Thursday, October 21, 2010

Steam Train, Day Ten: Napier to Gisborne

It is very late at night, so I will be brief... I spent far too long in the kitchen here at the YHA Hostel in Gisborne talking to a brother and sister pair from Wales, Alex and Victoria, and as a result should really be sleeping now, not updating my blog. Thankfully we traverse over the same section of rail tomorrow, so I will have time to see all the things I missed today and write about them tomorrow.

The Gisborne YHA. Bright green walls!

The line between Napier and Gisborne has always been somewhat under threat; plans for its development were in place in the late 1890s, but it wasn't until the 1910s that anything started to happen, and completion didn't come until the 1940s. Even then, the railway has been closed to passenger traffic since 1988, with the exception of special excursion trains. As a result, many of the stations along the way are either completely torn down, boarded up, or reduced to goods service only, leaving us stopping and standing on concrete platforms leading nowhere, and surrounded by lonely piles of crumbled brick, small shards of glass, and rusted pieces of metal. It's somewhat sobering to see how much can change in such a short time.

For such a picturesque line, it's a crime that
it's only used for freight transport.

Today was a day of many photo stops: the first after leaving Napier was at Waipunga, then at the Holt Forest Trust. Once again the train has many passengers; for this special Napier-Gisborne run it has been branded the "Sunrise Explorer", and tickets were sold just for the two days. (The name comes from the fact that Gisborne, being located on the east coast of New Zealand, is the first city in the world to see the sun rise each day).

Sunrise Explorer passengers out for a photo stop

A literal highlight (ha ha) of today was passing over the Mohaka Viaduct, which crosses the Mohaka River, halfway between Napier and Wairoa. At 275m long and 97m high, it is the highest viaduct in Australasia (and greatly beloved by Susan, the woman from Florida, who is not fond of heights).

Mohaka Viaduct

Another highlight (figurative this time) was when we stopped at Wairoa to fill J 1211's water tank and children from a local primary school came out to have a look at the train; they had studied the innerworkings of steam locomotives, and came prepared with a worksheet and a bunch of questions for Mike and the locomotive engineer. At the end of their visit to say thank you they played two traditional Māori percussive pieces on drums, which were fascinating to hear (my ethnomusicologist brain kicked into action and I had to restrain myself from analyzing the musical form and structure and then harassing their teacher with technical questions).

I'd say that's enough water!

Wairoa Primary School kids with their instruments

Eagerly exploring and photographing the train

More photo stops followed in the afternoon: one at a beautiful oceanside pass, made less beautiful by the rain,

 and another at a stunning horseshoe-shaped curve near a village whose name escapes me at the moment (one of those long Māori names).

J 1211 at Waikokopu (mountain side)

J 1211 at Waikokopu (ocean side)

The embankment is shored up with old rail trucks

The hilarious part of the day for me, however, happened at our last photo stop, an "Ian Welch favourite" (which is usually a key phrase meaning somewhere inaccessible or with poor lighting or power lines in the way, etc.). The setting was actually quite nice: deep within the temperate rain forest, focusing on a tunnel mouth that the train would come charging out of. Because it was such a narrow space, all the prospective photographers had to huddle in close together. Allan and I were sitting side by side on the damp grass at the front of the group, when a (somewhat portly) British man came and tried to sit down in front of me before deciding there wasn't enough room and moving on. What was unfortunate about this was his pants were slipping off his bum, and I got an extremely graphic and extremely close-up (and rather agonizingly LONG) mooning by this oblivious older British man. I just turned my face to Alan with a "help me" sort of expression, but he was shaking from suppressed laughter... he leaned over and whispered, "Gee, I didn't realise this shot was going to have *two* tunnels!"

Beautiful temperate/tropical rainforest

J 1211 charges out of tunnel #17

We had a photo stop over this bridge, but because I don't
have a long-range lens I didn't participate.

Mercifully the stunning scenery as we headed down the final stretch to Gisborne made up for this traumatizing incident: we hugged the mountainside closely, while the other side of the train enjoyed stunning views of the ocean; apparently, on a clear day the curvature of the earth can be discerned from this vantage point.

Sometimes one just needs a rest. Sweet dreams, Ron!

Beach Loop

It was a little too cloudy to see any curvature

Just before arriving at Gisborne Station the train took us past the cliffs of Young Nick's Head. Their name comes from Captain James Cook, who promised a reward to the first member of his crew to spot land. On October 7th, 1769, young Nicholas Young, the twelve-year-old assistant to the ship Endeavour's surgeon, spotted the promontory, and was given a reward of a gallon of rum (ah, drinking 12-year-olds!) and the name of the headland. The Maori name is Te Kuri o Paoa, or "The Dog of Paoa", as the headlands are said to look like the dog of the famous Maori explorer Paoa.

Young Nick's Head / Te Kuri o Paoa

Anyway, it is now 1am, and I have to be up in just under six hours, so I will continue my rave about the beauty of the Napier-Gisborne railway line tomorrow. Night!


No comments:

Post a Comment