With the alarm set bright and early, we were packed up and on our way for an early Christmas treat. We were embarking on the 360km Grand Circle Rail Cruise with Steam Incorporated. The trip was organised through our local ladies Probus Club who had booked their own carriage, and Dot and Derek joined us for a day of rail travel.
Boarding the train at Levin meant that we did not have to do an early morning dash down to Steam Incorporated's base at Paekakariki. And here it comes, pulling into Levin station in the pouring rain. According to the regulations, a Kiwi Rail Dfb locomotive was in front of the train. This is to satisfy recently imposed requirements that heritage trains operating in the Rimutaka and Tawa tunnels be hauled by a diesel loco that is fitted with fire suppression equipment. Next in line was a Da1431 Diesel Locomotive, built in 1957, with the two locos pulling nine vintage carriages and a guards van.
Travelling northwards we passed by Shannon, and Tokomaru with it’s Steam Museum, spotted a couple of fishermen trying their luck in a stream before rattling over the 336m bridge spanning the Manawatu River.
The train stopped at Palmerston North Station to pick up the final passengers, and then we chugged along the rails hugging the side of the Manawatu Gorge, looking out at the road across the other side. It’s quite sobering to see the engineering required to construct both the road and rail track through this challenging gorge. Steel netting is attached here and there to stop rocks falling on the narrow road.
Looking across at the road through the gorge
Robin set himself up in the guards van at the end of the train for these interesting shots exiting one of the several tunnels and looking back along the gorge. And to think that we have walked over this railway line, back in May 2014, read about the tunnel walk here.
After all that excitement we needed a nice cup of coffee, so I trekked along the rattling carriages, opening and closing one door after another and carefully walking between one carriage and another until I arrived at the Buffet Car. Hot drinks in tow, carefully packed in a cardboard holder, back I went.
Our journey continued through Mangatainoka, where the world famous Tui beer is made, past Pahiatua and the Railcar Restoration Society.
The next stop was Mauriceville, where quite a number of travellers were getting off to be bussed to a Country Fair. We didn’t envy them one bit, as the rain was coming down by the bucketful. Next stop was Opaki, near Masterton, where more people exited to take the short walk to Paper Road Winery for a pre-ordered buffet lunch. The four of us had prepared our own picnic lunch which we ate in the comfort of the train, without encountering a single drop of rain. The lunchers came back, wet through and grumbling.
It was great to meet up with Robin’s former workmate Fred (from long ago Post Office Headquarter days) and his wife Avis. They had walked over to the winery and back in the pouring rain and stopped to chat for a while before wandering back to their own carriage.
Then it was a short ride to Masterton Station, where the buses were waiting full of the passengers who had been to the Country Fair. They too came aboard feeling a little miserable, clothes wet, feet wet, as the rain hadn’t stopped at all. We were really pleased we had packed our own lunch – if it had been a nice sunny day we would have ventured outdoors, but we were quite happy eat our sandwiches in the comfort of the carriage. The train started up and we were on our way again, travelling through the Wairarapa countryside.