2006 South Island Tour

The Wab, copyright 1998, Brian Greenwood

Back to 2005-2006 Trip photos

Maria Vertelman wrote this diary report about how things went on our trip. Scroll though this page and enjoy.

Saturday 14 October
Toll’s carriages have arrived at the Feilding Depot and are prepared by the crew. The WAB gets last minute coats of paint and is loaded with boxes of catering and equipment for our journey. Final checks are made and paperwork is completed.

Sunday 15 October
Controlled excitement and general mayhem describes the energy on the platform as the WAB approaches Feilding station. We prepare to board and baggage is loaded on this windy and heavily overcast morning. On our seats we find complimentary gift bags filled with goodies; street maps, postcards, tissues, hand cream, chocolate, boiled sweets, WAB fridge magnet, FSR pen, calendar and notepad. Life could get exciting any time now!

Our departure is right on schedule at 0930 or according to some, two minutes early, with Phil Wagener driving, Steve Brabender fireman and Jimmy Oliver training both. We have a short wait for the Overlander to pass just out of Palmerston North and then pick up passengers there and in Shannon. By the time we reach Tokomaru the weather has worked up to a light drizzle but this doesn’t dampen the atmosphere inside the carriages. We are finally on our way!

Crowds gather along the roadside as we make an unscheduled stop right across a Levin intersection and carry out a service check. The crew find a problem with the relay valve on the brakes under the service car. We have had 1½ hours of trouble-free running!
The crew scramble to fix the problem. It is decided a brass bung is needed. Russell Hinks goes to find if anyone at NZED is keen to help. Within a very short period of time the much-needed plug is exchanged for an appropriate amount of dollars and we are on our way once more, the only result of this being that one toilet won’t work! On a ten minute stop at Otaki, we stretch our legs on the platform while the crew service the WAB and our toilet functions once more.

Pene Cannon hands out a large bag of Crunchie bars, kindly donated to us by Robyn Corpe and these are much enjoyed by those on board. We reach Pukerua Bay and get our first uninspiring glimpse of what our ferry crossing may be like … we’re all well tanked up on Sealegs, just in case!

Picking up Ab663 from Plimmerton At Plimmerton we stop for 30 minutes to hook up with Mainline Steam’s AB Sharon Lee. We depart Plimmerton at 1302. Wellington harbour is deceptively calm and the Arahura is waiting at the terminal for her afternoon sailing to Picton. Photo Kevin Evans.
On arrival in Wellington, our luggage is transferred for transport to the ferry and we have some free time to wait for the bus. Some of us head for food and the man at the famous Pie Kart – and he should know – that there are 120 knot winds in the strait and all ferry sailings have been cancelled … he apparently does this for entertainment!

At 1600 we bus to the ferry terminal and by 1700 the clouds have cleared and the sun is shining. The Aratere arrives from Picton at 1730 and after a short delay caused through her late arrival, we board her at 1810.

We sail to the South Island with the assurance from a crew member that it will be a very smooth crossing – and he should know, he’s just arrived from Picton! We cross on what must be one of the smoothest sailings ever, only to hear a German tourist remark that it was “a bit rough”!

We arrive in Picton at 2130 and collect our luggage off the roundabout. There is one excess bag and two unclaimed pillows making incessant circuits. The owner of the pillows leaps from his bus amid much laughter to claim his articles but the large (and very heavy) unclaimed suitcase is carted off to the Criterion Hotel. We depart the terminal at 2200 in our respective busses for our hotel/motel. In the dark, we scramble to claim our baggage and are directed to very pleasant, quiet and clean accommodation. Most of us are just grateful to head straight for bed.

Monday 16 October
We wake to a beautiful, still, cloudless morning and at 0730 we are bussed to the Criterion Hotel. We pass the well preserved Blenheim Railway Station, which – our driver tells us (and he should know) was moved there from “just down the road”. Some nameless person apparently measured “from the wrong end” with the consequence that the station was placed one chain further north than it should be. Which means, in plain English, that stationary trains now block the roadway …
In the large Criterion Hotel dining room, we enjoy a delicious cooked breakfast of hash browns, sausages, bacon, egg and baked beans. We chat, celebrating our good fortune at the smooth crossing last night.
We have a free morning and some of us have hired rental cars, some are going on tours and others shop in Blenheim’s cobbled centre. Some return to the motel to await our 1330 train excursion with Riverside Railway. John Cannon and Russell Wiseman head off in search of a lunch-making bakery.

At 1300 we begin to gather at the Riverside Station for our train ride around Blenheim. This is right next door to the paddle steamer which is currently being restored.
The Riverside Railway Group have been in existence for almost 25 years and have laid 7km of track, terminating at the Archives Museum. The original track was put down with hardwood sleepers by PD workers and these are gradually being replaced with concrete sleepers. These are cast on site at their well-maintained workshop using a 5 to 1 mix. Six shovelfuls = one mould, costing about $8 against $12 for treated pine sleepers which would need to be replaced again in years to come. The next project for the group is expected to take two years to complete. This entails laying a line out to the aircraft museum which will create a triangle so that the engine can be turned. This will mean creating a ford in the river which has water in it for only two weeks each year. Lightweight rail has been purchased at $12/km and the local council has supplied dogs and bolts plus $35,000 to help the project along.
This is a great way to spend an afternoon for just $6. WAB794 should be on the ferry and making her way to Picton. The crew will have a busy night. Up early tomorrow to board at 0800.

Tuesday 17 October
We are up early and for those readying the WAB and Mainline’s ‘Sharon Lee’ in Picton, it has been a long night. AB663 now has four carriages of overseas visitors – mostly American – who will be travelling with us to Christchurch. Due to logistics, the Sharon Lee will be heading our train from Picton.

Another beautiful spring day in Blenheim with a -2 degree frost and 30 helicopters working the vineyards overnight. After breakfast our luggage is loaded and we bus to the station to await the arrival of the engines.

John and Pene Cannon have organised fresh sandwiches, bacon and egg pies and cookies from Coupland’s Bakery – conveniently situated across the road from the station. This will be lunch for those who have not already bought their own.

We depart at 0905 with a friendly Blenheim crowd waving us off. People have stopped work and come out to see the vintage engines pass. We have a 10 minute photo stop just north of Dashwood Pass at 0930 and there are many willing hands to help those needing assistance to climb on or off the train. The American photographers have organised their own version of our “get behind the yellow line” policy and anyone silly enough to be standing in the firing line of their cameras has to deal with the invective tossed their way!

There is a steady climb up to Seddon for a loco service at 1010 were we cross the double-decker bridge over the Awatere River where the tracks run above the vehicles on the roadway. A new road is in the process of being constructed alongside.

Down to the salt flats and evaporation ponds at Lake Grassmere at 1045.
At 1115 we stop to wait for the north bound Tranz Coastal and have a crew change. We depart there at 1143. A photo opportunity just north of Kaikoura has the double-headed train with its now empty carriages, luggage van, hiab and water tanker, backed up through several tunnels so that every passenger perched on the hillside with a camera may record the engines steaming south out of the tunnel!

Kaikoura Whaleway Station We arrive at the Kaikoura Whaleway Station at 1405 where the engines are serviced and the WAB is taken to another track to be coaled up. Passengers have some free time to mingle, shoot photos of the snow on the Kaikouras or chat with an interested group of English and Irish visitors travelling in 30 motor homes. They are fascinated by our tour and are amazed that the ferry can carry our engines. We are happy to answer their questions and talk trains! Photo Kevin Evans.

Our departure from Kaikoura at 1528 means we are now travelling on Railway time and we discuss the possibilities of the differing mentality of sheep and horses between the North and South Islands. North Island animals scamper to the far reaches of their paddock without so much as a glance backwards. In the south, they never even look up in mid chew from their vegetarian lunch!

At Cleverly we have a further wait until 1730 for south bound and north bound diesels to pass. Some of our American passengers have spotted our red painted box steps and are hatching plans to divert our attention so that they might be snaffled for their use!

Another northbound diesel passes us at Spotswood at 1817 … “All aboard the Sunset Special”. This is definitely not an express!

We have a short stop at Scargill for our track warrant at 1920 and a service stop at 1945 at Waipara where we get a glimpse of the Historic Weka Pass Railway operated by a group of volunteers. Their A428 is steamed up at Glenmark station and we will be returning here by bus on Thursday to enjoy a run through to Waiari.

After dark, some make good use of Russell Hink’s (aka ‘The Rustler’) new WAB playing cards at $7.50 per set. We now enter the outskirts of Christchurch with people leaning over backyard fences, standing out on porches and banked up at level crossings to catch a glimpse of the historic steam engines.

On arrival in Christchurch, the station clock reads 9.24pm and 6 degrees. Our luggage is rapidly removed from the train by many willing hands and transferred to the two waiting busses. These take us to our multi-storied accommodation at Riccarton Village Inn, just 3 minutes drive from the station and we are allocated our comfortable rooms.

A late breakfast has been arranged for tomorrow so that we can sleep in before our trip to Akaroa via Ferrymead Park.

Wednesday 18 October
Our first morning in Christchurch is fine and clear with no wind. A light fog lays over the Port Hills. At 1000 we depart by bus to Ferrymead and Akaroa.

Ferrymead is a Heritage Park displaying the Moorhouse Township from colonial times to 1920. It is also the site of New Zealand’s first public railway, commissioned in 1863. The Tramway Historical Society was founded in 1961 and aims to preserve the public passenger transport heritage of Christchurch. We ride on their fully restored double-decker tram running on English 4’8” track, to their workshop and view the trams waiting for restoration and in partial restoration. One, a double-decker tramcar No.26, was completely entombed in a house at Hakatere, Ashburton in the 1960’s until it was separated from the structure of the house by the Society in 1986. It will be restored by this group of dedicated volunteers back to the original, elegant double-decker car which graced the streets of Christchurch in 1905.

