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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ohakune and Mt Ruapehu

Ohakune is a lively little town, full of cafes, bars,  and accommodation.  Situated on the edge of Tongariro National Park, it is a busy ski town in winter for the nearby Turoa ski field.

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Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Ohakune has a big carrot!  A much photographed big carrot, at that.  Market gardens were first established in this area in 1925, and the climate is particularly suitable for growing carrots.

DSCF4243 The Big Carrot – symbol of Ohakune

Mt Ruapehu towers over the town, and at 2797m high is the tallest mountain in the North Island.  We  took the 17km  drive up the aptly named Ohakune Mountain Road to the base of the Turoa ski field.  The sealed road took us through native forest, with a change to tussock as we drove higher.

DSCF4231 Mt Ruapehu looks down on Ohakune

DSCF4235Native forest at the base of the mountain

The road ended at 1690m and the landscape was a mixture of loose rock and scrubby plants.  In winter all this rock would be a much more attractive sight with it’s covering of crisp white snow.  The supports for the chair lift marched up the hill into the distance.  The several large empty car parks we passed will be filled to overflowing when the ski season gets underway.  

P1307786 Turoa chair lift

The view from the top was a little disappointing.  It was all rather hazy, and not the crisp, clear view we were hoping for, and  Mt Egmont was somewhere in the hazy distance.

DSCF4238 The mountain road and a hazy view in the distance

Back in camp once again we all sought out the shade from the hot sun.  We spent a lazy hour or two talking, reminiscing, reading, and generally relaxing and trying to keep cool.  Peter organised a putting competition after our evening meal when the temperatures had dropped a little.  It was soon obvious who was good at sports in their younger days and who wasn’t.  We all sat around the green, encouraging or haranguing each other, and generally having a good laugh at our poor efforts.

DSCF4245 I’m not much good at golf

P1307793 On the edge of the practise putting green at Waimarino Golf Club

DSCF4249With the sun setting in the west, it was time to head inside

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Raurimu, Smash Palace, and Golf

It was goodbye to Kakahi this morning and on to Waimarino Golf Club for the next couple of nights.  The sun light glinted on the light snow cover atop of Mt Ruapehu as we drove down SH4.

DSCF4202 Mt Ruapehu

First stop on the journey was at the tiny hamlet of Raurimu, home of the famous Raurimu Railway Spiral.  It is a notable feat of civil engineering, having been called an 'engineering masterpiece', and the Institute of Professional Engineers (NZ) has designated the spiral as a significant Engineering heritage site.  The Raurimu Spiral is a single-track railway spiral, starting with a horseshoe curve, overcoming a 139 m height difference on the North Island Main Trunk Railway. Sadly, the bush clad hills covered any view of the famous spiral, so we made do with a quick look around instead.

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Scenes of Raurimu

Kiwis of a certain age will remember the New Zealand film “Smash Palace”,  released in 1981. The film chronicles a former race car driver (played by Bruno Lawrence) who inadvertently helps ruin his own marriage, then kidnaps his daughter (Greer Robson). Lawrence's character runs a car wrecking yard in the isolated area of New Zealand's North Island.  Smash Palace was filmed at the massive yard at Horopito, just north of Ohakune, and this was our second stop of the morning.  Car wrecks cover many acres of the property, as far as the eye can see.

P1297775 Just a few of the car wrecks

The maze of old buildings holds stock piled up on shelf after shelf, all sorts of parts from years gone by, plus a museum  museum to browse through.  There are things here to keep a good keen mechanically minded bloke interested for years.  
 
P1297773 Smash Palace

We are staying somewhere different for the next couple of nights, at the Waimarino Golf Club grounds, just out of Ohakune.  All of us are parked up on power, and showers, toilets and water are available.  We were warmly welcomed by the staff, and enjoyed our 4zees under the shady covering looking out over the golf course, trying very hard to be quiet as we watched some members tee off.  The manager kindly offered us  the use of golf clubs to get out and have a hit around. 

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DSCF4226 Parked up at Waimarino Gold Club

Robin and Peter decided to take up the offer of a game of golf and collected a trundler each.  With a mighty swing each they were away down the fairway.  It has been many years since either of them have played, and they both returned back to their respective caravans some time later, tired but happy.

DSCF4230 Robin and Peter ready to start playing

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rawhide Camp - Kakahi

Our stay in Taumarunui  was at Rawhide Low Cost Park at the tiny rural village of Kakahi.  The roomy grounds were full to overflowing with about 30 vans from the Lake Taupo Camping Club staying for the weekend.  We were warmly welcomed to the grounds by owner Barbara.  “Come in, come in”, she said, “don’t let this lot put you off.” We found spaces for our five vans just through the fence, settled in, and were kindly invited to join in with the others for 4zees, and their evening entertainment.

