dessert menu to peruse as well.

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Waiting patiently for our dinner

The meals started to arrive, and it was interesting to see what everyone had ordered.  Robin certainly enjoyed his big serving of sticky ribs, and was grateful for the finger bowl which came with his order.  And Glennis was soon tucking in to her pan fried fish.

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Yum, yum, dinner’s arrived

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Our two tables enjoying their night out

The tables went quiet as we all got down to the business of eating!  As any wife knows, a night off from kitchen duties is a bonus indeed, and we were all set to make the most of it.  There were no complaints about the meals, and most managed to get through the large portions, although I did notice one doggy bag being taken back to the camp.  A few desserts made it to the other table, but our table of eight declared they really couldn’t do them justice, and declined. 
 
Sunday morning dawned fine and sunny, and the large puddles had gradually soaked away overnight, leaving quite a  soggy mess all around the vans.  But it was warm enough to sit outside in the sunshine for morning tea, a first for the weekend.  The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the camp had that “just washed after rainfall” look.  We could forgive the muddy patches – it is winter after all – and this is indeed a lovely large camp with beautiful trees and colourful gardens.

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Garden by one of the amenity blocks

Robin brought our rally weekend to a close by thanking everyone for their participation – pity about the weather but that was out of our hands.  Goodbyes were said, and we fare-welled Val and Bill as they were joining friends for a week’s caravanning at Thames, lucky them.  The rest of us were heading home.

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More happy travels for Val and Bill
It was a nice relaxed weekend, meeting up with friends, a nice meal out, sharing jokes and tall tales, and catching up with everyone’s news. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good weather for Ducks

Our marvellous run of warm sunny weather has broken.  But then, it is mid winter after all.  And what could be a more mid-winter thing to do than go camping in the rain? Due to an afternoon appointment, we were one of the last to arrive at the Paekakariki Holiday Park in the late afternoon, just in time for a delayed 4zees.  Once the van was on site and hooked up to power, we joined our caravan club buddies in the kitchen for a catch up of everyone’s news.

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Although damp underfoot at first, the rain soon came down turning everything sodden.  And kept falling, all through the night.  We all awoke on Saturday morning to find our caravans surrounded by water.  Some puddles were deeper than others, and our black mat was completely submerged.  And guess who forgot to pack the gumboots for the weekend?

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Surrounded by large puddles

But a little rain didn’t dampen our spirits.  We gathered for Morning Tea in the kitchen building, and as the pair of us are Rally Captains for the weekend rally, we outlined our plans.  The scheduled walk along the beach was cancelled, but we could look forward to a meal out later tonight at Finns Restaurant down in the village.  Menus were circulated to give our club members an idea of what was on offer, and the prices.

In between showers I went for a quick walk and stood entranced under a gum tree as several Tui sang and chortled high above me.  Called “Parson Birds”  by the early settlers because of the tufts of white feathers at the throat, these birds appear black but in reality their feathers are iridescent dark blue and bronze and they have a circlet of lacy white feathers covering the back of their neck and shoulders.  Sadly, my photo does not do this beautiful native bird justice, so I have downloaded one from the internet to show how gorgeous they are.

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Tui, formerly known as Parson bird

This is a lovely large camp with over 200 power sites, and beautiful mature trees which certainly encourage the abundant bird life.  There are five caravans and three motorhomes attending this weekend from our club.  And it looks like we have most of the camp to ourselves
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It’s certainly a rather damp day today

Wonder if we can hope for nicer weather tomorrow before we all pack up and head for home?  Guess we will just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

From the Mountains to the Sea

We live in a beautiful country here in New Zealand, there is no denying that.  We are spoilt for choice with so many outstanding scenic views packed into our small country.  Our drive north to Palmerston North this morning took us passed snow capped mountains glistening in the sun shine.  The mighty Tararua Ranges were definitely looking their best.  On the way back we just had to stop and take a few photos.

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Snow topped Tararua Ranges behind a dairy farm

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And a close up of the view

Also in the area beside the road where we stopped we came across a very interesting old sign.  Wonder if the old-timers still talk about the “Flood of 53”.  It seems unbelievable that the flood waters could reach that high.

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Memorial sign post of extra high flooding levels

Heading south again, we travelled down to Paraparaumu to collect a parcel.  And enjoy our fish and chip lunch on the beach.  Not just any fish either, we had a tasty fillet of Chatham Islands blue cod each, delicious. We enjoyed our lunch sitting in the car,  because it was mid winter after all.  What could be a more Kiwi past-time than that!  And right in front of us we had a view of Kapiti Island.

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Enjoying our lunch on the beach

The small Red Billed Gulls with their matching bright red legs and feet were facing into the wind just by our car.  But still keeping an eye out in case any food was thrown to them.  The much larger Black Backed Gulls were happily wading in the shallows.  Look closely and you can just make out the faint outline of the South Island through the haze.

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Gulls on Paraparaumu Beach

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Kapiti Island just across the sea

We had a great day out, tooing and froing as we ticked things off our “to-do list”.  Lovely weather for the middle of winter, and as we mentioned before, outstanding scenery.  But then, we could be a little bit biased.