Restoration of No.26 is now well on its way with beautifully finished mahogany sliding doors, windows and ceiling and the original green and cream of its exterior paintwork. It has a mocked-up MDF stairway at present to get all the measurements correct as this must be manufactured from scratch. Other cars are also in partial restoration using kwila and tenon joints – no glue here! We have explored the workshops, Ferrymead café and Post Office and reluctantly depart for Akaroa at 1215 as there is still much more to see.

The rail once ran alongside the roadway out towards Akaroa and terminated at Little River but the rails were lifted about 40 years ago although the station and some wagons still remain. Little River is a picturesque village settlement with a hotel, stone church, garage, bakery and pa. We see signs such as ‘Tourist Drive’, ‘Pigeon Bay’, ‘Coach Road Cottage’ and ‘Lawnmowers for sale’ (sheep). 18km from Akaroa we get our first glimpse of the teal blue harbour. We pass Dauvouchelle, Okain and Le Bon Bays and arrive at Akaroa at 1355. We stroll the boulevard, check out the food and wine and photograph the wharves and boats. One shop we did not find during our limited stay was a French bakery!

Our buses depart at 1500 and arrive to free time in Christchurch at 1615. Tomorrow we spend the day at Weka Pass Railway.

Thursday 19 October
The good weather continues fine and warm but with very strong winds. We wake to the sound of steam whistles at the station as Steam Inc’s Ja1271 and Mainline’s AB663 leave for Dunedin. Jb1236 left for Greymouth yesterday and will be back today to head the WAB to Dunedin tomorrow.

We leave by bus at 0930 for Waipara. At the Placemaker’s intersection, we part company with a huge articulated truckload of timber framing and trusses bound for Lake Brunner. Further on we spot an early fifties ‘woody wagon’ on the back of a trailer in excellent restorable condition and debate its origins to occupy us until we reach Waipara at 1030.

Some of us choose the “cheap seats” of the open wagons The Weka Pass Express, hauled by steam locomotive A428 leaves Glenmark Station at 1100. Some of us choose the “cheap seats” of the open wagons while others ride in the comfort of the vintage carriages. These carriages were built in Dunedin at Hillside in 1938 – 1940 and will be restored to first class. Photo Mike Prior.
Englishman Dave Jones is our stoker, Bruce McCelland the driver and Warren Campion is guard, souvenir shop attendant and commentator for the 12.8km ride to Waikeri Station. We pass the newly established vineyards of Glenmark and Frog Rock Wines where we stop to battle the matagouri for a photo shoot.

The railway was constructed in the 1880’s and was used by NZ Railways until 1978 and purchased by Weka Pass Railway in 1983. This group comprises of just over 100 members.

A428 Built in Thames in 1909 A428 was built in Thames in 1909 as a 4 cylinder compound but has now been converted to a 2 cylinder simple locomotive and belongs to the Preservation Society in Greymouth. She cost $100,000 to restore, weighs 80.2 tons in working order and has a water pressure of 190lbs. Photo Mike Prior.

We have another opportunity for photos at the top elevation of 800ft which has a gradient of 1 in 80, and in some places 1 in 50. The soil type of this area is mostly limestone rock with embedded sea shells clearly visable. At 1215 we arrive at Waikari and have a choice of lunch at the tearooms or hotel or to picnic on the train or in the station before our departure at 1300.

Back at the Waipara station we are shown through their brand new workshop complex and storage areas with tidy boxes of nuts, bolts, split pins and washers all labelled and in their respective sizes. They also have a well-lit woodworking area and a pit.

We depart at 1440 and pass the Waipara Backpackers – a cosy cluster of guard’s vans surrounded by a well-grown shelter belt. We return to the Riccarton Village Inn at 1545.

No laying about tomorrow as our breakfast is at 0630 to be ready for our departure to Dunedin with Jb1236 at 0730.

Friday 20th October
Breakfast is at 0630 sharp and we’re all rearing to go. The coaches are loaded and we are away to the Christchurch Railway Station at 0700 where we unload baggage by the Historic Places Trust water tower.

Headed by the oil fired Jb1236, we depart at 0732 for Timaru where we will bus out to Pleasant Point. Another clear, cloudless and wind-free morning as we travel across the alluvial flats of the Canterbury Plain. We pass the Mainline Steam Depot and Rolleston at 0800 at which point the track diverges to Springfield and the West Coast. We reach Burnham at 0810 and Dunsandel at 0820 – only 122km to Timaru.

A light dusting of snow covers the southern alps and we wait at Bankside for 934D, a northbound goods train to cross us at 0830. Our train crosses the Rakaia River on the longest railway bridge in New Zealand at 1760m.

Loco Servicing at Ashburton At 0920 we cruise into Ashburton to service the Wab’s bearings and stretch our legs. Sitting alongside our track is a very clean looking remote controlled shunter. Photo Stuart Anderson.
At 0940 we leave for Tinwald, home of the Plains Railway Group. Their K88 has been trucked to Dunedin and their Ja1260 is parked up in the loco shed along with a railcar. They operate on several kilometres of track off the main line.

Brian, our Tranz Scenic Train Manager shows us the peak of Mount Cook and tells us we are now at Erehwon (which is Nowhere spelt backwards). Paddocks of draught horses look up at us from Rangitata at 1015 and we pass the Geraldine Racing Club track at Orari at 1025.

The hawthorns are in full flower here and line both sides of the track with their arching branches. At Temuka, we throw off a particularly troublesome passenger (Pauline!) who is spending time with friends while we visit Pleasant Point. The rest of us are told to behave ourselves … or else! We are all having to deal with the stress of having a great time!

We pass Washdyke at 1055 which is the branch line to Pleasant Point and at 1100 we see the smooth blue surface of the Canterbury Bight at Caroline Bay. We arrive at the mainly farming community of Timaru at 1102 where we board our coach to Pleasant Point and receive a complementary pack with information on the Keanes Crossing Museum and railway complex, a souvenir ticket and a pass for lunch.

At 1145 we arrive at the large Keanes Crossing workshop area where the society’s ladies have set up tables and arranged a boxed lunch and a hot drink. Afterwards we ride the train of restored vintage carriages from Keanes Crossing to Pleasant Point. These carriages include a 1902 turtleback carriage, a 1895 birdcage carriage and a 1929 30’ guards van.

The first class and what is called super first class, where the ladies with big hats sit, have copper railed luggage racks, black buttoned upholstery, huge gas lights and etched glass in the upper air vents.

The train is hauled by wood fired Ab699, an ex NZR Mainline Steam locomotive built in 1922 by A & G Price of Thames. The Pleasant Point station was built in 1875 and was moved from its original position several hundred meters down the road.

RM4 We return from Pleasant Point to Keanes Crossing at 1310 and explore the world’s only 1925 Ford Model T Railcar. Railway leaders of the 1920’s were so impressed with the Model T Ford that NZR bought two 1 ton truck chassis and ran trials to Paekakariki and Petone. Unfortunately, the Model T’s road gauge had to be narrowed for rail and was never quite the same chugging along on tracks. When problems running on hilly Wellington terrain proved them to be impractical, they were shipped off to Invercargill and ran on two Southland branch lines between 1926 and 1931.

RM4’s chassis eventually ended up at Pleasant Point and it wasn’t until after a replica of the body was completed in 1999 and running excursions on the Kingston line that someone commented they had one just like it at home which was being used as a hen house! Today, the original ‘hen house’ body is stored in the shed and its replica with the original chassis, runs every day. This little railcar has an interesting addition of what appears to be scrubbing brushes attached in front of its forward wheels to wipe the ‘rabbit pooh’ from the tracks and prevent derailing. Photo Stuart Anderson.

We board our busses back to the station and depart Timaru at 1338. On route to Dunedin, we pass through Studholm at 1415 where the line branches to Waimate – the burial place of one of New Zealand’s most famous loco assistants, Norman Kirk. The Hunter Hills are in the distance where there is now a sizable population of wallabies.

The engines are performing beautifully as we cross the Waitaki River Bridge and we are now officially in Otago. Arrival in Oamaru at 1500 means we can stretch our legs on the platform while the Wab coals up on West Coast coal. There is a large crowd at the station and our souvenirs are selling well. Scarves knitted by Margaret Moore have sold for $15 with a $5 donation going to the society. Caps, badges and calendars have also been popular and Russell H has rung for supplies of extra stock.

Climbing out of Oamaru We begin our climb out of Oamaru at 1545, waved off by a large crowd of well wishers at the station and along the roadside. Photo Kevin Evans .
At Herbert we cross northbound freight 922 at 1615 and enter our first tunnel for some time. We pass Moeraki Boulders at 1635 and Hillsborough at 1640. A photo opportunity is arranged for 1645 and we are on our way again at 1700. At 1710 we stop for two minutes while the crew check a noise on the Wab. This turns out to be a minor lubrication problem which will be seen to at Palmerston. Our next stop is at Bushey at 1720 for a track warrant.

At Palmerston, home of the famous McGregors Mutton Pie, we stop for loco service. Train Manager Brian has managed to procure one of the said mutton pies and offers to make it available for purchase with a reserve of $500 as it is a very rare commodity being the only one on the train. Bids are somewhat slow so it becomes apparent that it will be Brian’s dinner.
Just south of Karatane After passing Waikouaiti at 1810 we have another photo stop at 1820, just south of Karatane. We discuss what could be in the public’s mind when our train stops and we all leap from the carriages to wait trackside while the locos back up and seemingly have “another go” at getting up the incline. Photo Kevin Evans .

We reach Warrington and the mud flats of Blue Skin Bay (very cold water?) at 1850 where we wait for freight 926 to pass at 1855. Port Chalmers is visible at 1920 and when we reach Sawyers Bay we are just 10 minutes out from Dunedin. A large crowd and the Mosgiel Brass Band welcome us enthusiastically into Dunedin Station at 1935 – we’re running only 2 hours late …

There are three coaches waiting to take us to our accommodation including a double decker bus with no luggage compartments. We improvise. Baggage is loaded onto the lower deck while passengers are seated on the upper deck. All just part of the adventure.

