Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Visiting the Foxton Stripper

It was a day out with the boys when the Menz Shed blokes invited their spouses out for lunch in Foxton.  We all met at the Dutch Oven Café, checked out the cabinet display.  Consequently, three helpings of macaroni cheese and one large sausage roll and salad was delivered to our table.


At the Dutch Oven Café

Lunch over, the team gathered at the Flax Stripper Museum, which opened in 1990.  Volunteer Tony Hunt was extremely knowledgeable about the history of flax in the area.



Foxton was the only town in New Zealand to develop a large-scale flax industry which lasted from 1888 to 1974.  The production of flax fibre was Foxton's principal source of income and three generations of workers found employment in the swamps and mills of the district.  The invention of a machine (known as a stripper) to extract fibre from the flax leaves could eventually produce 560 pounds of fibre in a day, and led to large scale production. This was draped outside to dry and bleach in the sun.

The invention of the stripper quickly led to the development of a substantial export trade and the establishment of flax dressing factories in many parts of New Zealand.  Flax mills were usually situated in close proximity to a flax swamp and on the banks of a river or stream, for a good supply of running water was needed to wash the fibre after it had emerged from the stripper. Most of these early mills were powered by steam engines, but some utilized water wheels, or were driven by horses walking in a circle.  In the late 1800s there were 50 mills operating in the Manawatu area.

Tony gave us a demonstration of this rather lethal looking machine and fed flax leaves though the stripper.  Whoosh, with a hiss and a roar the leaves were sucked through the machine in a blink of an eye.  

The Stripper machine

And came out looking like this

The flax industry went through several boom and bust cycles, disease spread through the plants, cheaper fibre from overseas became available, all contributing to the local decline.  Woolpacks and Textile Company kept the local economy afloat manufacturing wool packs, flax underfelt, hardwearing  matting, and in  1955 the 100% sisal carpet, cordella, was introduced.  But tastes and times were changing and the factory was closed in 1980s.

Examples of hard wearing sisal matting

Of course, before all this mechanization, the Maori people knew all about flax, weaving it into baskets and mats, and using the fibre to make ropes, footwear and clothing.  The nectar from its flowers made a sweet drink. The crushed roots made poultices for skin infections, and produced a juice with disinfectant and laxative properties. The gum from the base of the leaves eased pain and healed wounds, especially burns. The leaves themselves could be used as bandages and to secure broken bones.

Clothing utilizing flax

The “Keep Foxton Beautiful” group were instrumental in securing the last remaining flax stripper for the museum.  And what a good thing it was rescued, a very important piece of Foxton’s heritage.  Many thanks to Tony Hunt for an interesting afternoon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

M V Wairua – Wanganui Riverboat Cruise

A fitting conclusion to our visit to Wanganui was a ride on MV Wairua.  Purchased as a kitset from boat builders in the Isle of Dogs, London, the boat was assembled on the river bank, and Wairua (Spirit) joined the famous Hatrick & Co Wanganui River Steamer fleet in November 1904.  She was a pioneer of river travel above Pipiriki - in those days the Wanganui River was the local highway.

Wairua has a unique form of propulsion that is known as tunnel drive or raised propeller boat. The propeller is located in a tunnel above the bottom of the vessel and the water is drawn up into this and then thrust out of the stern past the vessels rudders, an early version of today’s jet boats. This enabled Wairua to work in very shallow water, and she was kept busy carrying settlers and supplies to the Mangapurua Landing, gate way to the famed Bridge to Nowhere settlement.

MV Wairua

The river trade declined with the opening of the railway and the Wanganui River Road and the Wairua was one of the many riverboats were laid up.  Uncared for and forgotten, she eventually sank slowly into the mud until only a portion of the bow remained in view. The boat was salvaged in 1987 by a dedicated group of enthusiasts, and after 19 years of hard slog, was returned to the boat we see today, thankfully saving this piece of local history.

WHERE'S WAIRUA? The bow of the Wairua can just be seen at low tide in this photo from the 1980s. PICTURE: MARK CAMPBELL
The bow of the Wairua can just be seen at low tide in this photo from the 1980s.

Our trip up river took us under the Dublin Street Bridge.  On the bank we saw the Waimarie Paddle Steamer, another Wanganui icon which was salvaged and restored.  Originally it was planned that our excursion would be on this boat, but it was still in the throes of maintenance work. 

Waimarie Paddle Steamer

The Waimarie had been pulled out of the river for her maintenance work using two vintage engines, which were on display in the railway yards when we departed the River City Express train.

Vintage engines used to haul the Waimarie onto the hard for maintenance work

We did wonder why the boat slowed right down as we passed under the bridge.  The reason – our train was taking another group on a little trip and was due to pass right over us.  And there she goes!  We had to be quick to get a photo as the train rushed by.

