Billed as a “Mystery Trip”, this day out had people wondering just where we were going. With the early departure time of 8.30am, it was obvious we were ranging far and wide. But in what direction, everyone wanted to know. Our favourite bus driver Peter was taking us out for the day again, and unusually for him, was a little late arriving. It seems that he was getting ready to pick up another bus load at a later time, when he was informed that plans had changed and to get down to the 60s Up pickup point pronto.
When everyone had clambered on board, and the walkers stowed away, Peter drove us southwards along SH1, eventually pulling into a rest area at Paremata Estuary for a comfort stop. This is such a pretty area, looking out over the estuary. The adjacent coffee cart was doing a roaring trade, and a group of school kids were lined up at the sailing club ready for a morning of instruction.
The bus then travelled around the Pauahatanui Inlet, much to the surprise of the passengers, who were sure our day out was to be in Wellington. Not so – as it turned out. Next stop was at Aston Norwood Gardens, (formerly Kaitoke Country Gardens) for morning tea, and a walk around their gardens, for those who could manage it.
Dot and Jenny walking off their morning tea
The next part of the trip was a trial for some of our group, travelling in a big bus over the steep Rimutaka Hill. Some of our older members probably wouldn’t have travelled this hill road for some time, and there were a few mutterings to be heard. Those on the left hand side were a bit concerned at the steep drop outside their windows, while the passengers on the right hand side of the bus has their hearts in their mouths as one big logging truck after another came careering around the corner, to pass agonising close to their side of the bus. But Peter, of course, was a professional driver, and took us up and over the hill without a scratch.
Our destination was Masterton, to visit the Aratoi Museum ans see the exhibition about the Featherston Military Training Camp, the largest continuously occupied military camp during WW1. Together with the nearby camps of Tauherenikau and Papawai, Featherston Camp prepared more than half of New Zealand’s total fighting force, around 60,000 men, for war.
Tent City at Featherston Camp
Planning began in July 1915, following deaths at Trentham Military Camp due to outbreaks of measles, influenza and meningitis due to overcrowding. The area just north of Featherson was considered ideal for the purpose, with plenty of space for large scale training activities, bracing weather conditions, and ready access to fresh water. By September, 150 civilian tradesmen worked on the site, with the numbers increasing to 1000 at the height of construction. It could accommodate 4,500 soldiers, 1,000 instructors and administration staff. Sadly, influenza struck the camp in 1918, killing 160 and infecting thousands of other men.
Camp food was filling but monotonous, with mutton featuring heavily on the menu, supplemented with beef. Breakfast was a conglomeration of the previous evening’s meal in the way of curries and stews, while lunch consisted of “dry rations only”, bread, jam, cheese and tea. The troops trained hard for their imminent departure overseas, and the “Rimutaka March” was regarded as a rite of passage. Starting in the early hours of the morning, the route took them through the main street of Featherston where local people would often gather to wave them on their way. They would then ascend the steep road towards the summit, where a delegation from the Wairarapa Patriotic Association would welcome them with food and tea.
The Rimutaka March
From here it was on to Wellington to board the troop ships and head off to the horrors war. Some of them had time for a little sightseeing – Egypt must have been an exciting exotic place for a little R & R. Many of course, never made it back home, nor did the thousands of horses which were sent overseas with them.
This was a very interesting and thought provoking exhibition and when we had seen it all, we wandered outside to wait for the bus to come back and collect us.
Waiting for the bus
The drive back home took us northwards to Woodville and through the Manawatu Gorge, coming back down SH1 to Levin, sparing some of the more nervous passengers a second trip back over the Rimutaka Hill. Not many would have been looking at the sights out the window, as many were fast asleep, grey heads nodding gently with the movement of the bus. It was another great day out with the 60s Up group.