What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday, aboard the Spiral Snow Express heading up to the famous Raurimu Spiral. It was a good enough reason to set the alarm to ensure we didn’t sleep in, prepare our picnic lunch, collect our warm coats, gloves and hats (how much snow are they expecting?) gather some friends together, and head off to the station.
Of course, we arrived with plenty of time to spare. This Steam Incorporated excursion was starting the journey from Paekakariki, but we had been told that 100 keen locals were boarding the train at Levin. That’s an awful lot of rail enthusiasts, so we wanted to arrive at the station in good time to ensure we found a car park close by. And before too long, the excitement rose as we heard the puff, puff, puff of the steam engine approaching.
Here she comes – steam loco Ja 1271
Steam locomotive, Ja 1271 was to haul the line of vintage carriages between Paekakariki and Palmerston North and then would be switched with a electric loco. Built in 1956 at the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin, she worked hauling express passenger and freight trains on the South Island Main Trunk. After a shunting accident and falling into disrepair, the engine was rescued by Steam Incorporated members, underwent extensive overhauls and rebuilding, and now is one of the stars of the fleet.
Eight of us were travelling together, and we were very pleased to get seats either side of the aisle. With a handy table to share, we were nice and comfy, and settled down to enjoy our trip. Our carriage, like all the others on the excursion, was vintage Our 56ft 2nd class carriage was built in 1938 at Otahuhu Workshops, Auckland. We were advised that one of the features of the vintage carriages is that they have no heating, and to come prepared, hence the warm clothes we all arrived in.
Selwyn, Kath, Sandra and Don were across the aisle - Derek, Dot, Jenny and Robin
Once all the Levin passengers were safely settled, the excursion train set off, stopping at stations along the way to collect more passengers. Then it was full steam ahead to Palmerston North station, where the steam loco was changed for a KiwiRail electric locomotive. This change-over was closely watched by the train full of rail enthusiasts. First the steam loco strutted it’s stuff and puffed out a lot of steam, before being uncoupled.
Clouds of steam
Steam loco leaving, and electric loco coming to take over
The engine taking over the trip from Palmerston North to Raurimu Spiral and return was an electric locomotive EP Class, and was built by Brush Electrical in England in 1988. This type is the most powerful loco in use in New Zealand at 3000 KW and weigh 108 tonnes.
Continuing on our way, we enjoyed views of the snow covered Ruahine Ranges out the window.
Views from the carriage window
And there’s Mt Ruapehu, absolutely covered in snow and the peaks looking wonderful against the bright blue sky.
With quite an early start, we were more than ready to eat our lunch about mid-day. Out came the sandwiches, the thermos flasks for a hot coffee, and we all happily tucked in to our picnic lunches. Fed and watered, we settled back to enjoy the journey and look forward to more adventures further up the line.