We are grateful to reach our respective accommodation by 2000. We will be staying here until Tuesday morning when we depart Dunedin for Christchurch. An early morning cleaning crew has been arranged to shine up our Wabby before the official opening and cavalcade of locos. Being headed by oil fired locos Ab663 and Jb1236 means she will need some serious cleaning to look her best for the parade.

Saturday 21st October
A pink dawn with some cloud heralds a fine and calm day for the official opening event today. Our complimentary copy of the weekend edition of the Otago Daily Times gives us a full colour front page spread with a photo of Wab794 and Jb1236 coming through Tumai yesterday en route to Dunedin. The paper comments that our language is a world away from iPods and hip hop!

Breakfast is at 0700 and buses are arranged to take us to the grand Dunedin Railway Station at 0830. The Dunedin Railway Station in Anzac Square was once the largest and busiest station in New Zealand. Designed in the Flemish Renaissance style by George Troup, it is constructed of two types of Otago stone; a dark volcanic stone from Kokonga and a lime stone from the Oamaru district. The columns are of Aberdeen granite. A broad area providing space for vehicles carrying goods and passengers became known as Anzac Square in honour of the forces serving in the 1914 – 1918 war.

Today there are markets and crafts selling a great variety of items from Dutch cheese to old Railfan magazines for 50c. Project Steam have trucked their P107 with a huge banner reading: “Help, we need a boiler”. They are hoping to raise $200,000 to complete their project to mainline certification. Money rattles into their donation box and grants have been made available for them to complete the replica of the cab. Ocean Beach Railway have a Ja on static display at the museum belonging to Dunedin City but it appears that although Dunedin has a beautifully restored station they have no working steam loco at present.

As the time for the cavalcade of locos approaches, we reconnoitre the platform and environs to search out the best camera positions. So do ten thousand other sight seers! The crowd is enormous. Five deep on the platform, crowded onto the restored railway overbridge and even gathered on the other side of the tracks. There are adults, children and even DOGS, everywhere!

The Cavalcade The cavalcade begins with a clear overhead commentary on the PA system giving details of each loco and of course, eternal warnings to “keep behind the yellow line”. First up is A67 and K88 (which the children call the circus train). The 2-4-2 engine was trucked to Dunedin from its home in Tinwald. Then D140 and Ab663, the ‘Sharon Lee’. Our 4-6-4T Wab794 is next followed by 4-8-2 loco Jb1236 ‘Joanne’. Ja1271 is the last of the steam locos after which DE504, TR111, and DJ1240 in its red with silver trim and Toll’s yellow and green diesels, DCP4801 and DFT7023 do their run into the station.Photo Kevin Evans.
The crowd is loving it and many are dressed in period costume. We have time to look over the spotlessly shining locomotives – they have never looked better – before the official opening at 1030. The blast of an antique canon at 1040 shakes Anzac Square and sends sound waves up to the Octagon. Speeches are made and the cake is cut by David Benson-Pope. The Mosgiel Brass Band is on hand again to entertain the many people here.

There are excursions available throughout the day to Sawyers Bay by various engines including Wab794 or we can visit the Gasworks Museum or Harbour Ferry open day or join the Edwardian Garden Party and Vintage car ride at 2pm.

Shuttles operate also to the Otago Settler’s Musem and there is a four hour trip to Taieri Gorge leaving at 2.30. A Wheel Tappers and Shunters Cabaret may be enjoyed at 7.30pm and Wab794 is taking carriages to the historic seaport of Port Chalmers at 6.45 for a pre-arranged dinner organised by the local Lions to raise funds for child cancer. Guest speakers including Marcus Lush have been organised to speak during the dinner. There are three hotels to choose from; the Tunnel Hotel, Careys Bay Hotel or the Port Side Hotel. No rest for those intent on celebrating this historic occasion!

The four hour diesel hauled Taieri Gorge Excursion costs $67 and is one of Dunedin’s leading tourist attractions. It runs on Tranz Rail track from Dunedin to Wingatui and then proceeds along the remaining portion of the Otago Central Branch where it heads northwest across the Taieri Plain. Construction of this line began in June 1879 but was not completed until 1921. During summer on Sundays, the service is steam hauled and extended to Middlemarch - an extra 20 minute run.

It leaves Wingatui Junction, 34m above sea level and passes the Wingatui Racecourse and many 10 acre lifestyle blocks, one with various-coloured alpacas and one with breeding mares with foals at foot. Salisbury tunnel, at 150m above sea level and 437m long, is the longest tunnel on the line. The Wingatui viaduct, 13km from Wingatui is 197m long and 47m above the Mullocky Stream. It is the largest structure on the line.

A railway house at Parera, bought for £37 ($80) and completely isolated with no phone or electricity, is splendidly restored complete with beautiful gardens and an outdoor heat-it-yourself enamel bath. This entails lighting a fire underneath until the water reaches the required temperature, climbing in and enjoying the view. The house is now used as a holiday home. At 248m above sea level stands the “Reefs Hotel”, painted by some wit onto a workman’s hut alongside the track. We reach Pukerangi, 45km from Wingatui and 250m above sea level. This is the highest point of our trip and here the landscape changes from mainly pines, larches, gorse and broom to the lunar landscape of Central Otago. As we head back towards Dunedin, the steady rhythmic click-click, CLACK-CLACK with an occasional boing, choof choof and psssst thrown in tends to lull us all to sleep.

The train, with its distinctive vintage carriages, returns to Dunedin at 6.30pm. A wide range of snacks, wines, beer and souvenirs are available during the journey. A heavy downpour of rain in Dunedin during the late afternoon has now cleared and we arrive to a very cold wind and sunshine.

Sunday 22 October
Climbing out of the Hillside Workshops Dunedin weather today is sunny and cool with a light breeze. After a 0730 ‘help yourself’ breakfast buffet we travel to the station by taxi and shanks pony. The Hillside Workshops have an open day today and Jb1236 ‘Joanne’ and Ja1271 make a push-pull shuttle service on the hour. The Wab has a rest in the morning and takes over on Shuttles in the afternoon. Photo Kevin Evans.

This is the place where our Wabby was born in 1927. The workshops now carry out fabrication and refurbishing work on carriages and wagons for Ontrack. From a staff of 110 three years ago, there is now a staff of 220 today including 13 mechanical engineering apprentices. About 4 new apprentices are accepted for training each year. We travel through the workshops with 5 tour guides, 20 at a time. Peter is our guide and he steers us through the sections of the 1927 building.
A YJ ballast wagon The latest wagon to be built is a YJ ballast wagon which regulates the amount of ballast. There are three more like it in the yard and one of these wagons carries the same weight as 5 of the old ones. Another ballast wagon, in what was once the boiler shop, is rotated over onto its side. This enables the welders to easily reach all areas of the wagon and we can see the regulators inside. These ballast wagons weigh 18 ton or 53 ton loaded. Photo Mike Prior.

Peter shows us a GT wagon, 25.7m long and used by Toll to carry vehicles. It is the longest wagon on the rail at present and has both an upper and lower deck to transport new imported cars from Auckland. It is one of 14 original wagons with new superstructure fitted to the chassis. The bogies are set further back than a normal carriage to assist cornering. And the height has been raised to allow for larger vehicles. These wagons cost between $250-260,000 each.

Further along is a push-pull carriage, part of an SA/SD project for the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and a SW/SWS/SWG project for the Greater Wellington Regional Council. These refurbished carriages cost about $1.2m each, which is about ¼ of the new price. Setting up jigs for new carriages is not economically viable so old carriages are utilised and chopped using just the lower and roof sections. Donor bodies are from British Rail and only just out of service so they are in good condition. The welds are removed and the bodies are grit blasted to clean the steel. The body is put onto new bogies as the type we use have different requirements. After 7 weeks a carriage will leave the workshop fully skinned and the body crew takes over. 15 weeks and 5 ½ thousand man hours after its arrival, the faultless carriages are sent to Auckland where the problem becomes getting them there without graffiti. There is much wiring involved and the 18 carriages being built for the Wellington/Masterton line include 3 dining cars with ablutions, a first for Hillside. 3 cars will have generators on them.

Axles and generators are imported from the USA, wheels from Australia and all new bogies now come from China. 47% of material is from New Zealand.

The final section for viewing is the foundry with its casting moulds. We leave this very tidy workshop and return to the station at 1230. We have the rest of the day free and some have arranged to visit the penguin colony, others have hired cars at $40 for 24 hours from car yards. Many head to the Cobb for lunch where we can purchase a delicious full roast dinner, steak or ham salad for just $7.95. Desserts are $3. This is a vast improvement on the motel restaurant which charges $26 for a steak plus $4 for salad or vegetables.

It is a beautiful afternoon here in Dunedin with many things to see and do. The markets are still running and there is free entertainment at Anzac Square. Many have gone on the fully booked steam hauled excursion to Taieri Gorge and there is a Model Engineer’s Open Day and a Ja locomotive’s 50th birthday party at the museum in Queen’s Gardens. WOW Production’s finale of Gary Henerson’s play, “Lines of Fire” which was written especially for the Dunedin Railway Station, is on at the function centre.

Emerson’s Brewery and Cadbury chocolates factory are also open all day for visitors to view. At the Cadbury factory huge rotating boards have questions on one side and answers on the other. A sample includes

Q: When was chocolate first made in New Zealand?
A: In 1884 in Dunedin by Richard Hudson
Q: How much chocolate is eaten around the world in a year?
A: Almost 1.5 billion kilograms
Q: Why is chocolate so easy to swallow?
A: It literally melts in the mouth at 4° less than body temperature
Q: What kitchen appliance was invented when chocolate melted in someone’s pocket?
A: The microwave oven. A researcher walking past a radar noticed this effect.

Tomorrow some of us will be travelling to Invercargill while those remaining in Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh) will have a free day to do washing or visit the many local attractions.