River City Express crossing the Dublin Street Bridge

Coffee and biscuits were included so we helped ourselves to a cuppa and sat back to enjoy the journey.  We had claimed good seats in the open sided boat so we were able to take photos without the bother of windows or frames in the way. 

Enjoying our trip

Our trip continued up river, a  nice calm trip.  There was expensive real estate to admire, and on the way back, we noticed the many rowing clubs who have their buildings on the riverside closer to town.  Rowing of course is a very popular sport on the river.

Wanganui River

It was a fun trip, and we really enjoyed it.  At least there were no crocodiles in the river, coming up to whack the boat with their tails, unlike our last boat trip in Oz.  A bus was waiting to take us back to the train, to complete the homewards part of our trip.  What a great day!

There’s our transport back to the train

Last view of MV Wairua

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Riding the Vintage Bus in Wanganui

Arriving at Wanganui aboard the River City Express was only half the fun – we had off train excursions booked too.  With our tickets clutched tightly in my hot little hand, we clambered down from the train to climb aboard the vintage bus.  And there it was waiting for us, looking as cute as a button!

Bedford Vintage Bus

Being an old school bus, the sets were a rather snug fit for the dozen oldies who clambered aboard.  Where were we going, we wondered, as the driver drove us through the middle of town.

Inside the vintage school bus

Our brave little bus chugged up the hill, past lovely  Virginia Lake and the bird aviaries and on to Otamatea to stop at Boyd’s Auto Barn.  So that’s where we were going!    Wanganui car enthusiast Ed Boyd credits his love of vehicles to a royal encounter when he was 11 years old, when he rode in the back of the Queen Mother's Rolls-Royce in 1963.  "I used to do Scottish dancing and danced for her," he said. Now, he has many vehicles in his car museum, Boyd's Auto Barn. 

With a wide selection of 1920's to 1980's vehicles and other motoring memorabilia, as well as collections of toys, jars, clocks, model aeroplanes, radios, number plates, and other post WW1 artefacts.

Boyd's Auto Barn

Just inside the door was a large canon used in the Vincent Ward movie River Queen movie, filmed in 2005 on the Wanganui River.

Canon made for River Queen movie

There is nothing Robin likes better than checking out cars, so he was in petrol heaven as he wandered around the different cars on display.

Morris 8 and International truck

What’s your favourite, I asked him.  It was this one, a rather smart looking Triumph.  He confessed that he would have loved to own a bright red Triumph in his younger days, but sadly that did not happen.

Robin’s favourite car in the collection

Morris Cowley and 1927 Standard

There was even a vintage caravan – built in 1944, it was altered again in 1955 using Vauxhall axles.  The caravan was stored for 20 years and was still in original condition when purchased for the museum.  Difficult to get a good photo of the van as it was tucked away in a corner of the museum.

1944 caravan

And to finish off, our train guide got us to pose by the bright yellow Austin Seven Ruby AA car while she took our photo.  This car was based in the Wanganui area in the early days when the Automobile Association served each region separately as a stand alone entity.


AA Road Service Car for the Wanganui area

The museum is spread over two buildings, and the owner Ed Boyd is also heavily involved the the local vintage car club.  Some of the club members have their pride and joy vehicles stored at the museum on loan.  We climbed back into the little school bus again to be taken to Part Two of our off train excursion trip.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The River City Express Steam Train Excursion

A bunch of happy people gathered on the Levin Station, waiting expectantly for the train to arrive.  And here it comes – smoke billowing from the engine, as it pulled into the station.  It was time for another train excursion.

Steam Loco Ja1271

The vintage carriages were being pulled by steam loco Ja1271 – which was built in 1956 in Dunedin, she worked hauling express passenger and freight trains on the South Island Main Trunk Line.  Disabled by a shunting accident in 1969, and spending the next few years providing steam as a stationary boiler, the engine was rescued by Steam Incorporated as a wreck, and towed to the Paekakariki workshops.  Following an extensive overhaul, the engine was up and running again by 1995, pulling excursion trains, enjoyed by passengers, ex rail employees and enthusiasts alike. 

Vintage carriages

Our travelling companions were Dot and Derek, and we settled back to enjoy the trip.  Our carriage was only half full, so we took over some spare seating – much more comfortable!  Our carriage as a 50ft, 2nd class car, built in 1909 at the Petone Railway Workshops.  The train travelled through Koputarua, Shannon, Tokomaru, and Linton, finally stopping at Palmerston North to take on more water.

Robin, Derek, Dot and Jenny

Most climbed down from the train at Palmerston North, to join the crowds gathered around the steaming, hissing engine.  People were happy to just look, take photos, or stand and admire this mighty black loco.

Steams up!!

