Sunday, October 31, 2010

"If everybody had a twelve-gauge, and a surfboard, too..."

Happy Hallowe’en from down under! Except New Zealanders don’t celebrate Hallowe’en for the most part; some dress up and have a party, but trick-or-treating is not common around here, and it has been rather refreshing not to see supermarkets hawking crappy plastic decorations. I do miss pumpkins, however: I feel like I should be carving a jack-o-lantern right now. However, I am not too sad, because...

I learned to surf today!! This morning we left Hahei and drove from the east coast of the North Island to the west coast and the beachside town of Raglan, population 2 700, and home to several famous surf beaches, including one with a long left hand point break (don’t ask me what that means, it’s a surfing term). We are staying up at the Karioi Lodge about 10km out of town, where the Raglan Surf School is based. Their guarantee is “Stand Up and Surf!”, implying that 95% of their students will successfully manage to surf at least one wave. At 2pm the six of us who signed up for lessons met up at the Barn, a large metal shed on the lodge property, and we were taught how to determine which foot goes forward on the board (amazingly, I am regular, with my left foot forward, like most right-handed people), how to lie on the surfboard, and how to stand up without falling off. After some practising “paddling” on the concrete, and learning how to fall off (backward onto your bum), we all piled into the Raglan Surf School Van and drove down to the beach.

At the beach we got a surfboard and a wetsuit, and let me tell you, putting on a wetsuit feels like being vacuum-packed into a small container! We had one more practise on the beach of paddling and standing up, and then we attached the board leads to our ankles (to keep us from completely losing our boards when we fell off), and headed out into the water!

The teachers were out in the water with us, pushing us and helping us catch our first waves. The first time I tried I fell off right after standing up, but the second time I caught the wave and stood up and rode it all the way to the beach! It was quite the rush; I know I have good balance, but I didn’t expect to do so well my first time out surfing. I credit my success to practise as a kid surfing down the snowy hill in the backyard on toboggans and and flying saucers. Either way, I impressed the instructors and my fellow surf students, and apparently have even started to amass something of an arrogant surfer attitude about how good I am. :-P I will have to try it again at Tofino... and maybe bring some clay pigeons and rifle and try my hand at skeet surfin’ (Top Secret, for those confused).

After 1 1/2 hours in the water, and running on the warmth provided by the wetsuit and the adrenaline of catching and riding the waves on my own, I rode my last wave to the beach, got out, returned my surfboard, and spent several minutes extracting myself from my wetsuit. When we arrived back here at the Lodge it was straight into a warm shower and dry clothes, although my ears are still full of water that I can’t seem to dislodge. The atmosphere around here is very chill and relaxed... the dorm room doors don't even have locks on them! For $12 we were able to partake in a Sunday roast cooked by one of the hostel employees. It was definitely better than a dinner of pasta or rice like I would normally eat if left to my own devices, and the closest to a Hallowe’en celebration that I think I am going to get, unless I challenge someone to a game of pool or sit down and watch a movie. (Come to think of it, one of the cooked vegetables was butternut squash, so that's the same vegetable type as a pumpkin...) I wish everyone back home a very happy Hallowe’en, and I think I am going to carve two pumpkins next year to make up for missing this year.


Getting Myself into Hot Water (Literally)

First day of travel with Stray Bus Tours today! I was picked up from the hostel at 8am and travelled on the bright orange bus up to the top of Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano in the middle of Auckland that provided a breathtaking view of the city bathed in early morning light. Mt. Eden is known in Māori as Maungawhau, “the maiden with a hundred lovers”, referring to the other small dormant volcanic hills located in the surrounding area, and and visible from the mountain. Aside from the view, the most spectacular aspect of Mt. Eden is its volcanic crater, called Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho (The Food Bowl of Mataaho), now filled with bright green grass, and designated a scared site, so one cannot enter, but can instead walk around the rim.