DSCF4190Parked up in the paddock at Rawhide

The club members were having a bit of a hoe-down in the evening, and donned their Western gear for the dress-up competition .  Derek and I were conscripted to be impartial judges and took our duties very seriously.  There were cow boys and cow girls of every description to check out, including one looking rather like a Mexican, I noticed.  Our choices were finally made, and the winners were these four.  The two little girls were over the moon to be chosen, they just couldn’t stop smiling!

DSCF4177 Winners of the dress up competition

Clones of the famous “Topp Twins” made a guest appearance and kept us all entertained with their singing and playing the spoons.  It was all a load of laughs, and we appreciated the Taupo group inviting us to share in the fun with them. 

DSCF4178 “Topp Twins”, Rawhide style

The property has an interesting history, and was purchased by Barbara and her husband Rex nearly 40  years ago.  The couple built a workshop on their bare land and stitched saddles, bridles and other leather items, shod horses, and bred quarter horses.  They got  together with interested villagers to save and refurbish the derelict village hall.  The local Kakahi Rodeo came into being, with profits from the rodeo over the years going to re-roof, re-pile and re-clad the hall.   With this interest in horses, it is no surprise that the walls of the camp toilet is covered in covers from horse magazines.

DSCF4193 Wallpaper in the toilet block

And talking of toilets, this special rural edition was ready and waiting for male guests.

DSCF4194 The men’s loo!

We took a walk through dense native bush down to the river, following coloured markers on the trees.  Down a flight of very steep steps cut into the bank, over a style, the the path levelled out.   A huge tree by the path had several plaques attached, and a sign related that close by is the resting place of two of the family’s beloved pet dogs.  The ashes of Barbara’s husband have been scattered here too, so it is a very special place.  The sound of the river tinkling by drew us on, and there it was, the Wanganui River.  There are trout lurking here, we were told, and several good sized specimens have been caught close by. 

DSCF4199 Wanganui River

The weather has been glorious, hot and sunny, and we have enjoyed our stay in the country at Rawhide.  There are plenty of large trees for shade, and we have made the most of it, sitting outside enjoying the fresh country air.  Our jovial hostess kept us entertained with stories of running a country property, and made us very welcome. 

DSCF4179Dusk at Rawhide Camp, Kakahi

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Off to Taumarunui – on the Main Trunk Line

Leaving the delights of Whangamomona behind us, we rejoined the Forgotten World Highway (SH43) with just a little trepidation.  The little village was the lunch stop for several hundreds of motor cyclists who were taking part The “Chateau to Plateau” bike ride.  We were not too keen to meet them en masse as they came screaming around corners along the narrow windy road, and were advised to leave camp about 1.00pm when most of the riders would have arrived.  Although a fair few bikers had already arrived in Whanga, we still had to contend with quite a stream of them on the road.  Luckily, by the time we arrived at the 16km stretch of unsealed road, not another biker appeared.

DSCF4160 .  Bikers on the road

Driving carefully through the narrow Moki tunnel – hewn out of solid rock, we parked for a moment as we exited, hoping that no further motor bikes would come careering around the corner.  This tunnel is also known as the “Hobbit Hole” and certainly deserved a photo opportunity. 

DSCF4163 Romany Rambler coming through the Hobbit Hole

The steep sided rugged Tangarakau Gorge was covered in dense native bush and ferns, giving a glimpse into how this country appeared before the settlers started their tree felling to clear the land.  And we quickly skirted Herlihys Bluff which had large signs warning, “Falling Debris, do not loiter or park on bluff”.  Finally, we were at the end of SH43, and arrived at our destination of Taumarunui, the meeting place of the Wanganui and Ongarue rivers, and the largest town in the Ruapehu district.  The town is well known for it’s railway history, and the railway wagons doing duty as a fast food outlet are well remembered from visits here over the years.  Taumarunui was the archetypal railway town and was a refreshment stop for passenger trains on the main trunk line as they travelled up and down the North Island – but sadly from 2012 the train no longer stops here.

 Here’s a few lines from the famous song written by Peter Cape:
  
You can get to Taumarunui going North or going South,
And you pull in there at midnight and there’s cinders in your mouth,
You’ve got cinders in your whiskers and a cinder in your eye,
So you pop off to refreshments for a cuppa tea and pie,
In Taumarunui on the main trunk line

DSCF4186  Railway carriages used as fast food outlet

The trains may no longer stop at Taumarunui, but we saw this one go merrily on it’s way towards Wellington.  Instead of the passengers getting off at various stations along the way for a cup of Railway tea and a meat pie, trains these days have a well set up refreshment car on board. 

