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

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Honky Tonk Starlight Express

It was a case of heightened anticipation down at Levin Station last night.  Cars were stopping to see just what was happening – after all, it’s not often a steam train is spotted on the Main Trunk Line.  And there she was, in all her glory, huffing and puffing at the station with an admiring group gathered around.

P7048867 Honky Tonk Starlight Express

Steam Incorporated were running the Honky Tonk Starlight Express early evening trip from Levin to Palmerston North and return.  The locomotive AB608 Passchendaele was built at the Addington Railway Workshops in Christchurch in 1915, and was pulling three historic carriages and a brake van.
 P7040014 Down at the station

P7040003 Plaque added to the refurbished loco

And looks what’s coming – it’s the Northern Explorer Auckland to Wellington train coming into Levin, pulled by a diesel engine.  What a contrast, the old and the new.  The passengers aboard were thrilled to see “our” engine puffing away, and waved enthusiastically to all of us standing on the station as their train travelled southwards

P7040010 Northern Explorer and AB608.

We had arrived bright and early for our 6.00pm departure, so we had plenty of time to have a good look around.  We could see the fire box blazing brightly and the engine driver kindly allowed me to clamber up into the loco and snap a few photos.  How kind, I was most impressed, and I’m sure you wouldn’t get that sort of service on a commercial train trip.  There is certainly not much room to spare – the engine driver sits of the tiny seat on the right and has to peer out the window.

P7040019 The fire box was blazing

P7048871Steam’s up

Then it was “All Aboard” and we went to claim our seats.  Every one came well prepared with plenty of warm clothing, and we had been warned that the vintage carriages do not have heating, which, we were told, is part of their character.

P7040030  Ready for our adventure

The trip took us up the Main Trunk Line, stopping at Shannon, and Palmerston North.  During the one hour stopover at Palmy musician Wayne Mason belted out honky tonk music on an old piano which was bolted to the floor of the guards van.  Wayne is just one of the keen volunteer members aboard the evening train, while others were doing duty as Car Stewards.

P7040042 Wayne Mason playing honky tonk piano

While the passengers enjoyed the music, and queued up at the coffee cart to get their coffee fix, we waited while the loco was unhooked, turned around and hooked up to the other end of the train.  Then the hard working volunteers had work to do.  The water tank needed replenishing, and we watched as a little chemical was first poured into the very big hose (to counteract boiler scale to aid the boiler to last longer) before it was hooked up and the water tap turned on.  And all those wheels needed another touch of oil.

P7040055 Getting ready to replenish the water supply

P7040063Adding extra oil
 P7048874 Brrr – it’s cold on the station at Palmy

Then it was back on-board again for the return trip. We walked over a brass plate on the floor.  Robin knew exactly what it was – a pivot point for the wheels underneath.  I was most impressed, how did he know that, I wondered?

P7048875 Brass plate on the floor

There was a bit of drinking taking place over the other side of the carriage, quite a bit of singing, and general fun and laughter as we steamed through the night.  With a freight train heading towards us on the line, we were safely stopped for a while on a siding at Koputaroa, a few miles north of Levin.  We waited, and waited some more, till the extra long freight train finally rolled past and we continued on the homewards journey.  Plenty of time while we were waiting to take an on-board selfy photo.

P7040037The trip is nearly over

Arriving safely at Levin, we gathered up our belongings and disembarked.  What a great trip – we love trains, and vintage trains are certainly something quite special.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Who’s that up on the Roof?

Who’s that up on the roof?  I’d just returned back home after a quick trip to the shops to see  a man up high.  It was that painter fellow,  doing the next stage of staining the cedar cladding.  After doing all the low bits, he had to get his ladder out and climb up to stain the gable end.  And so he didn’t damage the tiles with his big heavy feet, he laid a plank over a couple of sandbags and stood on that.  By the time I was on the scene, he had done the high pointy end, and was sitting down on the job finishing off bottom boards.

P7030044 Staining the cedar cladding

Whenever the painter comes calling, the rain comes down and he has to stop painting.  There must be a hex on him, I think.  He will be back early next week to put a second coat on, he told us.  It should have stopped raining by then, hopefully.