After a short stop at Stray headquarters, where we, the twenty-three passengers, where shown how to make changes to our travel itinerary online, we hopped back on the bus and headed for the town of Thames (which in our driver’s Kiwi accent sounds like he’s saying “Tims”). There we stopped at the local Pak n Save for a grocery run; we all bought something to eat for lunch, while the driver took $10 from each of us and bought food to make a communal Kiwi BBQ tonight for dinner. Thames is considered the gateway town to the Coromandel coast, but it’s quite a narrow gate: the bridge leading across the Waihou river is only one-lane, and as a result can have 10km backups during the busy summer months! A new two-lane bridge is under construction, but won’t be open for another two years.

After driving over the Coromandel Ranges (and narrowly missing several cyclists in the middle of a race on the same road), we arrived here in Hahei, a beach town whose name literally translates as “Breath of Hei’”, after the leader of the first Maori tribe to settle the area, who decided a rocky island in the bay resembled the shape of his nose. While some of the group had planned to do kayaking over to Cathedral Cove, those plans failed to materialise due to adverse weather conditions; it was cloudy and the water choppy. Instead, we checked into our backpacker quarters at Hahei Holiday Park, and then in groups of three or four walked the 45-minute trek to Cathedral Cove, a marine protected site that is justifiably famous for its natural beauty: a gigantic stone arch (roped off because apparently rocks are prone to falling down inside it), and a delicate waterfall at the other end of the cove, plunging over a steep cliff. Although cloudy when we arrived, within half an hour the skies were clear and sunny and the water turned an inviting bright blue (it was still quite cool, however). The sand at the beach has a high iron content due to the area’s volcanic history, and when running the sand over my fingers they became coated in a black iron powder, which thankfully readily washed off.

Heading back to the campsite, we helped our driver prepare our shared BBQ dinner of corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, salad, lamb, chicken, and sausages, then sat at the picnic tables together to eat. It is strange for me to be surrounded by so many younger people after my three-week train adventure with a more mature crowd, to say the least. So far I have met people from Germany, England, Austria, France, and one girl from Rimouski, QC!

After dinner we drove out to Hot Water Beach, a geological marvel: past volcanic activity in the region has left a chamber of magma slowly cooling closer to the earth’s surface than normal, which heats up the water table underneath the sand. Two hours at either side of low tide, one can go to the beach with a small spade, dig a hole in the sand, and create one’s very own spa pool! And make no mistake, this water is HOT. The magma underneath is a toasty 170ºC, resulting in water likely around 60ºC or so! It’s quite surreal, to see the wet sand and pools steaming, with the cold water from the ocean only a few feet away. The trick was to build a pool close enough to the water’s edge that cold water from the beach could intrude every so often, while also leaving a “drain” of sorts (a hole in the wall of the pool to let out excess cold and hot water). Despite my lingering cold/cough/sore throat, I jumped right in to the spa pool at the end: when else am I going to get a chance to dig my own hot tub on the beach?

We came back to the Hahei Holiday Park around 8:20pm and had dessert, a yummy concoction of a banana with melted chocolate wrapped in aluminum foil and heated on the BBQ. Now most of the travelers and the driver have taken off in the bus and gone to watch the All Blacks rugby game against Australia (being televised from Hong Kong) at the local volunteer fire department, and three or four of us opted to stay behind, including myself, as I am trying to get well, not exhaust my voice by staying up late and yelling at a television. Bedtime for sick girls... night!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Preparing for Adventure (Or, "Why Do I Have So Much Stuff?")

Ah, a lovely second night in the room, mercifully missing the snorer from hell (he was out all night partying). However, as it turns out, snoring is the least of my problems with him. He doesn't bathe, he is drunk 24/7, he was drinking beer in the room this morning and afternoon (alcohol is not permitted in this hostel), he makes slurred passes at myself and the twin sisters from Northern England, he eats beans out of a can and then spills some and squishes them into the carpet, and he has a stereo that he set up and listens to his music (bad Spanish rap/punk and rock) at full volume and stands in front of it and plays air guitar. I will not be sorry to leave him behind tomorrow.