Monday 23 October
Although afternoon gala events are cancelled due to the inclement weather forecast, the sun is shining for us again this morning and there is no wind. The morning paper not only has a colour spread of engines on the front page but also a pictorial on pages 6,8, and 9 which includes a large photo of our very own Shorty Walker, a retired stoker who helped to bring Wab794 to Dunedin from Feilding. As he is now famous and by promoting Feilding Steam Rail, he reckons a few free beers may be in order ...
Shuttles to Sawyers Bay, Photo Kevin Evans Steam whistles echo across Dunedin and up Maori Hill at 0830 as the Ja1271 excursion departs to Invercargill and the shuttles to Sawyers Bay begin at 0930. This is where Wab794 will be working today along with Jb1236. There is also a diesel hauled trip at 1230. Photos by Kevin Evans and Richard Cocker. Shuttles to Sawyers Bay, Photo Kevin Evans Shuttles to Sawyers Bay, Photo Richard Cocker

After a leisurely breakfast, our bus to Invercargill departs at 1040. We pass a multitude of sheep farms – ewes with good sized lambs at foot - and cross the arched concrete bridge into Balclutha at 1140. We travel along the main shopping area of Clyde Street and reach Clinton at 1215 with its statues of 3 Clydesdale horses. The Presidential Highway takes us from Clinton to a dot on the map called Arthurton at 1230. The temperature drops and cloud cover thickens as we near Longford where the first drops of rain splash the windows at 1235. The bus windows begin to fog and we make personal viewing holes in the steam.

The giant trout in the main street welcomes us to Gore where we have a 15 minute break for lunch. The train has been through at 1200 and we travel on to reach Mataura at 1215. At Edendale, we pass the huge Fonterra milk plant complex, second only in size to the Temuka plant. By this time it has stopped raining and the skies have brightened. Marcus Lush is apparently travelling with us as he lives in Bluff. We reach Woodlands at 1245 and travel along Tay Street past Queens Park, across Nith and Kelvin Streets, through the Clyde and Dee Street roundabout to the Invercargill Railway Station. Ja1271 was met at Invercargill by Mayor Tim Shadbolt and an official party. Some of us even got to shake hands with the intrepid concrete mixer! It is 2 o’clock and we have 1 hour of free time before the train leaves at 3pm. The Lady Barclay sits on the tracks of a static display at the original wharf site of the Port of Invercargill and was built in Ballarat in Australia. She operated in the port, hauling logs until ships larger than 600-800 tons necessitated the deeper port of Bluff to be opened.

We stroll back in dribs and drabs to our 1909 carriage, AA1073 which was built at Petone and ended life on the Wellington and Auckland suburban lines between 1960-1976. In 1977 this carriage was rescued on its way to the scrap yard and has been restored to almost original condition by Steam Inc. It has a beautiful pressed tin ceiling and the gas lights have been electrified. The steam heated radiators were removed and we could have done with them on this trip as the temperature in Invercargill is just 5 degrees! The Taieri Gorge carriages haul a generator for heating and although their cars are warm and toasty we occasionally get a waft of diesel.

Our Steam Inc guard, Ian, explains we will have two stops for water as there was a choice of hauling either a water tanker or another carriage. Ja1271 is hauling 500 passengers in 13 carriages including a servery car, generator and buffet car. We depart Invercargill to the sound of an accordion band at 1520. There are many people on the platform, some in period costume. There is much enthusiastic waving from both the passengers and the onlookers. We are told we may be able to see Stewart Island. If you can’t see Stewart Island, it’s raining. If you can see it, it’s going to rain … Tewai Point Aluminium Smelter is visible on our right. Here, just over 1% of the world’s aluminium products are produced. The carriages dance along the track over somewhat rheumaticky joints. The loco is running very close to its maximum speed of 70k’s – give or take 12% as the speedo needle wavers somewhat. When the needle hovers between 80 and 95 the driver knows with some certainty that the loco is exceeding the speed limit!

We reach Edendale at 1600 and stop for a photo opportunity in a somewhat brisk environment at 1610. We reach Mataura at 1640 and the NZ home of country music, Gore, at 1650 where we stop for water and depart at 1710. We cross the Mataura River and have 8km of 20km speed restriction to Balclutha where we are shown a short track that runs to the Finnigan’s Freezing Works, just a few kilometeres down the road. This is all that remains of the Catlins line.

The second water stop at Balclutha allows the hardier travellers to stretch limbs on the platform. Woosies stretch legs inside the carriages. 1910 sees us leaving Balclutha and we clack across the Clutha River which steamers once travelled. We reach Milton at 1940 and those who have spent any time out on the carriageway find they have collected extra mascara! We will probably all have RSI tomorrow from all the waving! The weather in the Manawatu we hear has been somewhat less than wonderful.

Dusk falls on a cool and misty Otago and the antique lights of our carriage come on. Just on dark we reach Mosgiel at 2025, Burnside at 2030 and enter Dunedin station at 2145 to be welcomed by a whistle blast from the WAB. Our driver lets off a lovely, long, well controlled whistle to let off steam as they prepare to drop the fire.

Another wonderful day of steam has ended and many of us head to the companionship and warmth of the Cobb for a delicious dinner and to talk trains.

Tuesday 24th October
In the pre-dawn darkness the weather is indiscernible. Breakfast is at 0630 as our coach departs to the station at 0700. The Sharon Lee AB663 will head WAB794 to Christchurch at 0730 and we are asked to pack only an overnight bag so the heavier luggage may be left on board for our overnight stay in Christchurch. At Christchurch, AB663 will take her carriages of visitors on to Picton where their steam journey ends and we will travel on alone to Greymouth.

The weather becomes discernable at dawn; overcast, calm and coolish with some light overnight rain. The light up crew has been on the job early and problems with crews inexperienced with the intricacies of WAB794 have required running repairs to take place. We hope in future to be able to run our own crew, who know the WAB intimately, with a pilot who intimately knows the track, just as ships do. This seems an ideal solution.

We depart in the bus at 0700 and arrive at the station at 0715. Within minutes our baggage is on board and as our carriages have not been turned, our observation car is now observing the hiab and engines.

Dunedin City Council is planning to develop a walking and cycling rail heritage route following the former Roxborough line. The branch closed in 1968 and there is growing enthusiasm to establish this recreational route which will benefit all sections of the community. Dunedin City Council has already provided $2,000 towards getting the project started.

Today the lowering of the Port Chalmers tunnel should be completed. Contractors enlarging the tunnel dig down 30 cm into the bedrock using diamond tipped rock cutters before the rock is broken up and bulldozed to the end of the tunnel. 18 workers work around the clock in 12 hour shifts on a job costing $500,000. The Saturday evening Dinner Excursion was bussed around the tunnel and during the evening were shown video clips of old film showing X442 heading WAB794 working the Ohai area in the late 1950’s.

Our train JO4, moves out of Dunedin at 0740 with a few hardy souls waving us off amid light drizzle. The forecast is for deteriorating weather but we emerge from our second tunnel into blue sky and sunshine. We have passed through several long tunnels by 0800 which each give us a unique aural experience because of the train being double headed.

We arrive at our photo opportunity at Waitati at 0820 – about the same time as the southerly front coming over the hill … John Cannon immediately attempts to flog off the supply of black plastic rubbish bags (one size fits all) for $1 each, which may be modified to make ponchos …

Photo shoot run around the mudflats Someone drops the clutch and we lurch into the photo shoot run around the mudflats. A small crowd has gathered as the locos are backed up again to collect the intrepid photographers and we’re bound for Seacliff at 0840 where a brindle dog leaves its am-cam family and runs for all its worth alongside the engines until exhaustion causes it to stop and face ‘the enemy’. Photo Kevin Evans.

At 0910 we reach Waikouiti where a huge new road is being constructed to the left of the track. We catch frequent glimpses of Janine in her maroon and silver jeep with the orange light on top. She is often set up trackside with tripod and camera or passing us to set up shop further up the line. It is hoped this footage will be the basis of a DVD of our historic journey. Click here for more information about the DVD.

At 0925 we reach Palmerston, home of the famous McGregor’s mutton pie (8 fl oz of grease!) for a 10 minute service stop. We depart at 0950. At 1010 we’re at Moeraki and we are asked to debate the name of a young turkey. Some wit suggests, “If it’s dead, we call it stuffed!” It is eventually decided that a young turkey is called a POULT. At Waianakarua with its old stone mill house, we go through another tunnel and begin the descent into Oamaru at 1100 for loco service. We pass the shunting track to the fertilizer works and we get whistle-happy for the crowds welcoming us along the roadway.

A guitar player is on the platform and we decide we will give him a gold coin donation if he can sing a Holden song. He says he will get busy and write one! In the meantime he earns our coinage by serenading us with train songs. The Mayor of Oamaru and even the Wizard is on hand to graciously bless us and pose for photos. The local kindergarten children are lined up against the station wall for safety, some with fingers in their ears. Our planned ‘false start’ photo op is canned due to the length of time it took to ‘water the horses’ and for safety reasons because of the large crowd.

The Waitaki Bridge is crossed at 1200 where the cows, with udders flying, head for the hills. There will be curdled milk in the vats tonight. The train chasers keeping pace with us have a great view of the engines wherever the roadway runs alongside the tracks. A group of school children, all co-ordinated in their slip-slop-slap hats and hi viz gear stand a little too close to the track for their comfort as the engines pass and they bolt like a herd of sheep away from the noise with hands over their ears. We have again entered Canterbury, the land of “sheep showers” – an Americanism for our irrigation systems … The weather is beautifully fine again and begins to warm up as we head north to Studholme where we wait for an unscheduled red light at 1220. Apparently someone has been setting the countryside alight as we pass and at St Andrews we see a fire truck travelling at high speed in the direction from which we have just come. A few minutes further along, we pass another one, lights flashing, headed in that direction also. We discuss the logistics of running the water tanker around to the back and putting Pauline in charge of a hose to solve any more problems as we go! From Timaru AB663 is now hauling the whole 420 ton train and departs Timaru at 1420. We pass Washdyke at 1428 and sing some train songs – Rockin’ Rollin’ Riding and Chatanooga Choo Choo – to take our mind off things.