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Republic Day in Whangamomona

The tiny village of Whangamomona is situated approximately half way along SH43, romantically called “The Forgotten World Highway”.  The village declared itself a republic in 1989 following a boundary dispute, and holds two yearly presidential elections, issued passports and generally has a whole heap of fun.  We were there for the 2013 Republic Day and together with many others, joined in the celebrations.  But first we had to buy our passports and get them stamped, to ensure our safety and allow our entry on Republic Day. 
  
DSCF4157 Our passports for the day

DSCF4139 Border Control

The normally quiet, sleepy village was filled with people and stalls selling all sorts of wares lined the street.  There was a lot going on, from rural pursuits such as shearing, wood chopping and sheep dog trials.  Helicopter rides were on offer for those with deep pockets.  Then there were the more “Whanga” styled activities, such as possum skinning, whip cracking, gum boot throwing and the sheep race down the main road. The “Gut Buster” race was keenly contested by young and older participates, with some running in bare feet.  Down the road they went, up the hill, along the ridge, around the macrocarpa tree on the skyline, back down the hill at break-neck speed, and then the winner came loping back up the street to stop just outside the pub
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DSCF4123 Start of the Gut Buster race

The aptly named “Shrek”, the corridale sheep who had been hiding away whenever the annual shearing gang came calling,  had several years growth of wool weighing him down.  This all came to an end when the shearing exhibition took place.  Shrek was deftly sat on his rump, and the shearer got to work, taking off all that wool, leaving Shrek looking just like every other shorn sheep when the job was finished.

DSCF4156 Taking off Shrek’s long fleece

Then we were treated to an exhibition of blind-folded sheep shearing.  (No, it wasn’t the sheep who was blind-folded, but the shearer).  The young man very cleverly did the whole job with a blind fold around his eyes.

DSCF4154 Shearing a sheep blind-folded

There were plenty of stalls selling tasty food for lunch, and we joined the long queue of people and ordered our hot roast pork sandwiches,  These were deftly put together by a team of “Whanga Women” and we enjoyed our lunch sitting on hay bales under a shady tree, watching the crowds go by.

DSCF4136 Preparing our hot roast pork sandwiches

Then came the event that I was waiting to see, the sheep racing.  Crowds lined the street, making sure that there were no gaps where a wily sheep could slip past.  Down the far end of town, dust filled the air, and they were off.  Nearer and nearer they ran, not really sure about all these people who were watching and shouting at them.  A farmer on a quad bike and his trusty dog kept them coming.  They reached the pub, and rushed around the corner.  The race was over.

DSCF4146 Sheep race, Whanga style

DSCF4150And there they go, some with jockeys

We left the crowds behind and walked back to camp.  The helicopter kept buzzing overhead and the paying customers would be enjoying a birds eye view of the area. This was the first Republic Day we had attended, and it was certainly was an interesting experience.  Wonder who won the Presidential Election?   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Riding the Rails – 20 Tunnel Tour

Today we were taking a trip with Forgotten World Adventures to do their 20 tunnel tour using modified petrol driven golf carts. You can find out more information on their tours here.

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There they were, waiting for us just past the rail crossing – our two seater rail carts.  This was the start of our rail adventure, we were off to do a 20 tunnel trip from Whangamomona to Okahukura. 

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Our guide Ian gave us a safety talk.  The carts were mechanically quite simple, with a accelerator pedal and a brake, and governed to a speed of 20kms an hour.  With a white headlight, a large red tail light, and a flashing orange light on top of the vehicle, each unit was well lit up and easy to see.  Don’t touch the steering wheel, we were told, a difficult thing for a seasoned driver to remember.  There is no cell phone coverage in this rugged part of the country, and Ian assured us that with his satellite phone we could make a call in case of emergencies.
 
P1257687Ready for our rail adventures

Ian went in the first rail cart – all the better to check for obstacles on the track, and wandering stock, he told us.  (And he did – several sheep and a steer had to be chased off the line during the day).  We followed in a row, enjoying the scenery as we rattled along the rails, over the occasional small bridge through the rolling farm lands.

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DSCF4057 Off we go

Through the first four tunnels we went, they were pitch black and freezing cold.  Luckily the headlights worked well, and we followed in the wake of the red and orange lights of the two carts in front of us.
 DSCF4079 Through the tunnel and out the other end

We stopped at Tangarakau for morning tea.  There is hardly a trace left of the bustling Ministry of Works town which flourished here during the construction of the railway line.  Further along the line we stopped briefly at Heao, where both ends of the railway met.  A silver spike was ceremonially driven in to the final length of track.  “Look for the silver spike”, our guide told us, “it will be around here somewhere”.  We weren’t falling for that!