The sore throat is starting to recede, but it's being replaced by a cough and an annoying tickle that makes my eyes well up and look like I'm either terribly sad or terribly stoned. I am hoping that I don't drag out this illness by starting my travels tomorrow, but the alternative is to stay here, and quite frankly, I would like to get out of the city.

Today I went back to the IEP office to pick up my mail (my IRD tax number came through), then headed out to visit the Mainline Steam Depot in Parnell (a suburb of Auckland). I had some pins and flyers about the BC Forest Discovery Centre I was hoping to give to Michael, and thank him again for such a great three weeks, but he wasn't in; likely taking a well-deserved holiday after three weeks of stress. I instead spoke to Ian, one of the volunteers, and when I gave him the pins to give to Michael he told me he had been to the museum in 1995 and had ridden on Hillcrest #1! It's neat how there are connections to home to be found in people all the way down here.

I bought bread at the supermarket on my way back to the hostel (mine had moulded, yum yum), then I made myself an early supper of rice and veggies and salad again. Then it was up here to my room (thankfuly the crazy guy was on his way out to a night of partying), and I repacked my suitcase and hiking backpack in preparation for my 7:45am departure tomorrow (the less thinking I have to do in the morning, the better).

I am off on my Stray Travel bus pass tomorrow morning: we are headed first to Hahei Beach in the Coromandel. The itinerary for my pass ("Max") can be found here: , although I won't be sticking to it religiously, taking a day or two extra in different locations... after all, I'm not exactly on a time constraint. My blog updating will likely get a bit more sporadic now; not all the places we will be staying will have internet access.

Anyway, it is Friday night, almost 11:30pm, and the streets outside are hopping (and so is the club, judging by the thumping music I can feel resonating from one building over), but I need to be up early, so it is off to bed for me. I'm the only one in the room right now; maybe I'll actually get to sleep without listening to someone else's snoring or heavy breathing!!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hanging Around Auckland... Again.

Not really a very exciting day today; I have a feeling everything is going to pale in comparison for a few days to the excitement of Mainline Steam. Oh, I have been here a month and I am already spoiled to the beauty of New Zealand... although to be fair, the beauty of Queen Street here in Auckland is akin to the beauty of Granville St. in Vancouver: beautiful for some, but not for me.

This morning I nursed my sore throat by staying in bed until 9am. However, due to the loud snoring of a roommate, I was unable to sleep until after 2am the night before, so in reality, I wasn't very rested. I hate communal rooms shared with snorers!

I sat and read for pleasure (imagine that!) for the first time in over three weeks, which felt quite relaxing after all my reading of schedules and itineraries and brochures, and then I went out onto Queen Street, going to the bank and then off grocery shopping to the Countdown. Grocery shopping is always fun; a mix of familiar and unfamiliar brands, and trying to figure out which of the unfamiliar brands would be my best bet for tasting like that I'm used to. Today I was trying to buy things that I can take with me when I start my Stray Travel bus pass on Saturday, so it was all about minimizing bulk and weight: I bought soup packets, juice crystals, and stir fry sauces in pouches. I also bought some rice and fresh veggies, and cooked myself an early yet delicious dinner in the hostel kitchen. It's no easy feat, finding clean dishes and cooking utensils in that place! Base Auckland is kind of like the McDonald's of hostels: you can stay there for a few days, but after that you find yourself longing for something a bit more comfortable and fulfilling. (And unlike McDonald's, it's not cheap! But that's because it's in Auckland.)

In the late afternoon I went up the IEP Work New Zealand office and picked up my luggage I had in storage; tomorrow I get to go through it and effectively repack for my upcoming trip, as my suitcase is suffering from "packing rot": everything is all jumbled up and needs to be neatly refolded.