All aboard again and we passed through the fertile farmland, watching as cattle and sheep alike took fright and ran away as we rumbled past.  We stopped briefly at Marton to pick up a few more passengers, then leaving the Main Trunk Line behind and we then travelled along the Taranaki Line on our way to Wanganui.  Dipping into our packed picnic lunches, and hot water in the thermos for a cuppa, we were soon fed and watered.  There was quite a lot of erosion on the hills, we noticed as we travelled along - that’s what happens when all the trees are removed from the hills.   

Erosion on the hills

Sighting one of the towers on the hill means that we are almost at Wanganui.  We crossed over the bridge spanning Wanganui River, and we had arrived.  The river's tinge of brown was mainly due to silt.

Tower looking down over Wanganui

Wanganui River

We spent  several hours at Wanganui doing off-train excursions – more about that next time. 


Then we re-boarded the train for the return journey.  Stock continued to run like mad as we rumbled past their paddocks, and we saw plenty of birdlife too.  Such as wild turkeys, a peacock strutting around, and a native falcon.  As often happens, my camera was not ready for action when we passed these birds by.  There was another stop at Palmerston North on our trip home to top up the water tender again – the loco had used 2000 gallons of water just from Wanganui to Palmerston North.  While the water was being refilled, Robin chatted to the driver and the hard working fireman.   And discovered that he shovels about 6 tonne  of coal during the whole journey.


But what’s this?  Why are these two yellow diesel locos being coupled up to the front of the steam loco?  It seems that for the final part of our journey the train will be pulled by diesel locos.  An announcement was made over the loud speaker once the trip was underway again.  Six Kiwi Rail crew members were required for the day’s excursion, but only four steam certified staff were available, and they had already worked their maximum hours.  Therefore the decision was made to add the diesel locos for the final stretch of the journey.

From steam to diesel

We had ordered an evening meal from the buffet car and the staff were kept busy cooking a simple meal of sausages and veggies for 50 people.   The train pulled into Levin at 8.30pm and after a short drive, we arrived home, happy with our day’s excursion.

Almost home

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What’s happened to Spring?

Although it’s officially Spring down here in New Zealand, the weather has turned wet and cold again.  We have had some lovely warm days not so long ago, warm enough for Robin to don his shorts, and for both of us to dispense with jumpers.  But Mother Nature is fickle sometimes, and she is not yet ready to let us enjoy continuous long sunny days.  The Tararua Ranges behind our property are just poking out of the misty rain clouds.

Over our back fence

Some of the pots on the patio have been touched with Spring, and our lavender is in bloom.

A few blooms on the lavender bush

We don’t feed the birds in Spring as they should be busy building nests and gathering all the plentiful food for their youngsters.  But as it has been so wet lately I topped up the seed feeder for them.  They were suitably grateful, and gathered around, chasing one another away as they tried to get in close to the seed.

The sparrows come calling

We are looking forward to an exciting day out tomorrow,  involving an engine, some carriages, and a track. And a boat, followed by a vintage bus.   Sounds like fun – just our sort of day!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lots of Lego

It’s Lego, Jim, but not as we know it.  Seems those little itty bitty plastic blocks have grown up over the years and  now come in all shapes and sizes.  We met up with our SLG friends on Sunday, and after having a coffee to fortify ourselves, Calvin led us into the Brickton –NZ show in Upper Hutt.  We joined the queue of excited kids with their parents, handed over the princely sum of $2, got our hand stamped, and stepped inside the hall to bedlam!

Enter if you dare

I don’t really recall Lego in my life, but I’m sure my kids must have played with it over the years.  We walked around the hall, peering over the top of kids heads clustered around each table, looking at all sorts of fancy models made from these little blocks.

Ready for war, and city scene

Taj Mahal and Sydney Opera House

Dog or dinosaur?

After we’d had our fill of tripping over kids and fighting the crowds, we went to look at another exhibition in the adjacent hall.  This was rather clever, I thought, and portrayed photos of scenes, made of Lego of course, depicting famous movies.

Titanic and Jaws

Remember E T?

After all that excitement Calvin took us out for lunch to The 7 Bar.  There was plenty to chose from, and I decided to have prawns and scallops.  The waiter had to come and make sure I knew my meal would be served on a hot stone (I hadn’t realised that) and would still be cooking in front  of me.  Why not – I love seafood.

My yummy lunch

Out for lunch with our SLG friends

After lunch we retired to Calvin and Helen’s home for afternoon tea, and then went our separate ways home.  Thanks Calvin, for a day out with a difference.  We took a detour down to Lower Hutt for Robin to refill some water bottles with lovely fresh untreated artesian water.  These places are always busy with people wanting to do the same.

All after fresh artesian water

With that job ticked off our list, it was time to start the long journey back home.  Oh look, there’s Kapiti Island off the coast of Paekakariki.  Robin often asks why I keep taking photos of the island.  It’s just like the mountains, I love looking at them.

Kapiti Island