A group of pigs (heard of pigs?) stampede for the back fence. Pigs can fly! And we discuss the art of shovelling coal. This entails not hitting the side of the firebox and spraying coal all over the floor of the cab during a rough ride. It has also been known for an enthusiastic stoker to occasionally lose a shovel into the firebox!
Arriving in Ashburton Tinwald, home of the Plains Railway is passed and we reach Ashburton for water at 1550. We should be back at the motel in time for Coro Street according to Bryan. He tells us of a slip in the Kaikoura area delaying the Tranz Scenic and that ferry sailings have also been cancelled. We’re still travelling in sunshine but the cloud cover thickens as we approach Christchurch. Photo Kevin Evans.
We reach Bankside at 1700 and Rolleston at 1725 where we wait for the 804 Tranz Alpine Express, a tourist train from Greymouth to pass. K88 passes us on the back of a truck while we are stationery at 1735. By 1750 we are clear to go.

As we come into Christchurch, the Mainline Depot appears to the right of the train where Kevin, Mike and co will spend most of the evening. Richard Baird stands in the open doorway repair gear ready to go. Middleton marshalling yard and freight terminal is on our left as we wait for the Tranz Alpine to depart the Addington Station. Here we say goodbye to our popular Train Manager, Bryan and we applaud him for his company and good humour. Peter will be our new guard as from tomorrow and he has generously cancelled an AA meeting tomorrow night just to be with us !!

Our red bus driver has waited for over an hour to take us to the very comfortable Riccarton Village Inn where we will stay overnight. This has almost become ‘home’ to us as we settle in to the same rooms we had previously. Up early tomorrow for a 0630 breakfast and departure at 0700.

Wednesday 25th October
After an early wake up call and breakfast, we gather around the 0700 bus that takes us to the station. The friendly Asian staff waves us off saying “See you on the 28th!” It’s 5 degrees. Overcast skies with patches of blue hold the promise of a fine day. There is no hint of our fiery trip from Dunedin the Christchurch Press this morning. The crew managed to repair Wab794 by 11pm last night. Phil Wagener and Jimmy Oliver were the light up crew and one will be the observer in the cab today.

We reach the station and make an untidy cluster on the platform while we hurry up and wait for the Tranz Scenic. We eventually depart Christchurch at 0755. Our PR officer, Helen Worboys and our Secretary, Joy Kent have joined us for this leg of the trip to the West Coast. Helen will liaise with press and TV in Greymouth, taking this pressure off others. We have also added an extra carriage with tables for the excursions in Greymouth and this gives us a temporary opportunity to spread out.

The Tranz Alpine passes and we’re still not moving We travel through the industrial area then Hornby, Templeton and the new housing area of Rolleston where we wait for the Tranz Alpine. The Tranz Alpine passes and we’re still not moving. A freight train 934 crosses us at 0915. We’re off! It’s 0920. The DX loco on the Tranz Alpine 803 had a problem and had to be replaced. A black dog chases the train - what will it do when it catches it? Photo Richard Cocker.
A sudden stop at 0930 for a light and again at Kirwee. Darfield, the gateway to the skifields is off the left at 0950. We continue on to Kimberly and Sheffield. Our question of the day is, “What is a baby ostrich called?” There are many man-made canals in this area which channel water for irrigation across the plains.

A 10 minute stop at Springfield to oil up at 1025 A 10 minute stop at Springfield to oil up at 1025. Springfield itself is some distance from the station and is the last stop for food before we head into the mountains. The refreshment rooms here are well worth a visit and we all troop in to explore their goodies. There are displays of steam locos pulled out of the Grey River 2 years ago and it is hoped these can be restored. This was once a service depot, home of the Hillside built KB locos that hauled trains on the West Coast. There is also a large photo of Rosie the dog, a black and white border collie who met the train each day for a pie. It is estimated that she enjoyed 5,000 railway pies in her lifetime. The service crew fit the headboard. Photo Stuart Anderson.

Camera buffs snap the WAB steaming gently against the snow of the Southern Alps. A coal train passes us at Springfield at 1035 with only 14 cars. There were problems with the second diesel and ½ of the wagons were dropped at Cass. We get the hurry up to board at 1045 and depart at 1047.

We begin to climb the incline of Porter’s Pass with its distinctively dry alpine flora and travel through 16 tunnels in the next ½ hour. The area from the scenic Waimakariri River to the Broken River Gorge is known as the mile of tunnels. There are 19 tunnels in total on our trip. The longest is 265.9m and the shortest just 39.8m. Approximately 3 million tons of coal leaves this area annually, mostly for the export markets of Asia.

The Waimakariri (Maori for cold rushing waters) is 156km long and flows out to sea at Christchurch. Normal water flow is 50cu m per second and during flood can exceed 3,000cu m per second. After our next tunnel, we see Patterson’s Creek Viaduct to the right of the train. The train travels up to an area known as the Staircase. Its 73m high and 149m long viaduct bridges the Staircase Gully and is the highest on our trip. The Christchurch cathedral will fit underneath it with a few meters to spare!

Sloven’s Creek is the last of the viaducts. At 165.8m long and 40.5m high it takes us onto the easier country of Sloven’s Valley. St Bernard’s Saddle at the top of the Cass Bank is where the 7.5k downgrade to the Waimakariri River begins. At 1140 in Craigieburn, 101km from Christchurch, we wait for another coal train. Another short stop at 1205 to enjoy the scenery of the snow covered Alps.

At the top of the Cass bank we have a photo opportunity We have made up some time by eliminating photo stops. At the top of the Cass bank we have a photo opportunity at 1220. Lake Sarah is on our right and quite commonly freezes over during the winter months. Photos by Stuart Anderson At the top of the Cass bank
We reach Cass at 1230 and commune in the warm sunshine while the WAB receives water and gets coaled up. After our departure at 1315, we are handed our individually packed lunches provided by the people at the Riccarton Village Inn; several pieces of fruit, salad roll, drink, cake, muffin and toffees.

Stoat trap boxes are set along the track here and these are said to have made a big difference to the native bird population in the area.

We arrive at Arthur’s Pass (just who is Arthur?) where yet another coal train is waiting to pass us. DXB5431 and DX5391 haul 30 wagons. A DX loco weighs 99.8 tons, has 2700 horse power and will pull 1500 tons on the flat. The village of Arthur’s Pass is at 737m above sea level making it the highest railway station in the south island. (The highest in NZ is Waiouru at 814m.) The present chalet-styled station was opened in October 1966 and replaces the original wooden station which was destroyed by fire in 1963. The township has a resident population of approximately 60 people. Here three banker diesels attach as we depart Arthur’s Pass village to immediately enter the darkness of the 10km Otira tunnel.

The Otira tunnel is a straight tunnel with a north/south alignment and is No.17 on our journey to the West Coast. At the time of its opening, it was the longest in the British Empire and the Southern Hemisphere and the 7th longest in the world. The trip through the tunnel takes approximately 14 minutes.

A system of suction ventilation exists with doors closing off the Otira end after each train has gone through. Extra fans are now installed which have reduced the purge time from 28 to 20 minutes.

The whole of Otira village with its population of 45 is privately owned by the couple who run the hotel and was purchased for the grand sum of $70,000. The 3 banker engines reside here. We are out into the sunlight of Otira at 1432. Rainfall here averages 25’ per year and it is not unusual to have 6” of rain in a 3-4 hour period. The average daily sunshine during winter is just 2-3 hours per day! We depart Otira at 1445 after taking off the diesels.

We reach Jackson’s, renowned in the 1880’s for its possum pies, at 1515. We are 168km from Christchurch and this is where Michael Jackson who emigrated from Scotland with his brother Adam in 1864, Established a much needed Coach House. He ran the first hotel here in 1870 but the building was swept away by a flash flood in 1871 and all 16 guests escaped to safety. Time passes as we wait for the Tranz Alpine to cross. A nameless someone mutters, “There’s another $10 worth of coal gone west …” as the WAB spits out a puff of black smoke. If we had arrived in Greymouth on time we’d be missing all this! We fill in time by relating travel tales on the side of the track. Our Shannon contingency of Les and Pearl tell us they were hoping for a quick piece of fish at one of our short stops before the train departed and Pearl innocently asked the person behind the counter, “How long will the fish be?” Only to receive the reply, “Oh, about that long …”

Finally, our train manager, Peter sees the Tranz Alpine in the distance and calls, “I can see the light!” A voice from the trackside wilderness replies, “Praise the Lord!”

As the TA passes us, we enthusiastically wave it off. We wake Kevin who is having a kip in the long grass and we’re on the move again at 1605.

A coal train passes at Kohiri and we cross the Taramakau River known for its gold dredging and greenstone. Another short stop at 1630 at Roto Manu Valley. Russell W is now officially recognised as The Crunchie Bar Kid after regularly handing out our chocolate fix rations. There is also a multitude of knitters on board; Harry, Pene, Robyn, Dale, Margaret, Yvonne, Gus, and Denise are all manufacturing a variety of garments including scarves, baby clothes and cardigans.

We’re at Te Kinga at 1643. This is the name for both the mountain and the farming settlement. We reach Moana with its resident population of 80 expanding to 1,000 during the summer months. Moana overlooks Lake Brunner, the largest lake in Westland with an area of 42 square kilometres and is renowned also for its excellent trout fishing. The Maori name for Lake Brunner is ‘Moana Kotuku” which means lake of the white heron. There are no herons to photograph today as it is their annual day off. Here we can forget cribs. Holiday homes can run up to the $300,000 mark. We are shown the Mayor of Greymouth, Tony Crookshawn’s home which overlooks Lake Brunner.