I just had one of the more unbearable showers of my life. The showers here at Base are miserable anyway: they are on a timer, so one has to keep repeatedly pressing a button to get water to come out in eight-second spurts. However, there is no temperature control, so one is at the mercy of the system, and tonight it was scalding hot: I think I may actually have burned the top of my head. Oh, I will be glad to leave this place Saturday morning...

Tomorrow I will do some more housekeeping things, and maybe visit the Mainline Steam Depot for one last goodbye to the train before I leave on my next travel adventure sans steam.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Steam Train, Day Fifteen: Whangarei to Auckland

And so today marks the last day of Mainline Steam's 2010 Tour. I don't think I have accepted yet that it is over... I keep thinking that I will be getting back again on a steam train tomorrow and heading off to some other neat New Zealand destination.

My bunk (top left) at the Whangarei YHA

Whangarei as seen from my
window at the hostel

This morning I woke up at 8:10am with an immensely swollen and sore throat, which has refused to get any better over the course of the day. My voice has also been reduced to something of a croak, leaving me unable to talk without raising eyebrows from others at how pathetic it sounds (though I imagine some would think my inability to talk is not a bad thing!). It's frustrating, especially when I am speaking to someone knowledgable about the locies or railway and want to ask them questions, and all that comes out is a croak, or nothing at all.

The train didn't leave Whangarei until 1pm, so after a slow start to the morning at the hostel (mainly involving listening to Aliy, the hostel manager, read today's headlines out to the occupants of the lounge in her delightful Scottish accent), I wandered down the hill into downtown Whangarei and met up with Alan, and we went for a light lunch at a hip coffee bar. I had a double fudge mocha frappé, which was likely a mistake, as the caffeine gave me mini-anxiety attacks all afternoon (I was just aiming for something cold to soothe my sore throat). I showed him photos on my computer of Duncan and Maple Bay, and we both agree that Vancouver Island's landscape is both beautiful and in some ways not dissimilar to New Zealand.

Ja 1275 steamed up for the last day at Whangarei Station

Sometime candid shots are so great. Aside from the obvious
expression, check out the girl in the pink shirt falling out
of the cab, and wave 'Hi' to Al sitting on the far right!

The reason the train left Whangarei so late is had we left any earlier in the morning, we would run into rush hour metro trains in Auckland, and would end up sitting on a passing loop for hours waiting for a track warrant. By leaving at 1pm, Michael hoped to avoid any unnecessary delays on our trip. His plan was thwarted, however, when we had to wait over an hour for a passing freight train (I forget exactly where; I think it was Mangapai). I passed the time talking to Tom, one of the Mainline Steam volunteers, and he and I walked around Ja 1275 and up into the cab, discussing different aspects of the locomotive and its functioning.

As a result of this delay, we had only two official photo stops in the afternoon; the first one at an old factory building known somewhat uncreatively as "The Old Mill", and the next at Otamatea Bridge, where the supports for the old rail bridge could still be seen in the water in the background. I spent a large part of this afternoon riding on the open viewing platform at the back of the train; when we went through tunnels I counted the seconds in between refuge holes in the wall, estimated the train's speed, and then later calculated out the distance between holes (answer: about 140m).

Ja 1275 at 'The Old Mill'

A shy bird on one of the supports for the old Otamatea Bridge

Ja 1275 steams across the Otamatea Bridge

We stopped again at Wellsford for water, and I set to doing another letter word puzzle that Maude tossed my way; they're surprisingly addictive! It was nice to see all the schoolchildren and parents who came out to see the train throughout the day when we stopped; seeing a steam train on a main line is such a novel experience, and hopefully will inspire interest in some young minds in steam locomotives.

