Saturday, October 23, 2010

Steam Train, Day Twelve: Napier to Palmerston North

This morning the train did not depart Napier Station until 10:30am, which allowed me a luxurious sleep-in until 8:30, and then a proper breakfast and visiting with Fay and Frank, during which I thanked them profusely for taking me in again. Fay brushed off all my apologies for the imposition, saying, “We would have been very upset if you had been in trouble like that and not called us”, and told me I have two guardian angels watching over me.

The train headed south today, retracing our earlier passage along the Palmerston North - Gisborne line. We passed through the town of Hastings, about 20km south of Napier, where several years ago the town council decided they wanted to build a fountain right where the rail line crosses through town. Seeing as the rail line couldn’t be easily moved, the city council went ahead and built the fountain *around* the railway tracks! The fountain is connected to the railway crossing timer so the water (mostly) shuts off when the train drives through, but it is indeed a sight to see a train plough its way through the centre of a fountain! Hmm, yesterday we stopped on an airport tarmac, today we drove through a city fountain... I’m not sure what is coming next!

Passing through the fountain at Hastings

I guess it's not every day a steam train drives
through a fountain!

We had several photo stops today: the first was at the beautifully restored station at Opapa, where the train puffed cheerily past us, surrounded by sunny orange flowers (I think they are California poppies) and green paddocks. (An interesting yet slightly useless piece of trivia: Opapa station was originally known as Te Aute until 1913, but has been called Opapa ever since.)

J 1211 at Opapa Station

Spring flowers in bloom at Opapa Station

The second and third photo stops where just up the hill from Opapa; the second was at a road crossing where I watched a group of cows across the street react quizzically to all the people piling out of the carriages, and then hysterically to the train, stampeding away when its whistle blew. 

J 1211 in a field just outside Opapa

The cows formed this protective circle when they
 saw all the passengers emerging from the train

The third stop was in a valley between many hills of green pasture, where Allan and I went under a bridge to cross to the opposite side of the tracks, and then hiked up the side of the pasture to get a picture of the train traversing up the green vista. Roy (the man from Florida) hiked up the pasture hill on the opposite side of the railway tracks, so he took a video of Allan and I on our side, and when we realised he was doing so we launched into some pretty ridiculous dance moves.

It's a sheep! It's a cow! No, it's Roy Schering
on the other side of the pasture!

An unexpected bonus at the third stop was getting to watch a farmer with a tractor and five dogs herd a flock of sheep from one paddock to another. I had never seen sheep dogs at work before; those are bright dogs! Watching sheep run is also highly amusing, as their leg-to-body ratio is so skewed they kind of look like springs that are rocking back and forth.

The next photo stop was at Ormondville, where the station has been restored and turned into a B&B: yes, you can stay right beside the rail tracks in a converted station house, and get woken up at 2am by freight trains whizzing past! (I’d do it, but hey, I’m a diehard.) For the photo stop I perched myself on the edge of an old freight car sitting on a siding, which was all well and good until about four or five men got into it as well; the floor was rusted through in some places, and I had visions of the whole thing collapsing and suddenly having several members of our tour group needing tetanus shots.

J 1211 steaming through Ormondville Station

The freight car with the floor of questionable stability

After a water stop in Dannevirke and marveling at the wind turbines on the hills outside Woodville, we continued on the Palmerston North - Gisborne line through the Manawatu Gorge, which is so narrow that the highway is on the south side of the river and the railway line on the north. Originally the Manawatu Gorge line contained five tunnels, but only Nos. 1 and 2 remain, as the other three were too narrow for modern freight cars (and as it was 1 and 2 have had their floors lowered to accommodate taller carriages). The second of the two tunnels was significant in length, leading to another smoke-filled carriage ride breathing in “eau de tunnel”.

The road bridge crossing to the far bank of the
Manawatu Gorge: there isn't enough room on
one side for both the road and the railway line!

Giant landslips like this certainly put one at ease...

Manawatu Gorge

A windfarm outside Palmerston North

We arrived in Palmerston North, population 80 700 (of which approximately 80 000 are university students it seems, attending Massey University, New Zealand’s largest post-secondary school), and us hostellers managed to scam a ride into town on the tour bus, seeing as the railway station is located far away from the city centre since they ripped up the railway tracks that used to run through the town square.

Palmerston North Station

I am actually not staying in a hostel tonight; I have treated myself and am in a proper motel, enjoying the luxury of my own ensuite and a distinct lack of roommates who hook up with one another, barge in and flip on all the lights at 3am, or sleep-talk to me in a foreign language. Sometimes it’s nice just to have a little peace and quiet!


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