We very cleverly planned our weekend away visiting family in Kiwitea to coincide with the “One Day in Taranaki” train trip organised by the Feilding and District Steam Rail Society. Booked several months ago, this trip was taking us to Hawera and back, stopping to collect passengers at Marton and Wanganui along the way. We joined all the other train buffs at Feilding Station, checking our seat numbers and waiting for the train adventure to begin. Although this particular trip was not pulled by a steam engine – rather the carriages were pulled by DL 9112 loco on hire from New Zealand Rail – the first heritage trip pulled by one of these locos. All aboard, and off we went.
We settled down to enjoy our day out, watching the countryside go by. Lambs with their mums were everywhere, and ran away as fast as they could with the approach of the train. The cattle were much more stoic, and stood still as they carefully watched the iron horse race by. After we had stopped to pick up our first lot of passengers, an announcement came over the loud speaker. The refreshment cart was on it’s way, and two ladies ably wheeled it along our carriage, handling the boiling water as they swayed with the movement of the train, without spilling a drop. They have had plenty of practice, they assured me. We ordered two coffees and a huge shortbread, in the shape of an engine, specially baked for these trips. All staff on board are volunteers, we were told, with the exception of the train drivers, who according to the rules, must be Kiwi Rail workers.
Our journey took us through three tunnels, and our carriage steward sensibly made sure all windows and ceiling vents were closed. We knew we were approaching Wanganui, our next stop, when one of the water towers came into view.
Slip on the hillsides were everywhere, and was quite sad to see. And as these are only the slips we could see from the train, the problem must be huge. Torrential rain, combined with grass covered hillsides with all the trees removed plays havoc on farmland and can only lead to more of this damage in the future.
The loco worked hard as it pulled the carriages up the steep Westmere Bank. This 8km stretch of track has a 1-33 gradient, we were told. Mt Egmont came into view, so we knew we were getting nearer to our destination. It’s not often that the mountain comes out from the cloud cover to show itself off.
And then we arrived in Hawera, passing by the huge Fonterra Milk factory, a New Zealand multinational dairy co-operative owned by 13,000 NZ farmers. Fonterra operates more than 30 manufacturing sites across the country and process about 16 billion litres of milk each year. They export about 95 per cent of the local production to more than 100 countries.
Arriving in Hawera, we disembarked and continued on the next phase of our adventure, a bus trip to Dawson Falls. More about that later…….