The next tunnel – Kaimata tunnel – is 118.3m long. The Kaimata locality has a hydro-electric station that generates up to 3,600kW. This is about the same output as two diesel-electric locos, making it the smallest on the state power grid. Stillwater Junction is reached at 1730 where a large sawmill is situated next to the station yard. A triangle track was put in place here in 1991. We go through the 89.3m long Brunner tunnel, our final tunnel. There is a monument on the island in the middle of the river dedicated to Thomas Brunner who first discovered the black gold known as coal in the area. The Brunner Mine is the site of New Zealand’s worst industrial accident, killing 65 men and boys in 1896. Mining in the vicinity ceased early in the 1940’s. We pass Omoto, 228.4km from Christchurch at 1755 and reach Greymouth at 1800. Greymouth has a population of 9 to 11,000 and the Grey River experiences regular floods. In September of 1988, the whole of Greymouth was under 1m of water and a new landscaped anti-flood sea wall was built.

The busses are waiting to take us to three different places of accommodation. All this enjoyment is hard work!

Thursday 26th October
Everyone is very pleased with their accommodation although both Joy and Helen have had serious altercations with their bath mats. Them wot have Duck Disease (Mike and Gracie) have also struggled to adjust the shower head.

Another fine, warm, overcast day with patches of blue sky. After a leisurely breakfast, we board our bus to Shantytown at 0930 with our driver, Harry. We surprise early morning shoppers, John and Pene Cannon and John Tremain and Shorty who are quietly minding their own business and exploring Greymouth. They look up to see a bus load of tourists furiously waving at them. They quickly recognise us and wave back. It’s always great to see faces we know.

Wab794 is running excursions to Moana and Stillwater today. Harry gives a running commentary on places of interest and house prices along the way. He asks if we have read the ‘One Minutes Silence’ this morning – the Greymouth Star. We arrive at Shantytown at 0950. It is a recreated 1900’s pioneer town and some buildings have been moved here from outside the immediate area. Our first stop is the water wheel of Chinatown and the Shantytown Station where we ride on ‘Katie’ the coal hauler. Built in 1896 at the Atlas Works of Sharp, Stewart & Co, Glasgow, she is based on the NZR F class and worked the coalmines at Kaitangata in Otago for 70 years. Reboilered in 1922 by J McGregor & Co of Dunedin, the loco had a rather uneventful life at Kaitangata. She was overhauled at Hillside in 1956 and in 1971, Katie became the mainstay of the Shantytown Railway.

‘Gertie’ an L class Loco, ‘Climax’ built in 1913 and Heisler 1494 also reside here. ‘Opossum’, built in 1875 is the oldest intact NZ built loco. An older loco is buried at Piha beach and the next oldest is D140 of 1888 operating at Ferrymead. This is one of three 8 ton tank locomotives intended for use on the Foxton-Palmerston North tramway. The others named ‘Skunk’ and ‘Wallaby’ worked in Foxton. Opossum arrived in Shantytown in 1986 and is at present in storage.

The locos haul two carriages built on ex NZR UG wagon underframes and each carriage seats about 30 people. Stu somehow gets to ride shotgun in the cab while the hoi polloi are shut into carriages with wrought iron gates. At the top of the track we stop for photos as two baby wekas who first came out of the bush just two weeks ago, come up to the train for a snack. We continue on to the sawmill and the Diamond Gully Goldfield where we attempt a bit of panning and are warned to “Beware of the Cat”. The said moggy lays licking itself in the sun and proves to be unpattable, giving us a feline version of the two fingered wave. The other sign reads, “Varmits Keep Out”. Obviously this cat don’t read … We stroll on to buy cards and stamps with gold in the pan which shows up when heated by a thumb. These are posted in the special Shantytown post box and will bear their special postmark.

We enjoy delicious coffee, warm home made date scones, and huge pikelets with jam and whipped cream, at the tables in the sunshine and have plenty of time to visit the 30 buildings including a church, bank, Beehive general store, hairdresser, printing works, hospital, fire station, town hall and Robber’s Roost – the town jail. We take turns photographing each other sitting on the open air long drop or in the stocks.

Shantytown is owned by the community and administered by the West Coast Historical & Mechanical Society – a not-for-profit, fully incorporated society.

Our bus departs for Hokitika at 1145. There are whitebaiters on the stoney banks and camped in caravans on the riverbed at Taramakau River where a permit from DOC is required. We cross two road/rail bridges which not only have the rail track running through the centre of the roadway but are also one way!

At Kumara Junction, the road veers left to Christchurch and right to Haast. This is the only roundabout where a vehicle can be hit twice by the same train! We arrive in Hokitika at 1220 in time for lunch. Harry, our driver, informs us there is a great feed of whitebait to be had at Milly’s Café for just $9.50.

Hokitika has a population of 5,000 which swells to 31,000 during the Wild Food Festival held annually in March. This is a very clean and tidy town and has two primary schools and one high school. There is a Crooked Mile Talking Movie House which is a NZ Historic Places Trust registered building. The clock tower is the centrepiece of Hokitika and is a memorial to soldiers who fell in the Boer war 1899-1902. Construction of the now empty Government building was begun in 1908 and has Richard John Seddon’s statue in front. This later became the Courthouse with the last court session being held there in 1980. It too is a NZ Historic Places Trust registered building.

The first hotels and business premises of Wharf Street in 1864 were a rickety affair. Hurriedly built tents or ponga huts soon gave way to business places made of galvanised iron and false fronted buildings made of local and imported timber. By 1866, Hokitika had 102 hotels. Accommodation was no more than a blanket and a spot on the floor or on one of the dining tables. 16 September 1867 saw 41 vessels berthed at the wharf and the streets where muddy tracks well into the 1900’s. We have spent another happy afternoon shopping and exploring and we depart in our bus at 1510. We are back in Greymouth by 1550. The rest of our day is free.

Wab794 on the new Cobden Railway Bridge that crosses the Grey River While the passengers were on the tours, the Wab had a photo stop on the new Cobden Bridge. She made history by being the first steam train to travel on the new Cobden Railway Bridge that acrosses the Grey River. A much anticipated event, judging by the many train enthusiasts who lined State Highway 7. Photo Janine Evans.

Pene Cannon’s Excursion Quiz for the Idle

1 What organisation did we keep busy between Oamaru and Timaru?
2 Who said, “All quiet one the set!”?
3 Who in the crew had their photo in the Otago Daily Times?
4 Name two knitters on the train – one must be male.
5 Name one of the people who climbed the fence at Ashburton and where were they going?
6 What is a baby turkey called?
7 What wasn’t on the menu at the Tunnel Hotel?
8 Name one person who had a birthday during this trip.
9 Who blessed the train at Oamaru?
10 How many fl.oz of grease is in a McGregor’s Mutton pie and where are they sold?
11 Name one of our Train Managers.
12 Where did we have lunch with a track running through the building?
13 Name the two sisters on the train.
14 What is the Americanism for a Canterbury irrigation system?
15 How old is the oldest person on the train?
16 What are the colours of our Roving Photographer’s vehicle?
17 How long do you see the sun in Otira during winter?
18 Name one of the speakers at Port Chalmers.
19 Who boarded the train at Shannon?
20 Who is The Crunchie Bar Kid?
21 Who is the Public Relations Officer?
22 What ferry did we come to the South Island on?
23 Who did some of us shake hands with on the platform in Invercargill?
24 Where did Pauline get kicked off the train?
25 Who is the youngest person on the train?

… to be continued. Answers later.

Friday 27th October
The WAB is again running excursions to Moana and Stillwater today. The final excursion in the afternoon, was like a “McDonald’s birthday party”, with excited children everywhere. On arrival back at the Greymouth station, parents attempted to capture an image of their child with Wab794 for prosperity. All was relatively civilized …

Today’s excursions were more successful than the earlier Thursday trips when delays were experienced waiting for crossing orders and drivers ran out of their allotted 10 hour working time. The 2 hour delay caused the cancellation of the 3.30pm excursion to Stillwater causing much disappointment among the waiting passengers. Russell said all tickets would be honoured for today’s run and refunds would be given if required.

All Heritage operators were warned by OnTrack that scheduled freight and passenger services have precedence and therefore some delays are to be expected. The Midland Line is already a busy line because of the Tranz Alpine and regularly scheduled coal trains.

The souvenir department (Russell H and Margaret) have done a roaring trade throughout the trip but have been particularly well supported by the people of Greymouth.

This morning is heavily overcast and it is raining as we board our bus to Westport at 0900. Some of us have sampled the excellently huge whitebait patties at Steamers for dinner last night. Our Scotty stoker friend, Alf, with Duck’s Disease and a broad brogue, enjoyed an unbelievably large steak with all the trimmings at the Union Hotel. This is the place to go for value for money, according to our bus driver, Harry.

As we depart Greymouth at 0920, Harry shows us the Regent Theatre doorway which was underwater in the September 1988 flood. There once were three railway lines running where the sea wall now stands. The signal box still exists and is in reasonably good condition.

Harry takes us to visit the Westland Railway and Model Club whose premises are the Runanga Railway Station, built in 1961 to replace the old station which burnt down in 1959. It was derelict in 2002 when the club bought the building for the nominal sum of 70 cents. A model of the railway system in the Rewanui district as it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s was begun 3 years ago. Created in separate sections and later bolted together, the model is built to 3/16” scale. Still to be completed are several houses including the Station Master’s house.

Steam ceased in this area in 1968 and from 1968 until 1985 DSC and DJ class engines were run. We spend a good ½ hour looking at their model, sign their brand new visitor’s book and contribute to their donation box.

The town of Runanga is 101 years old and has a population of 12-14,000. There is a Snarler Parlour (butchers) and a Miner’s Hall which is the picture theatre. There were also three churches up on what is known as Holy Hill.

The Dunollie Hotel and Backpackers a little further along stands where once the old railway station stood. The original station building was made into a beautiful home and then burned down by vandals.

There is also a bath house for the Spring Creek Mine. Here the men leave the bus from the mine, bathe and catch another bus to town.

We pass Rapahoe on the coast. Coal here has a very high sulphur content and burns out fireplaces very quickly so other coal is mixed in with it.

We head into some fairly decent West Coast weather as we travel on towards Westport. We pass Golden Sands, an excellent beach for swimming and the Rata Café. There is a buffalo farm up on the hill here with animals imported from Indonesia; it is too wet here for sheep farming.

