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.


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