Stopping for water at Wellsford (the name makes it amusing)

Schoolkids and their parents clambering for a look
in the cab of Ja 1275 at Wellsford

As the sun sank lower into the horizon, we turned off the lights in the rear observation car, allowing us to experience the beauty of the sunset and then twilight as we made our way through the suburbs of Auckland to the train station. While I was tired and prepared for the day's journey to end, there was also a bittersweet feeling to the evening, marking the end of our shared time on the train together. We have become like a little (albeit dysfunctional!) family, and I will miss the camaraderie and conversation of the observation car's occupants.

Our last afternoon in the observation car

The setting sun as we steamed into Auckland

After friendly goodbyes with everyone, Alan and I walked from the station to the central business district of Auckland, and then he was kind enough to walk me to my hostel. I am now situated in the lounge at Base Auckland, which has indeed become something of a home base to me (like it or not). I am going to be here until at least Saturday, and I hope to spend the time relaxing and minimizing my activities as I am going to try to fight off this sore throat. Wish me luck! The first step: to go to bed. I'm on it.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Steam Train, Day Fourteen: Hamilton to Whangarei

Today was a long travel day, but I swear I am going to keep this post short. No, really... I am becoming very sick with a sore throat and I need to sleep.

We left Hamilton this morning and made directly for Auckland, about 120km to the north. When Alan and I arrived, dropped off by the J's Backpackers van, the mainline steam representative spotted me and asked, "Hey, do you want to play again today? You can come ride in Ja 1275 again if you want". Of course, I am never one to turn down a cab ride, so both Alan and I went up and rode all the way from Hamilton to Westfield, a station in the suburbs outside of Auckland. While we were up there I got to fire again, and even drive the train! It feels kind of surreal, to know I drove a steam train on a main line. Sure, it was the train in the middle, not the front locie, so technically I didn't have to work any brakes or anything, and the train was just steamed up enough to pull its own weight, but it was still driving!

Yes, even the engineer gets to take pictures!

Amusingly, my parents called me on my cell phone when I was on the locie, prompting me to answer it and say, "Hello, I'm on the engine, you'll have to call me back!" and then hanging up on them. I called them back once I was riding in the carriages again, and got caught up with the news back home, and them caught up with the news here.

Platform warnings at Westfield. This reminded
me of the MTR in Hong Kong.

We bid adieu to J 1211 at Westfield, as it is going to be serviced in Auckland, and Alan and I headed back into the passenger cars after almost two hours in the cab. After making it through Auckland in record time (according to Michael), we entered into the Northlands, and finally had a few photo stops; the first at Wharepapa Road, and then Helensville Station.

A locie on display at Helensville Station

The cab of the aforementioned locie

The beautifully restored Helensville Station

The third was at Hoteo Quarry, where I scrambled up a cliff face (! twice!) to take pictures of the locie rounding the corner. One man was so impressed with the vantage point I was able to reach he asked for a copy of the photos I managed to take, and gave me his e-mail address!

The crowd of photographers in Hoteo Quarry
as seen from my mountain-goat vantage point

Ja 1275 steaming into Hoteo Quarry

I think I may have used more of my theoretical carbon
credits up riding steam trains than on the plane coming here!

The third stop was at the town of Wellsford for servicing (a water stop), and I wandered up into the town to purchase Halls (called "Throaties" down here) for my rapidly deteriorating throat.

Logs waiting to ship by rail at Wellsford

Wellsford Station, now boarded up

A creative (if inappropriate) use of thumbtacks in an old tie

I found this decapitated plastic figure in the
garden at the station. Maude promptly stomped
on it about two seconds after I took this picture!

The fourth and fifth photo stops were at Topuni and Maungaturoto, respectively, but in my opinion weren't particularly spectacular after the Hoteo Quarry, although I took pictures anyway.

Supports for the old Otamatea rail bridge

I passed the afternoon on the train with Maude and Alan, doing the sudoku and cryptic crossword puzzles in the paper (I'm rubbish at crosswords, but great at sudoku). We've become like something of a slightly dysfunctional family on the train; it's going to be sad to leave all of these people tomorrow.

