Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All Aboard! (You knew it was coming...)

Last night was (hopefully) the worst night I will ever have in a hostel (although somehow I doubt this to be the case). The room I was booked into is a sardine tin with two bunk beds (four beds) and has no windows, and is stiflingly hot. Thankfully the roommates are okay; a girl from Korea and a French guy named Jeffery (he and I have been having fun speaking in French to one another... mainly me struggling, and him laughing while giving me hints). The two of them went out to the Globe Bar last night and I stayed in to have an early night because I was tired from my day of traveling. I ended up not being able to sleep because of the heat in the room... and there was no way to turn it down because there is no thermostat. All this was likely exacerbated by the fact that I was sleeping on a top bunk. Anyway, I have one more night in that room, because...
I AM GOING ON A STEAM TRAIN TRIP!! Yes, tomorrow morning I leave Auckland on Mainline Steam’s 2010 New Zealand Steam Tour. It is a twenty-day long tour all over the North and South Islands, pulled (for the first leg of the tour anyway) by locomotive Ja 1275. (The itinerary of the trip can be found here: .) I booked into the tour at the 11th hour... yesterday I fired off an e-mail to their Marketing and Operations Manager, and this morning I heard back from him that if I wanted to come I should call him ASAP, which I did. And I’m all set! Since I am not rolling in cash, I opted to purchase a seat on the train only, and not the full package deal which includes hotel accommodation and a large percentage of the meals, as well as a tourist excursion to Rotorua (I can do that later when I go through the same area with Stray Travel). Instead I will be bunking in hostels, but that shouldn’t be a problem as I’m well-experienced in them already and it’s only been just over a week. My Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand is proving invaluable as well for locating good hostels and spots to eat on a budget in each of the places we’ll be visiting.
Mainline Steam, as their website says, is an “organisation devoted to the restoration and operation of historic mainline steam locomotives”. I visited their depot today at 23 Cheshire Street where most of their steam locomotives are kept, and saw Ja 1275 being steamed up and prepared for tomorrow. Built in 1951, Ja 1275 was one of sixteen oil-fired steam locomotives ordered by the New Zealand Railway from the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow. Toward the end of its service life Ja 1275 was used to pull expresses on the main line between Auckland and Taumarunui. It was retired in 1968 and put into storage at Te Awamutu Railway Museum until 1994, when it was leased to Mainline Steam for restoration. It has been operational and mainline certified since 2005.

It was interesting to watch them prepare Ja 1275 for duty; kind of like a large-scale version of what happens at the Forest Museum. A helper engine, painted bright blue and with a number “1” on its side (inevitably nicknamed “Thomas”) was acting as a helper train, providing the steam and heat to get Ja 1275 going. The locomotive will be pulling two tanker cars as well as a baggage car and the coaches; one tanker for extra water, and the other for extra fuel. I climbed up into the cab and had a look around, and judging from the pressure gauge the train has an operating pressure of 200psi (it was hovering around 50psi). The locie also has a speedometer! If the rule about pressure gauges also applies to speedometers (that the regular operating pressure is at the 12:00 position on the gauge), then Ja 1275 is meant to run around 50 km/h. The markings do go up to 90 km/h, but a label affixed to the front of the speedometer sternly intones “MAX SPEED 70 KPH”. After the museum’s 25 km/h speed limit, this is going to feel positively like flying.

I took a wander down into the Mainline Steam restoration shed, and let me tell you, having grown accustomed to the scale and gauge of the trains at the museum, the trains in the shed were positively giant. (Interestingly though, for such big trains the most common gauge here in New Zealand is 42”, or 3 foot 6 inches... only six inches bigger than the BCFDC’s narrow gauge.) The most massive of all was South African Railway’s 25NC 3432, built by Henschel & Sohn in Germany in 1953, and currently too heavy to run on New Zealand track. I took pictures, but they don’t do justice to the locies. Let’s just say they all make the Mayo Shay look like #24 Susie.
Ah, just like home!
All things considered, I am immensely excited to head off on the trip tomorrow; I’ve put some of my luggage in storage at the IEP office here in Auckland, and packed up the rest of my bags. Now all I need to do is eat my way through the food I bought at the grocery store yesterday so I don’t have to take it all with me... mmm, dinner of salad, noodles, and grapes!


  1. Carolyn, that sounds amazing! By day three you will have weaseled your way into the cab and will be seeing New Zealand at 70KM:) We miss you!


  2. Hah, you are prophetic, Aimee! It only took me two days, though. And I did minimal weaselling; I was actually invited by the Mainline Steam manager to do so. Already there is something of a running gag that I am someone they have to "watch"... I think it is a combination of my age and gender (I kind of stick out in the crowd of retired old men) and their chivalrous tendencies to look out for a young female.