The hills were white with flowering manuka trees with their sweet smell filling the air, and beehives were dotted around the paddocks.  Our lunch stop was at Tokirima, with Ian producing our picnic lunch from a couple of chilly bins.  With a hot cuppa, and a crunchy apple to finish, we were well catered for.  We all squeezed into the shade of the old wooden station building to shelter out of the hot sun while we ate our lunch. 

DSCF4087 Lunch stop at Tokirima

A top dressing plane repeatedly buzzed by, dropping his load of fertilizer on the nearby paddocks.  Peter and Geoff waved excitedly as the plane roared overhead.

DSCF4092 Watch out above

We certainly weren’t expecting a prison visit on our rail tour – but that is what our stop at Ohura gave us.  Just a short stroll from the railway line, the former Ohura Prison is now a motor camp, and customers aboard the rail trips are invited to check out the prison cells and use the ablutions.  We each bought an ice-cream from the camp shop and happily licked them to death on our stroll back to the rail carts.

P1257743 The former Ohura Prison

Some of the tunnels were bone dry, we noticed, while others were dripping with water.   Several of the later tunnels were brick lined, with the bricks being made locally.  They  varied in length from a short 57m with the longest and final tunnel being a whopping 1525m.  The temperatures dropped dramatically inside the tunnels, and the final extra long tunnel had quite a turn built in so that we could not see the lights of the cart in front.

P1257755 Final tunnel on our trip

The last stop on our trip was Okahukura, and we watched in interest as Ian lifted up the rail wheels back and front, then drove the carts on their rubber wheels and put them into storage till the next day’s trip.

DSCF4112 Disengaging the rail wheels

We were loaded onto a mini van for a bumpy return journey to Whangamomona, but not before Robin had purchased a memento of the day.  Here he is sporting his new Forgotten World Adventures cap which shows the route of the rail line. 

DSCF4115 Memories of the rail trip

This is a trip we would thoroughly recommend as we had a excellent day with a well run organisation and an extremely affable and knowledgeable guide in Ian. A great way to see part of the country that passenger trains seldom travelled. Congratulations to owner Ian Balme for his vision in creating such an unique rail adventure.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whangamomona – here we come

Climbing up and over four mountain saddles, State Highway 43, dubbed as “The Forgotten World Highway”, stretches 150km between Stratford and Taumarunui.  The road took 50 years to complete and was opened in 1945, and is dotted here and there with the remains of settlements.  The towns supported the many men who worked on constructing the railway line between Stratford and Okahukura.  This wonderfully historic piece of road was the first Heritage Trail to be established in New Zealand, and takes travellers through spectacular scenery.  We were stopping for several nights at the tiny settlement of Whangamomona,  situated about halfway along the route.  
 
DSCF4034 Start of the Forgotten World Highway at Stratford

DSCF4037 Up and over the Whangamomona Saddle

Our five vans trundled into Whangamomono Motor Camp hoping there was room for us all, as we had been unable to make contact with the camp manager earlier in the week.  Luckily there were power sites to go around, a bonus after we had spent the previous three nights camping off power at Hawera.

DSCF4038 All hooked up to power in camp

The historic Whangamomona Hotel is the heart and soul of this tiny place.  The present hotel was built in 1911, replacing the previous pub which opened in 1902 and burnt down 8 years later.    A local story tells that the hotel was once sold with a wife transferred as part payment.  The building also served as a hospital during the 1919 influenza epidemic.  We remembered the current friendly owners from our previous visit here three years ago, and booked a table for dinner for our group the following evening. 
 
DSCF4047 The famous Whangamomona Hotel

DSCF4044Geoff, Jenny and Robin enjoying an ice-cream in the pub

The arrival of mail was always of great importance to the early settlers and postal facilities opened in 1895 at McCluggages Store ‘just along the road.  The old Post Office building took over these duties some years later.  It was opened in 1912 and closed in 1988, and now looks very sad indeed.   

DSCF4050Old Post Office building

Walking back to camp from the pub we noticed an awful lot of empty derelict houses along the street.  A friendly goat bleated at us as we walked by, looking for a bit of company, it seemed.  In fact, there were goats everywhere – guess they are used as lawn mowers in this part of the world.

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It will be early to bed for us on our first night in camp – we are off on our “Forgotten World Rail Adventure” in the morning.  Should be great fun!