Rail joint bearing an engraving of its laying date

An old loading station

Ja 1275 at Maungaturoto

We got into Whangarei at 7:15pm, and after checking into the YHA, Jean, Gary, Claude, John, Alan, and myself went down to McMorrissey's Irish Pub and Eatery for dinner. There was a live Irish jam band, a loose group of twelve or so musicians who call themselves "Trad Sessún" and get together every Tuesday night to play Irish music. They were fantastic! I wanted to sing along so badly with some of the songs they played (such as "Tell My Ma"), but with my throat as it is I can barely croak out words, let alone a melody. I'm sure the pint of Guinness I had didn't help, either...

Anyway, I am off to bed... we aren't leaving Whangarei until tomorrow afternoon, but I still want to get as much sleep as possible.


Monday, October 25, 2010

"Go West, Young Man!"

Today was a train-free day; Gary and Jean picked up Alan and I outside J's Backpackers at 9:20am in a rented car, and we headed out for the west coast. We had a loose idea of where we wanted to go, leading to a fair amount of meandering around the hills and valleys of New Zealand's rural landscape; a true "tiki tour", in the local lingo. 

Rent-a-Dent! I love it.

We also had a highly amusing time fighting with Gary's GPS, which stubbornly refused to be reprogrammed and insisted on directing us back to Auckland. I took it and was able to set it properly for our destination, but even after that it would hiccough and stop giving directions altogether. Its supposed "Australian" accent also left something to be desired, especially considering the three genuine Australian accents in the car; it sounded more like a nasally Brit. I nicknamed her "Matilda".

Gary and Jean with the rental car

Alan surveys pastoral (and typically beautiful) New Zealand

We headed out to the beaches of Kawhia, where Gary had heard rumours of some hot springs where we could dig in the sand and create our own little hot spa pools. We stopped in the village first and took in the beauty of the bay and its black, sparkling sand; there is a high amount of silica and volcanic rock that gives it the black colour.

Black volcanic sand at Kawhia village

Fishing boats in the harbour at Kawhia

We had a quick lunch at the Orange Dinghy Café, and then headed out to the beach. What greeted us was not hot pools (despite the digging efforts of both locals and ourselves; we figured the tide wasn't low enough), but huge sand dunes and a group of boogie boarders, who provided us with continual entertainment as they repeatedly wiped out trying to surf to the bottom. The ocean was quite cold, much like it would be at home; however, if we don't count the time I drove down Ninety Mile Beach with the tour bus at the beginning of October, today marked the first time I have been in an ocean other than the Pacific (in this case, the Tasman Sea). I didn't go swimming, save to treat my irritated feet: when I went back to the washrooms to change into my swimsuit (or "togs", as they call it here), I burned my bare feet on the hot sand. I can't even imagine how hot the sand must get in the summer months!

Kawhia Beach, as seen from atop the sand dunes

Jean snaps some shots while Gary gets ready to
descend the sand dune to the beach

A horse and rider take a wade into the Tasman Sea

Around 3pm we hiked back up over the sand dunes (wearing shoes!) to the car and headed for Bridal Falls, also called Waireinga (Māori for "leaping waters", referring to spirits leaping from the great height of the waterfall). At 55m tall, but with a fairly small volume, the falls are beautiful in their delicacy, misting into vapour a few metres before they hit the basin pool below. Alan wondered out loud about the properties of the waterfall, which led me to explain all about the polar covalency of water, aerodynamics, and gravity. Needless to say, the three of them now know how much of a colossal nerd I am. Not that I am ashamed of this fact: if anything, Bill Nye the Science Guy taught me that scientific discussions are perfectly valid in any situation. "Please... consider the following!"