Past Razorback Point we come to Punakaiki. Here we experience more famous West Coast weather. Many of us give the blow holes a miss as the sea is too calm for them to be spectacular. We head from the bus into the warmth of the caff across the road. Those who have braved the weather to grab a look at the view come back dripping. Some have great shots of the Pancake Rocks and blowholes – they have taken photos of the postcards at the souvenir shop!

Punakaiki shopping centre is further down the road with 4 motels, 1 hotel, 1 tavern and a DOC information centre. The whitebaiter’s have set nets here too.

We enjoyed this gem on the door of the café;

Wild Coast Café
- Opening Hours -

Usually we open about 8am
But sometimes as late as 9 or 10am
Or sometimes not at all.
Usually we close about 5 or 6pm
But sometimes as early as 3 or 4pm
Or as late as 11pm
Some days we don’t open on some afternoons
But lately I have been here
most of the time
Except when I’ve been away.

We leave Punakaiki at 1128 – a lone weka searching the car park for lunch sees us off. Across the Porarari River at Truman’s Track is a bushwalk to the Tasman Sea. People get married here. This area is prone to slips and can be closed for several days while the road is cleared. These slips were once simply pushed over the side of the bank but today all rockfall and mud is picked up and carted away. The sea fog has now closed in around us and we are tourists without a view! No photo opportunities here!

This is a good fishing area. Bach owners pay very high rates and a sea wall costing $56,000 was recently erected to protect these homes from erosion.

We pass the turn off to the Cape Foulwind seal colony; a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals. The café there has won the West Coast best caff award three times.

Six kilometres out of Westport we turn onto SH67 – the road from Christchurch and Lewis Pass. Westport’s population of 3783 became prosperous through gold and is now the country’s only source of bituminous coal. Wesport exports mainly coal and cement.

It is 13 degrees as we cross the river bridge into Wesport at 1240.

We huddle in cafés and shops while the West Coast tops up its annual rainfall quota and wait for 3 or 4 buckets less to fall so we may make a dash across the intersections. Wesport drivers are generous in stopping for us while we attempt the sprint. The BNZ window displays paper machè Piggies made by local children during the school holidays and we check out the goods yards and stucco railway station.

We drip onto the bus and at 1400 we leave Westport and follow the Buller River through the Buller Gorge. This road has been reconstructed since the Inangahua earthquake. Fern Arch half bridge is an unbelievable piece of engineering with vehicles needing to use mirrors to view oncoming traffic. Busses and trucks have scraped the sides of some of the rock walls which pass for roadways which have already had their height and width increased to allow for larger vehicles. We reach Reefton at 1517. This was the first town in the southern hemisphere to have electricity in August 1888. There is a railway station and a disused turntable with weeds growing through. Being the West Coast’s only inland town, temperatures can reach 37? here in summer and the rainfall is a moderate 2200mm per year. Its history is linked to quarts mining. We explore the Fairlee Engine on static display behind the shops of the main street. This is one of 28 engines built at Avonside designated R28. Her design enables bogies to swivel in their frames and her tender also swivels for tight corners. She worked out of Greymouth until 1934 and was sold to the Timaru Harbour Board in 1944. Bourkes Creek Colliery of Reefton then bought her and she remained there until 1948 when she was retired and gifted to the people of Reefton by the Morris family of Fairlee.

We depart Reefton at 1550. On to Mawheraiti past the Waiuta turnoff which is now a ghost town but once had a population of 20,000. In 1951 a mine shaft collapsed and within a short period of time everyone was gone.

Blue sky appears out of the fog to our left. It is dry and fine by the time we reach Redjacks Creek where there is a Davidson Bush Locomotive on static display at the roadside. This is the 25th of 26 locos built by G & D Davidson of Hokotika between 1907 and 1925. It was used for tramming logs from bush to the mill near here until 1942 and it is the last remaining Davidson loco. Simply constructed and sturdy, it features chain-driven bogie wheels that gave maximum traction while spreading the engine’s weight on often flimsy bush rails and bridges.

We see a Daimler and a Jag planted tail end first into the ground. These are used as entranceway gateposts to a property. Harry tells us these cars were fully operational when planted.

We reach Stillwater at 1700 and at Dobson Wab794 passes us running its last excursion for the day. We wave with fervour at Shorty out on the platform. Dobson has good coking and burning coal and a trailer load costs just $20.

At Omoto Slip we are shown the area where wagons and locomotives were dumped into the Grey River to stabilise the river bank. We arrive back into Greymouth to glorious sunshine at 1720.

Saturday 28th October
A quote in the Greymouth Star today – “Happiness is a way station between too much and too little.” The weather is overcast with no wind. A late breakfast is enjoyed as we need not depart from the station until 0815.

We wait for the WAB to pull into the deserted Greymouth Station and she is more or less on time at 0900. She still has the West Coast excursion plaque on the front of the boiler and we gather on the platform and along the tracks to have a group photo taken by a professional perched on an aluminium ladder. These no doubt will be big sellers!

We all pile on board and are soon underway at 0917. We get just a few 100m down the track and stop there until 0930. We reach Stillwater with no further hold-ups at 1000.

On this journey we have had roadside wavers and non-wavers. Our challenge being to get the non-wavers to wave! West Coasters are definitely wavers!

We have a rather lengthy stop at Roto Manu at 1100 for a two train wait – the Tranz Alpine and a coal train. Helen and Rod make good use of the time by washing the back window of the observation car. At 1150 the freight passes and the Tranz Alpine at 1200 with the passengers in open cars trying to get a shot of the WAB as they pass.

The skies clear somewhat before we reach Otira at 1300. The diesels are at the other end of the tunnel as freight 832 has just been taken through so there is a wait while they come up to us and the tunnel is cleared. The three diesels attach and we depart Otira at 1350. We enter the Otira tunnel at 1400 and are out the Arthur’s Pass end at 1414.

Coal train 847 is berthed at Arthur’s Pass and our three DX’s join with its two DX’s and 15,000 horsepower pulls the coal train into the tunnel to Otira. We depart Arthur’s Pass at 1450.

A freezing wind and light rain greet us at Cass A freezing wind and light rain greet us at Cass where we stop for water at 1515. The platform is strictly for the intrepid and we are happy to come into the warmth of the carriages to depart at 1540. This is tussock country, very similar-looking to the Desert Road and Waiouru.. Photo Janine Evans.
At 1620 we begin our ½ hour of tunnels and cross the Broken River viaduct. A slatted fence runs along one side for the length of the viaduct to protect the carriages from strong winds.

Les (from Shannon) shares some of his humour;
There’s a young lad working for a wheelie bin outfit.
One bin is not put out so he goes around the back of the house to find it.
“Where’s ya bin?” asks the boy.
“Australia,” is the reply.
“Na, nah. Where’s ya BIN?”
“Look mate, I told yer. Australia.”
“Nah. I mean where’s ya wheelie bin?”
“Well son, I’ve really been in jail but I’m telling everyone that I’ve been to Australia.”
and also …
What’s a wok?
A wok is what ya throw at a wabbit when yer wifel won’t work …

By this time, Pene and John have sold out of sandwich packs and pies. The Feilding Draught cans ($1.50) and wine ($5) have also sold well. Complimentary tea, coffee, Milo and biscuits are freely available during the trip and Dot, Pauline and Peter help out John and Pene behind the counter.

We run along the flat to Springfield at 1645 and view several engines in a paddock. These have been hauled out of the Grey River in Greymouth. We reach Sheffield at 1700, Darfield at 1710, Rolleston at 1735 and arrive to an overcast but fine Canterbury afternoon in Christchurch by 1800.

Our busses are waiting to take us to the Riccarton Village Inn and we head off to find FOOD!

continuing Pene's Traveller's Quiz for the Idle …

26 How long will a piece of fish be?
27 Name the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric power.
28 Who had their hair-do restyled by Wabby Burns on the way to Blenheim?
29 Which engine features chain driven bogie wheels?
30 Who has the most badges on their hat?
31 What is Teapot's real name?
32 If a flock of geese on the ground is called a gaggle, what is a flying flock of geese called?
33 Where is the highest railway station in New Zealand?
34 Who welded the plate over the Wab's firebox in Christchurch?
35 How much does a Feilding Draught can cost?
36 Where did everyone pose for a group photo?
37 What time does the Wild Coast Café usually open?
38 How many banker diesels take trains through the Otira tunnel and how long does it take?
39 Where and when was Wab794 born?
40 Where do woosies stretch their legs?
41 What is the train's maximum allowable speed?
42 What is the name given to Ab663?
43 Name an engine that is oil fired.
44 What is the number of the double-decker tramcar found in Ashburton?
45 According to Bryan, what is New Zealand's largest offshore island called?
46 Where did we stop to photograph seals?
47 What is the length of the longest wagon on the rail at present?
48 How much did the scarves knitted by Margaret Moore sell for?
49 What was being used as a hen house?
50 How many estimated railway pies did Rosie the dog consume in her lifetime?

Sunday 29th October 2006
After yet another 0630 breakfast we depart at 0700 by bus for the station. The light-up crew, consisting of Pauline, Keith, Stuart and John were up at 0330. Unattended carriages wait at the Addington station for us to board and Wab794 shortly appears and connects to the train. The President of Weka Pass Railway, Gary Kelly is our driver today and he has not driven Wab794 before.

Helen and Margaret have left us today to fly home to Feilding. On board, ready to depart, we realise we have just one more sleep left …

A guard's whistle blows from the platform and Wab794 whistles back. Our train, BO9 moves out of the Christchurch station. Peter, our previous guard has been mysteriously traumatised and we welcome Bryan back on board to be our train manager for the journey through to Blenheim.

The sun lifts over the early morning cloud bank as we whistle our way through the quiet Sunday morning Christchurch suburbs and wake anyone hoping to sleep in.