The rain set in during the afternoon, but we were cosy and warm spending the day at home.  And just look what is on the menu for our evening meal.  Bluff oysters, the tastiest oysters in the world!  And the only way to eat them as far as we are concerned, is cooked in batter!  With only a dozen between us (they’re a bit pricey)  we will be having a fish feast with the addition of a groper cutlet each, and some crumbed prawns each as well – a meal fit for a king, or maybe a pair of pensioners!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Where’s Bess?

After spotting this intriguing sign the other day after our grand tour around Scotts Ferry, we went looking for Bess.  Who was she, we wondered? But we couldn’t find her anywhere.

P6290019 Memorial for Bess – this way

We drove slowly down Forest Road, peering at every likely looking sign on the side of the road.  But we did see this happy face smiling at us.

P6290015 Happy face on a bale of silage

Now, here’s a big sign – perhaps we have found Bess at last?  No, don’t think so.

P6290017What on earth does this mean?

Back home Mr Google told us all about it.  Free-Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) is a method used by ecologists and plant biologists that raises the concentration of CO2 in a specified area and allows the response of plant growth to be measured. Experiments using FACE are required because most studies looking at the effect of elevated CO2 concentrations have been conducted in labs and where there are many missing factors including plant competition.    Horizontal or vertical pipes are placed in a circle around the experimental plot, which can be between 1m and 30m in diameter, and these emit CO2 enriched air around the plants. The concentration of CO2 is maintained at the desired level through placing sensors in the plot which feedback to a computer which then adjusts the flow of CO2 from the pipes.  Who would have thought that we would come across such an interesting experiment down a no-exit road in the middle of nowhere.

We never did find Bess on the side of the road.  But once again, Mr Google came to our rescue.   Bess was one of more than 1000 horses donated to the government for military purposes when the war broke out. The four-year-old black thoroughbred, originally named Zelma, was allocated to the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment and selected by Captain C.G. Powles, who renamed her Bess. She served him throughout the war in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and France.   New Zealand sent 10,000 horses overseas during the First World War, and she was only one of four horses who made it home.  After her return to New Zealand in 1920, Bess helped Powles perform his duties as commander at the GHQ school at Trentham and then headmaster at Flock House, an agricultural training school for the dependants of war veterans.

Memorial to Bess

Bess died on land near Flock House in 1934. Powles buried her on a small hill just off Forest Road and erected the memorial, which has become a de facto memorial to all New Zealand horses that served during WW1.   The large square shaped memorial is topped by a large rock, and has two plaques. One lists the countries in which Bess served during and after the war. The other bears a text in Arabic: ‘In the Name of the Most High God’.  The memorial is on private land, and it is a shame that we missed seeing it up on the hill.  Perhaps we could get permission from the land-owner to view the memorial on a future visit to the area.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Scotts Ferry

Scotts Ferry is a small sleepy place these days.  We took a drive up there to check out the Motor Camp – we are always looking for different places to stay at for future Caravan Club rallies.  The camp is reasonably small, with very basic facilities, but will be fine for a summer rally.

Scotts Ferry was a place in big trouble just over ten years ago with the February 2004 floods.  The Rangitikei River breached badly at Scotts Ferry.  Police officer and Fire Chief Bruce Symons led the evacuation, but by early afternoon the flooding was too severe to return to Bulls by the main road. Mr Symons and his team had to cut a road over farmland, linking up with the gravel Forest Rd. But high winds brought trees down which had to be cut away as the population of Scotts Ferry wormed its way to safety in convoy.  In the end, the water at Scotts Ferry reached the eves of houses.  The water took weeks, and in some streets, months, to pump out.  Eventually homes were repaired, and built with higher foundations for protection in case of further flooding.  The residents call themselves the “Inn Village” these days, with a lot of homes sporting signs such as Amble Inn, Breeze Inn, and Cocktail Inn, even Les Be Inn, (I had to explain that one to Robin!) 


Winter has brought yet another flood recently, and although there was still some water lying around, it was nowhere like the previous “Big One”.  The amount of mud still  around the bridge into the village shows just how high the water reached.

P6290014 Still covered in mud

P6290006Having fun driving out to the beach

The road to the beach ended here, the sea is away in the distance but there was no way we could get any closer.  “If we had the 4WD we could”, muttered Robin.