Bridal Veil Falls / Waireinga

Bridal Veil Falls pool

The babbling brook flowing out of Bridal Veil Falls

The one disappointing thing about the falls was the condition of the water; while the feeder streams once only wended through forested areas, the same land is now farmland, and farm runoff has turned the water a cloudy green-grey and made it unsafe for drinking (duh) and swimming. New Zealand may pride itself on its natural beauty, but it is certainly not immune to detrimental effects of mass agriculture and usurping of native plant and animal species (something they conveniently don't mention in the tourist brochures).

I have no idea what this flower is;
I just thought it was beautiful.

After hiking the 261 steps (I counted) from the top lookout to the bottom bridge and back again, we had worked up an appetite for dinner, so we piled back in the car (Gary and Jean had rented it from a place called "Rent a Dent", which cracked me up), and drove back into Hamilton to the Pak 'N' Save, where Alan and I decided to collaborate on dinner; we bought peppers, zucchini, chicken, and sauce, and combined with some rice generously donated by Gary and Jean we made a tasty stir-fry in the kitchen of the hostel. Finished with white chocolate and raspberry revels for dessert, I think I concur with Alan's opinion when he said it was the best meal he has had on the whole trip!

Now it is just after 10pm and I am going to head off to a shower (got to get all that sand out of my hair!) and then bed because I have to be up and out the door at 7:45am tomorrow morning; Marius (one of the owners) is giving us a lift to the train station. I am also suffering from a mild cold/sore throat that I am hoping will not develop into much more than it is right now, but likely will anyway (ugh). The best thing for me is to get some sleep. Night!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Steam Train, Day Thirteen: Palmerston North to Hamilton

This morning I made my way to the hotel and caught the tour bus with the rest of the group, where we drove into Feilding (about 20 km away) to catch our train. Ja 1275 had been coupled once again to the front of the train, making today a two-locie day, with J 1211 still coupled up as well. We had photo stops at Great Ford Bank and Kakariki, and a water stop at Rangitikei, where everyone clamoured to take photos of the two locomotives coupled directly to one another. I did a lot of climbing over fences and running up hills today, and my ankles are none too happy with me... I need my hiking boots!

"Friendly" Feilding...

... has a Hell! (Apparently it's a pizza chain.)

Even with the two locomotives coupled together, it is actually something of an optical illusion; the first train, Ja 1275, is doing all the work, while J 1211 is steamed up just enough to keep things lubricated and pull its own weight; the only reason it is still part of the train is it is coming with us up to Auckland because its firebox needs some work at the Mainline Steam depot on Cheshire Street (it is normally stationed at Wellington). Ah well, you can’t tell it is being a lightweight from the pictures.

Ja 1275 and J 1211 at Great Ford Bank

At the water stop in Rangitikei

After leaving Mangaweka we travelled over a series of breathtaking viaducts that were built as a result of the electrification of the Main Trunk railway in the 1980s; the decision was made to move the line for electrification from its previous grade at a higher elevation due to the large number of land slips previously experienced on the line. I have several pictures, but they don’t do the viaducts justice, as they were taken from within the train carriage and have some glare from the glass windows.

Travelling over one of the viaducts near Mangaweka

We stopped in Taihape to change the arrangement of the locies and tanker cars slightly, placing the water tanker car directly behind Ja 1275, and therefore extending the amount of time we could go in between water stops. It was a good thing we did this, because otherwise I suspect we would *still* be making our way to Hamilton, having to stop for water every 1 1/2 hours or so!

The town of Taihape

Our next photo stop was at Turangarere, or as I dubbed it, “Cabbage Hill”, as Alan and I and a few other keeners hopped a fence and ran up a pasture that contained the stalks of some sort of cabbage plant that had been severely pruned but was coming back in places.

The "Cabbage Hill" of Turangarere

Ja 1275 and J 1211 at Turangarere

The little black dots in the distance aren't trees; they're cows!