There is a 5 minute stop at 0745 at Belfast. Two trains have gone ahead of us so we should have a good run up to Blenheim today. We pass through Kaiapoi and stop at Rangiora, a small farming community of 10,000 for a track warrant. We depart there at 0815. On to Amberley and Waipara.

At Waipara road vehicles wait at the crossing while we change points to go onto the loop for Weka Pass. We dawdle along the track and stop to pick up moulds, window frames and glass for our carriages. These were exchanged for some bogies that we brought down with us. We're all loaded and on our way by 0930. Many new grape vines are planted in this area. The Hurunui River arising from Lake Sumner flows beside the track. At Spotswood a truck and trailer unit gives us a long blast on its horn. Another unit passes and toots. Everyone is enjoying the engines.

We reach Domett at 1030 and wait for freight 739 to approach from the north with two DX diesels at 1047. We are on our way again at 1055.

Mike Barnes now sports a new 'blow back' hairdo. This is apparently quite easy to achieve for those in the know, when the engine quickly ducks in and out of several tunnels and the stoker is concentrating on keeping the engine moving. Pedantic Hairdressing Laws state: (Clause 12, subsection 3(a)) that a stoker's hair must be no shorter than a No.1 … well Gracie, all we can say is that your Mike looks very handsome in a Yul Brunnerish sort of way! The Wab is sounding good and having a fine run as we enter the Marlborough area of Conway Flats at 1120 and Goose Bay at 1140 where a relaxed group are fishing on the beach.

At the Okarimia Viaduct, Bryan tells us he is frequently asked if whales can be seen from the train. The answer is of course, "No. It's too far away. We can't even see South America …" We reach Kaikoura for lunch at 1200 and walk to town in search of fresh crayfish and perhaps a good coffee. Several passengers buy crayfish at $25 half or $39-$45 for a whole.

We depart Kaikoura at 1305 and our next stop is the Ohau Point Seal Colony at 1328. Seals bask on the rocks here having their scheduled afternoon 'Nana Nap'. We get snap happy along with several car loads of tourists who are intent on snapping us! By 1340 we are on our way again and cross the 201km long Clarence River at 1350.

At Wharanui we cross the 701 Tranz Coastal service at 1440. This is where the DQ diesels are housed that are used as banker engines for the south bound trains from Picton. Mark (the Addington signalman) leaves the train here and catches the south bound service to Christchurch where he will begin work at 11pm.

We are northbound again at 1447. Does our reputation precede us? A fire engine sits at the railway crossing and sounds its siren. Is this "Hello" or "We've heard all about you lot …"

A 10 minute photo stop at 1530 has the Wab backing up into the back-of-beyond and steaming past the Salt Flats of Grassmere. There are many unphotogenic power poles to contend with and some intrepid photographers have scaled mountains to improve their chances of a good shot.

At Seddon - once called Scarborough - the loco is greased at 1600 and Bryan gives us the choice of partaking of some fresh sea air or toxic cigarette smoke for 20 minutes. We reach the Awatere River Valley with its many vineyards and a double-decker road/rail bridge. In days gone by when toilets still evacuated straight onto the track, this was a very popular place to flush …

It is now 1620 and raining. The weather is deteriorating (according to our South Island Train Manager), because we are nearing New Zealand's largest off shore island - the North Island. We could possibly see it from here if it wasn't for the mist.

We arrive in Blenheim, home to 25,000 people and 2,500 hours of sunshine at 1655. There is a happy crowd to greet us at Blenheim station which rapidly disperses once Wab794 leaves at 1715 for Picton to drop the fire and cool the engine before loading onto the Wellington bound ferry. Shorty, Kevin, Jim and Phil will be travelling with her on the 2200 sailing. We have barely arrived at our accommodation at 1730 when we hear the Wab has been involved in an accident at an intersection just 6 kms down the road. Sirens wail past us as emergency crews rush to the scene. We crew immediately reports to OnTrack and our loco driver, absolved of any wrong doing is stood down, which is normal practice following any rail incident.

We are all thankful to hear our journey has ended without serious injuries or extensive damage to the loco although the car was extensively damaged. Tomorrow a bus will collect us at 8am for a cooked breakfast at the Criterion Hotel and another will take us to the ferry terminal at Picton at 1000.

Monday 30th October 2006
Sunlight streams into our rooms from a cloudless sky on our last morning in the South Island. There is no sign of the foul weather that preceded our arrival and it appears we will have an excellent crossing on the ferry at 1315. We hear Wab794 was derailed in Picton last night so she is still sitting in Picton awaiting inspection. Our carriages too have not been loaded and this has created many problems for the organisers as the carriages now have to be abandoned at Picton and all goods removed. Steam Inc also have 3 vintage cars waiting to be loaded in Picton and some of their cars are already in Wellington.

We are told we will be travelling on the Capital Connection from Wellington which was to precede our train. Many are pleased we are at least completing our journey by rail and not by bus.

We leave our accommodation at 1000 and have two hours free time in Picton to enjoy the sunshine and watch the ferries from Wellington arrive. Our ferry is the Kaitaki; Challenger.

We are either departing right on 1315 or someone is scrolling the scenery. An announcement tells us of a moderate swell of 2-3 metres. The swell comes at us partly side on and gives the vessel a strange, up-down and sideways motion as we enter the open water of the Cook Straight. Rainbows appear as spray occasionally lifts across the bow of the vessel. We enjoy the ride and wait for the next wave to wash the windows.

At 1615 the temperature drops as we enter Wellington Harbour. A plane crosses us to land at Miramar. The weather is overcast but fine. It has been another good crossing.

Joy has organised our luggage which was put on a truck in Picton. Being last on the ferry it will be first off and will rush to the station ahead of us. Our connection is rather tight as the ferry does not berth until 1640 and our train is due to leave at 1715. We attempt to be the first to sprint off the ferry to the waiting shuttle bus but our plans are thwarted somewhat by many others trying to do the same thing. The first bus leaves at 1650 and the rest of us must wait for the next shuttle. Time ticks. We hope the train will delay its departure until we get there.

We finally arrive at the station at 1720 and are hurried onto the first two carriages. We depart Wellington Station at 1723 and the ticket collector attempts to sort us out from the paying passengers.

Although our camaraderie has not changed, everyone is beginning to reconnect their lives to work, home and going our separate ways. This is a journey we will all long remember and tell the grandchildren about. There is even talk of a reunion … We see the first signs of the weather the North Island has suffered during our absence in the fast running rivers and streams near Porirua. There is a high tide along the rocks at Mana at 1745 and we trickle along the track to Plimmerton past the Mainline Steam wagons. We reach Pukerua Bay at 1802, Raumati South at 1815. Passengers nap as there is no one here to wave to. Just the Tranz Metro electric waiting at Paraparaumu station. People move through the carriages clutching after work beer and chips or play with their text buttons. At 1828 we are back in the familiar territory of Waikanae. No animal moves away from this train as it passes!

A card we have all signed is presented to Russell along with our thanks for his organising the trip. He receives rousing cheers and gives a short speech.

By the time we reach Otaki at 1840, most of the commuters have left us to head for their parked cars. Manukau at 1850 and the sudden stop at Levin at 1900 is worthy of the Wab! Three small children stand at their galvanised gate barrier behind the shops with their hands over their ears. Paddocks and roadside puddles here too show signs of the heavy rainfall of the last few days.

At Shannon at 1915 we say goodbye to our friends Les and Pearl Cooper. A very long freight train crosses us here. Dusk falls as we leave the Horowhenua district and enter Manawatu. A misty rain welcomes us home. Many others leave us at Palmerston North station at 1940 including Phil and wife Bettine, Barbara (Dolly) with flashing Santa hat now hidden and our Hawkes Bay contingency of Liz and Dick with his wife. We hear from Kevin in Picton that the Wab and our carriages will be shunted on board a vessel after dinner. It is due in Wellington at 0100.

The doors close on our friends on the Palmerston North station and we arrive in Feilding right on time at 2010. Helen Worboys greets us on the platform and our sisters, Slyvia and Dot have a veritable bus load of friends waiting. Our luggage is offloaded for us to go our separate ways. Body and soul will no doubt catch up with each other during the next few days. Sharing this very special journey has connected us all.

Room 54 Where Are You?

There was an item left in Room 54 in Dunedin which is now at the Feilding Depot. If you would like to claim it please contact Maria on (06) 3268 288.

Pene's Traveller's Quiz Answers:
(You will find most answers to our quiz on the website but there are a few curly ones which may only be extracted from those on board after a cold beer or two …!)

01 The Fire Brigade
02 The Americans
03 Shorty Walker
04 Harry, Pene, Robyn, Dale, Margaret, Yvonne, Gus, Denise
05 Pauline, Phil
06 A poult
07 A 3 course dinner and a glass of wine
08 Dale, Rowena, Joyce, Robyn
09 The Wizard
10 8fl oz, Palmerston
11 Peter, Bryan
12 Keanes Crossing, Pleasant Point
13 Dot, Sylvia
14 A sheep shower
15 86
16 Maroon and silver
17 2-3 hours/day
18 Marcus Lush
19 Les & Pearl Cooper
20 Russell Wiseman
21 Helen Worboys
22 Awatere
23 Tim Shadbolt
24 Temuka
25 Stuart
26 That long
27 Reefton
28 Mike Barnes
29 The Davidson Bush Locomotive
30 Avis
31 Phil Wagener
32 A skein
33 Waiouru
34 Kevin De Rose
35 $1.50
36 Greymouth
37 8 am
38 3 banker diesels; 14 minutes
39 Hillside; 1927
40 Inside the carriages
41 70km
42 The Sharon Lee
43 Ab663; Jb1236
44 No.26
45 The North Island
46 Ohau Point
47 25.7m
48 $15
49 The original body of RM4, the world's only 1925 Model T Railcar
50 5,000 railway pies

NOTE: The text above was written by Maria Vertelman.

The Wab came across on the ferry on the evening of the 30th October.
The Wab, UC and RB came back to Feilding on the 5th November 2006. It is sure nice to have the Wab home again.

Back to 2005-2006 Trip photos