P6290003Glimpse of the beach through the sand-hills

And in case you were wondering, there was in fact a ferry operating in this area. Thomas Scott, his wife  Annie and young child emigrated from Scotland as assisted immigrants in 1841 aboard the Olympus.  The child died on the voyage but seven more children were born in New Zealand. Thomas operated Scott's Ferry from 1850 to 1908, near the mouth of the Rangitikei River, transporting horses, cattle, sheep, coaches, produce and passengers.  He and his wife Anne also managed the general store and hotel associated with the ferry. Until the opening of inland coach and rail routes, Scott's Ferry was situated on the only route between Wellington and Wanganui. The hospitality and food at Scott's Ferry was renowned, thanks to Annie Scott's efforts.

The ferry was purchased by the Featherston family in 1908 and was moved to the Wanganui River where it carried stock and produce until 1975.  After laying derelict on the river bank for the next 12 years, the ferry was salvaged and returned to the area where it first operated 140 years ago, in honour of all the early pioneers.

P6290012 Historic Scotts Ferry

We stopped at another historic site on the way back to SH1.   This was previously the main settlement of the Ngati Apa people of Parewanui.  There were twelve homes here, a meeting house and a great dining room with a large steam cooker and a bakers oven.  In the 1920s many people moved to Ratana, taking the meeting house and some of the other communal buildings, where they are still in use today.   By the 1930s few people remained, and the last derelict house was pulled down in the 1960s.   Only the bakers oven remains on this site. 

P6290022 Bakers oven from Ngati Apa settlement

Our tummies were telling us it was time for lunch, so we called in to Woolshed Cafe for lunch.  Come inside, the sign implored, the fire is on, and so is the soup!  The cafe was warm and inviting, and we both had a tasty lunch, fish pie for her, and pizza for him, with coffees to follow.  What could be nicer on a cold wintry day.  The interior was in fact decorated like a wool shed, with a timber wool press tucked away in a corner, and saddles and bridles hanging from the rafters.

P6290024 Wool press at the Woolshed Cafe

P6290027We saw a moa in the garden

Traffic came to a standstill on our way home, as a herd of cows crossed the main road.  This was a common sight in earlier years but such happenings are managed quite differently these days, with several cars sporting signs warning of stock on the road, and plenty of staff involved to get the cows safely across the busy highway. 

P6290029 There they go, happy to be away from the traffic

We had a good day out exploring the region, a nice lunch on the way home, what could be better.  But there was a mystery involved – more about that next time.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Just a little car cleaning

A tow car needs good tyres and the rear tyres needed replacing.  So after some on-line research, Firestone tyres were purchased.  Now there were new tyres fitted, perhaps the 4WD could do with a good clean, reasoned Robin.  So out came the bucket of soapy water, and the soft brush, and he got to work.  But you can guarantee that once someone starts washing a car, the rain comes down.  With only half the car done, car washing was put on hold, and the bucket sat for a couple of days behind the back fence, slowly filling to the brim with rain fall.

The rain stopped, but we had a bit of a “cool change” weather-wise.  Heavy frosts came calling several days in a row, so cold that the bucket had a thick layer of ice on top.  A bit too chilly, Robin felt,  to be getting on with the job of washing the car.

P6240002 Ice topped bucket

The whole country was going through a cold spell, although our part got off quite lightly.  Earlier in the week New Zealand shivered through one of its coldest nights on record when Pukaki, near Mt Cook, recorded the -20C temperature a couple of nights in a row.  Then there was the night the temperatures dropped to minus –21C in the township of Omarama in the Mackenzie Country. That's New Zealand's coldest in 20 years and not far off the country's record low of -25C set in Ranfurly in 1903.  Pipes were bursting all over the place, and without any water, an Omarama cafe couldn't even make a latte.  Now, that’s serious, when you can’t get your coffee fix!

It was certainly cold down in the South Island

Things warmed up in our part of the country, and Robin finally resumed his car washing job.  That’s better, can’t have one half clean and one half dirty, can we?

P6260004 Back on the job again

No way does this compare to the heavy snow, ice, and the freezing temperatures experienced down south,  but this snow cover on the Tararua Ranges looks lovely in the sunshine.

P6240069Local snow cover

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gallipoli – the Scale of our War, at Te Papa

A visit to Te Papa Museum to see the Gallipoli Exhibition was both wonderful and very sobering at the same time.  It was Robin’s month to organise an outing with our SLG friends and he chose for us to go and see this exciting exhibition.  Te Papa Museum and Weta Workshop joined together to mark the WW1 Centenary.  The experiences of the ill fated eight month campaign at Gallipoli are shown through the eyes and diaries and letters of ordinary New Zealanders.