For the rest of the afternoon we were treated to breathtaking views of Mt. Ruapehu, the highest point on the North Island at 2 797m tall. This was especially nice as the first time we had travelled down this section of rail the mountain top was obscured by cloud cover; this time, we were able to get a shot with the mountain in the background while we were stopped at Waiouru (New Zealand Railway’s highest station, at 814 m above sea level) in the passing loop, waiting for the southbound Overlander to Wellington to race by.

Mt. Ruapehu as seen from Waiouru Station

An old station platform at Waiouru Station

After leaving Waiouru we crossed over the Tangiwai bridge, which spans the Whangaehu River. This was the site of New Zealand’s worst railway disaster: on Christmas Eve, 1953, the overnight express from Wellington to Auckland fell into the river, as the bridge had been damaged by a lahar (volcanic mudslide). The locie, five second-class passenger cars, and one first-class passenger car fell into the river, killing 151 of the 285 people aboard the train (including the engineer and fireman). The locie, Ka 949, has been played by Mainline Steam’s Ka 942 in several films and documentaries that have been made about the disaster; today, a memorial stands at the site of the accident, featuring the number plate of Ka 949. You can read about the disaster here.

On a more comforting note, since the disaster warning systems have been put into place, including warning indicators of high river levels upstream, and track circuits, which send out an alert when sections of track become broken. This system was effective in 2007 of alerting track control to the presence of another lahar in the Whangaehu river, and no one was injured.

Our final photo stop for the day was at the Hapuawhenua viaducts; the old viaduct is now converted into a walking trail, and provides a beautiful view of trains passing over the new viaduct. The problem: it was 300m away, down a drop, and down a windy trail. I frightened a few passengers on the train by dropping myself down and running to the older viaduct, taking some wonderful photos and a video of the train crossing the new viaduct, and then booking it back in time to catch the train again. Tiring, but definitely worth it!

Ja 1275 and J 1211 on the Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The old Hapuawhenua Viaduct;
it's now a walking trail.

On our way out of Ohakune we passed the obelisk marking the last spike driven on New Zealand Railway, then headed down the marvel of engineering that is the Raurimu Spiral, and stopped at Taumarunui for a crew change, a water filling, and a quick dinner nabbed at a Chinese food take-out restaurant (Amanda, you would not have been impressed, but we didn’t really care, we were hungry).

The bottom of the Raurimu Spiral as seen from the train

Wave 'Hello' to Al, second from the left!

An aerial shot of the Raurimu Spiral inside the
Taumarunui Railway Station

Ja 1275 at Taumarunui Railway Station

As we were preparing to leave Taumarunui, Alan spoke to the fireman about letting me have a cab ride in Ja 1275 (apparently I am too shy to do this myself). After okaying it with Mike, I was invited up into the cab, and we hadn’t gone more than 2 km when the fireman, Dave, turns to me and says, “Alright, your turn, hop in the seat!” So for 45 km, I fired Ja 1275 on the main line! It was fantastic. Kevin (the engineer) was quite easy to follow, and Dave hovered over my shoulder for the first little bit, instructing me on how to open the injector valves and what to look for out the side of the train when opening the exhaust. I even got to blow the whistle and call out green light signals to Kevin. When I got off to leave, Dave told me I had done “good as gold”, and that they would see me on Tuesday! Hmm, I have now had a cab ride in every train that has pulled us... I have certainly been extremely lucky.

Ja 1275 at dusk at Taumarunui

Firing Ja 1275

We arrived in Hamilton about an hour late (surprise), and Alan and I caught a taxi to our hostel, J’s Backpackers. After a slight mishap where I was given a key to the wrong room, we are now all settled, and I am typing this out in the upstairs landing in a chair because my roommates are trying to sleep and I doubt they want to listen to me click away on the keyboard. Tomorrow I am heading out to the west coast; we have a free day, and while the rest of the tour group is on a bus to Rotorua, Alan and Gary and Jean and I have rented a car and are heading in the opposite direction. Gary told me to bring my “togs” (bathing suit)... apparently there are hot springs! We shall see... Night!