P6240005 Entrance to Te Papa

Our group rearranged the seating in the upstairs cafe for our “meet and greet” and a welcome cup of coffee.  Some of us had travelled quite a distance, a drive of 100km from Levin to Wellington for us two, and our Wairarapa friends Anne and Les had travelled over the Rimutaka Hill from Featherston.  No wonder we were all ready for a hot drink and a comfy sit-down.  Luckily the long queues waiting to get into the exhibition were not in evidence when we arrived at the doors early on a weekday morning – a good reason to avoid the weekend. 

P6240010Landing on the beach

The exhibition centres around eight marvellously lifelike models, in six tableaus, reproduced at 2.4 times human scale.  Each figure weighs between 90kg and 150kg, and all eight took 24,000 hours to build and install.  These models are based on real people who were in Gallipoli, and we heard words from their own letters read out and and shown on the darkened walls as we gazed in awe at the lifelike recreations.

P6248848 Fighting till the end

P6240014 Doctor unable to save his patient

P6248857 Soldier contemplating his rations covered in flies

P6248859Not willing to give up

P6240025Nurse finds out her soldier brother is dead

Gallipoli was a brutal campaign, and is a part of our history which every Kiwi knows well.  Not that we knew all the facts though, such as the severe deprivations, lack or water and food, that the men were covered in lice, or the fact that battle weary and deprived men were shot for falling asleep on duty.  For eight long months they were fighting a loosing battle, at at long last, the evacuation order was received.  The Anzac troops left silently in three groups in the darkness without lamps to light the way and no cigarettes were allowed to show the movement down the hills and onto the beach.    Everyone wrapped their boots in sandbags to muffle the trudge of retreat.  The survivors had safely left the beach, but were sad to be leaving the bodies of their mates behind.

P6240029Don’t Forget to click on the Picture to better to see the Percentages.  
There were interesting information boards to read, films to watch, and a sandbagged hut to sit in.  It was an amazing exhibition, thought provoking and sad at the same time, and will be running for the next four years.  Plenty of time for a repeat visit or two, and is well worth a trip to Wellington for those living out of town.  Visitors were invited to write a message on a red poppy and place it at the feet of the last larger than life soldier in the exhibition.

P6240032 Covered in red poppies – lest we forget

After we had seen our fill of the exhibition, our group met for lunch at the busy downstairs cafe.  With plenty of choice from soup, rolls and sandwiches, pies and chips, there was something for all tastes.  With the sunshine flooding in through the large picture windows, we asked a friendly lady at the next table to take our photo.

P6240062 And here we all are, the Super Leisure Group

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mid Year Christmas Lunch

The Cancer Society Coffee Club support group (for ladies) had planned a mid year Christmas lunch for the members.  Robin attends the Rimu Club, a monthly support group for men as a volunteer helper and when the blokes heard about the ladies plans, they wanted to join in the festivities too.  And why not, we were booked in to the Masonic Village Cafe and their dining room could easily accommodate us all.  We duly arrived, only to find that the dining room was full with another group.  The Health Shuttle volunteer drivers were enjoying a morning tea together, and slowly finished up and made their way out the door, while our group were champing at the bit to get seated.  The tables were looking very Christmassy, and we filed in, found ourselves a seat, and settled down to await our lunch.

The men decided they didn’t want to sit with any of the ladies and would rather sit together in their own little group.  The arrival of plates filled to the brim with roast pork and roast beef, swimming in gravy, and served with lots of veggies certainly kept them quiet, and we didn’t hear a peep from their table as they enjoyed their main course.

P6230030 Men enjoying their lunch

P6230031 Waiting for our pudding

Although the ladies on our table declared that they were full and wouldn’t be cooking an evening meal that night, that didn’t stop them from eating a plate of pudding each.  How could we say no to Christmas Pudding served with cream and custard, and fruit salad on the side?

P6230032I love Christmas Pudding

It was a lovely meal and nice to share it with others from the two support groups.  And……. we will be back for a return performance of a Mid Year Christmas Lunch in a couple of weeks time, when we  return with the 60s Up Group!  It is a great meal, at a very reasonable price.